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KARAM AND POWER PACES FINAL INDY 500 PRACTICES, HINCHCLIFFE HURT IN SPECTACULAR ACCIDENT
Author: mark W. Theisen
May 22nd 2015 -      INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 22, 2015:     Two practice sessions for the Verizon IndyCar series that qualified for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 were scheduled following qualifications for the race last Sunday.
     On Monday May 18th the 33 qualified cars returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a scheduled 3 and one half hour session to essentially work on race day setup following the mass confusion during this year’s qualifying that resulted in configuration changes at the last minute before qualifying.
     In addition Monday also saw James Davison return to Indianapolis after competing in another racing series over the past weekend.  His Dale Coyne Racing #19 was qualified by Tristen Vautier who agreed to qualify and then step aside for Davison, who brought a sponsorship package to Coyne, after he had committed to the other racing series events of the past weekend.
     51 minutes into the session James Hinchcliffe, in the #5 Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports entry suffered an apparent mechanical failure within his Honda powered Dallara and had hard right side contact with the outside SAFER Barrier coming out of the third turn, did a half spin through the short chute and the car briefly tipped on it’ side.  Hinchcliffe’s car came to rest at the exit of turn four.
     What the transpired in the minutes following probably saved Hinchcliffe’s life.  The failed part came through the side pod of the car and pierced his upper right thigh resulting in, what was termed, as massive bleeding.
     The IndyCar traveling medical team recognized the extent and severity of the injury immediately and stabilized the bleeding and had him transported to Methodist Hospital, which is relatively close to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
     Hinchcliffe was rushed into the intensive unit where surgery was performed and in the days following the surgery Hinchcliffe has improved considerably.  He was admitted in critical condition because of the heavy loss of blood and with each passing day his condition has been upgraded in a positive manner to a point where a full recovery is expected.
     The severity of the injury and location of it will keep him out of the race car for some time so a replacement for the 500 needed to be found and the team selected Ryan Briscoe based on his previous experiences at Indianapolis.  Briscoe faced the daunting task of getting familiar with the car in just one practice session, the one that was done today.
     Practice was halted after the Hinchcliffe accident on Monday, just as last Sunday after Ed Carpenter’s, to examine what had happened to the car and determine if any action for the rest of the field needed to be implemented.  It was deemed it to be a part failure and not a structural problem and the practiced was resumed.
     Sage Karam in a Ganassi Racing Chevrolet led teammate, and 500 pole winner, Scott Dixon when the practice day concluded.  JR Hildebrand of Carpenter, Fisher, Hartman Racing was third with Davison and impressive fourth and yet another Ganassi car, Tony Kanaan in fifth.
     Under near ideal weather conditions Karam got 227.31 miles-per-hour out of his car.  “After yesterday’s qualifying, it feels good to be up at the top of the today’s practice session,” said Karam.  “My car has been so fast all month and yesterday just didn’t show it at all.  We have a lot of good date and a good setup for the raced on Sunday.”
     Today’s practice session a one-hour session carries the traditional moniker of “Carburetion Day” because it dates back to the carburetor era when the teams used that final hour to make critical adjustments for race day.
     Now the session produces the largest single day attendance at the Speedway other than race day and includes a myriad of activities to draw as many people to the track as possible and the final practice is just a small part of the day, that this year, will end with not one, not two but three concerts in a specially erected stage area in the infield. 
      This morning saw yet another change to the starting lineup for the 500.  Coyne Racing driver Carlos Huertas had an infection in his inner ear diagnosed and that was sufficient enough for the medical team at the Speedway to not clear him to drive in Sunday’s 500.  Luckily Coyne was able to contact Vautier, who was at the Indianapolis Airport ready to head home, to return and drive the car.
     Vautier was in the car when this morning’s practice started.
     For the first time in 500 history, three driver changes will have been made to a qualified field, when the green flag drops on Sunday.  Davison for Vautier, Briscoe for Hinchcliffe and now Vautier for Huertas.  Because of the changes all three must start in the final row with Briscoe 31st, Davison 32nd and Vautier 33rd.
     With another day of near perfect weather Will Power of Team Penske pushed his Verizon sponsored Dallara Chevrolet all the way to 229.020 miles-per-hour to edge Dixon at 228.585 at the conclusion of today’s final practice session.
     Kanaan was third at 228.490, with Simon Pagenaud of Penske fourth at 228.458.  Takuma Sato of A.J. Foyt Racing was the fastest Honda, coming in fifth at 228.242.  The only other Honda powered car in today’s top ten was Gabby Chaves at 226.02.
     “Being fast today, means nothing,” said Power, “realty, it’s just a big draft. It’s more about getting through traffic and seeing what the car will do.  It’s all about Sunday and we think we are ready.”
     Weather forecast for Sunday’s race is for warmer and more humid conditions than experienced either today or Monday so that could slow speeds but as was the case in nearly all the practice sessions and qualifying it will be Chevrolet show come Sunday and with Penske and Ganassi nearly equal it will all come down to which team and driver has the best setup, best strategy, best pit stops and best luck to win the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500.
      In the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires Freedom 100 race that followed the final practice session Jack Harvey took the lead from teammate Ethan Ringel on lap 34 of the 40 lap race on the two and one-half mile oval at IMS to win his first Freedom 100 in a race that ended under caution after Ed Jones hit the wall in turn 4 on lap 38.
     Scott Anderson was third followed by RC Enerson as the four cars all came from Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports organization with support from Curb-Agajanian Racing.  Schmidt owned cars have won the Freedom 100 eight times, the most recent was by Esteban Guerrieri in 2012.
     Harvey also won one of the doubleheader races on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course two weeks ago.
     “I have to thank my team for this,” said Harvey.  “To win at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is just an honor and now to have done it on both the road course and the oval is beyond words.”
     “I can’t really be disappointed with the finish that I had,” said Ringel.  “I finished second in the Freedom 100, and it’s my first time here.  It’s my first race on an oval, I’m ecstatic for me and for the team”
     With the race ending under caution it prohibited any of the teammates from making a last lap pass for the win and it could have any of four or five different endings as all the cars were very well matched.
     In the final racing related event of the day Helio Castroneves of Team Penske edged Charlie Kimball of Ganassi Racing to win the TAG Heuer Pit Stop Challenge that pitted twelve of the IndyCar series teams against one another in a series of two-car elimination matches with the winners being determined on over time of the stop that must include a four tire change.  Both Penske and Ganassi pride themselves on their pit expertise and this time Penske came away with bragging rights for another year.
      Today concluded with the aforementioned concerts in front of a huge crowd.
     The 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 is next.