The Day At Indy, May 19, with Kyle Kaiser, Elton Julian and Ben Hanley

Goodnight from Indy.

Two of the biggest surprises in the 2019 Indianapolis 500 field join us for The Day At Indy podcast for Sunday, May 19, as Juncos Racing’s Kyle Kaiser and DragonSpeed owner Elton Julian, along with driver Ben Hanley (photo above), share their amazing underdog tales.

Tough times for Carlin but Chilton vows stronger Indy return

Sometimes a good team just misses the show at Indianapolis.

On Sunday, Carlin Racing was the unfortunate owner of that distinction after two of its three entries failed to qualify for the Indy 500. Adding to the misery, McLaren Racing, which formed a technical alliance with Carlin for the event, also failed to secure a spot in the field of 33. Only Carlin’s Charlie Kimball, who posted a run good enough to earn 20th overall, will represent the Florida-based squad next Sunday at the big race as teammates Max Chilton (photo above), Pato O’Ward, and, by arrangement, Fernando Alonso watch from afar.

Leading 50 laps in the 2017 edition of the race while driving for Chip Ganassi Racing, Chilton made full use of his ride with the Indy-winning veterans to show his capabilities around the 2.5-mile oval. On the Carlin team’s Indy 500 debut in 2018, he and Kimball made the race with ease.

But on Carlin’s return in 2019, something — whatever it is — went astray.

“The years where I was at Ganassi, I didn’t know anything as much as I do now,” Chilton told RACER. “That’s the best I’ve ever driven this car. We’ve got three cars now out, and it’s frustrating. Honestly, our guys are the first in and the last out, and you can’t go any faster with the car fully trimmed out. Unfortunately, we’re doing something wrong.”

Chilton, like a head coach after suffering a bad loss, showered his team with praise and backed their ability to rebound in 12 months’ time.

“It’s not against our guys; they’re doing an incredible job,” he added. “We’re just going to have to rethink our project and keep going. We’re not going to give up. Hopefully I’ll look back at this next year when we’re in the Fast 9, we can look back and say ‘Do you remember when that happened?’

“It’s going to be a very difficult week for our team and our sponsors. I feel unbelievably sorry for them. But I know in my heart of hearts, I couldn’t have given anymore this week to get speed out of the car. But it’s the fairest way. If we don’t have the speed, we don’t belong in the race.”

McLaren apologizes to Alonso after ‘incredibly painful’ failure

McLaren sporting director Gil de Ferran has apologized to Fernando Alonso, describing the McLaren team’s failure to qualify for this year’s Indianapolis 500 as “the most painful experience” he has had in racing.

Alonso was bumped by Kyle Kaiser who made the final run in Sunday’s Last Row Shootout, delivering a shock result for the two-time Indy 500 champions on their return to the race. Speaking alongside Alonso on Sunday evening, de Ferran apologized to many different stakeholders as well as to the Spaniard – who is chasing the Triple Crown – and says the team didn’t provide him with a good enough car.

“This has been a very emotional and difficult experience, not only for me but for the whole team,” de Ferran said. “I want to take this opportunity to apologize and thank the fans, not only here in the U.S. but globally, who have been following our progress. I read a lot of nice things and some great messages all over the place. So thank you, and I’m sorry we won’t be in the Indy 500.

“I want to also apologize to and thank our team. The guys been have been working for several months, and particularly this last month or so have been a tremendous effort, and to try to come here and do the best we can, and they’ve worked all hours in the day, and I guess that was one of the main messages I had for the whole crew there. This is a very difficult sport. We certainly didn’t underestimate the challenge. We knew this was going to be a tremendously hard challenge. I’ve been here before. I’ve seen some incredible people not make the race. So we were certainly very aware of how difficult this was going to be.

“I want to apologize to and thank our partners who have been fantastic, and incredibly supportive through this journey. I thank also the whole IndyCar community, frankly, who welcomed us with open arms. All the way from the officials, safety people, all the other teams, everyone in and around IndyCar, it was nothing but a warm feeling and a lot of support.

“Last but not least, I want to thank this man here on my left, who – and I want to apologize to you, as well, because we didn’t give you a car that was fast enough. You drove like the champion that we know you are.

“Particularly these last three days have been incredibly tense and very difficult, and we couldn’t have asked anything more from you, Fernando. So I’m sorry, man. You’re an amazing driver. In my 35 years of racing, actually a few more, this is the most painful experience I’ve ever had.

“There’s a mixture of emotions going on inside of me, but we are racers. We respect this place. This is one of the toughest challenges in racing. I want to come back tomorrow. I want to fight. I want to come back tomorrow and fight. This is incredibly painful.”

de Ferran says McLaren has learned a number of lessons that it will apply if returns to the Indy 500 in future.

“We’re very humble about everything that went on over here, and I think at this time I just want to say that we did learn a lot of lessons,” he said. “We have to really look inwards and look at everything that we learned, cement those lessons and move forward. I consider myself a racer, a fighter. I want to apply those lessons, starting tomorrow.”

Pagenaud takes pole in a turbulent Indy 500 qualifying

Simon Pagenaud edged Ed Carpenter for the pole position; Kyle Kaiser captured the hearts of underdogs everywhere; and Fernando Alonso got bumped out of the 103rd Indianapolis 500. Those were the major storylines of Sunday’s emotionally charged qualifying session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Pagenaud gave Roger Penske his 18th Indy pole with a 229.992 mph run – just a fraction faster than Carpenter’s average of 229.889 mph in his Ed Carpenter Racing Chevy. And his young driver Spencer Pigot gave ECR two-thirds of the front row with a run of 229.825 mph.

It was the closest split (0.103 of a second) for the front row in IMS history, as well as closest spread between pole and 33rd (less than three mph), but those facts were almost anti-climatic following the day’s Last Row shootout drama.

Alonso, whose McLaren team struggled on and off the track all week in its Indy debut, made a deal to run dampers from Andretti Autosport but only got a couple of hot laps in before rain halted the morning practice period. The two-time F1 world champion went out essentially cold turkey on the new setup and responded with a four-lap average of 227.353 mph after James Hinchcliffe posted a 227.543 mph four-lap average.

But when Sage Karam cranked out a 227.740 mph average, it left Alonso on the bubble with two drivers left.

Rookie Pato O’Ward gave Trevor Carlin’s back-up car a good ride but fell just shy with a 227.092 mph run; and then it was all down to Kyle Kaiser. Kaiser had gambled, choosing not to practice Sunday morning in his Juncos Racing Chevy. Yet with all the pressure of the world on his 23-year-old shoulders, the 2017 Indy Lights champ delivered like a veteran and ran 227.372mph.

That was 0.0019mph quicker than Alonso and gave the sponsor-less, small team based on Main St. in Speedway, Indiana, its most rewarding day ever.

“It was the most emotional 48 hours of my life, but I’m just so proud of this team,” said Kaiser.

For Alonso, but mostly for McLaren, failing to qualify was a humbling experience. But the 37-year-old Spaniard was classy in defeat.

“We were 31st on Saturday and 34th today; unfortunately, not fast enough either day,” said the driver who was so impressive in his 2017 Indy debut for Michael Andretti’s team. “It’s disappointing, because we were here to race.”

Asked if he would return to IMS, he replied: “It”s too soon to make that decision.”

Pagenaud, supposedly on the hot seat at Team Penske after a winless 2018, continued his pursuit of job security with a splendid run to take the 11th pole of his career after winning last weekend’s IndyCar GP.

Carpenter, a three-time pole-sitter here who revels in driving on the edge at IMS, came about as close to taking number four as one can get.

And Pigot, who turned the fastest speed in Saturday’s preliminaries, came oh-so-close to repeating on Sunday.

Behind the front-row trio, Ed Jones, the third member of Ed Carpenter Racing who had been quick all week, locked down the Row 2 inside slot, followed by Colton Herta and Pagenaud’s Penske teammate, defending Indy champ Will Power.

Sebastian Bourdais gave Dale Coyne with Vasser-Sullivan Racing another good ride and will start seventh on May 26, while Josef Newgarden takes the green flag in eighth and 2016 Indy winner Alex Rossi lines up ninth.

RESULTS

McLaren vows not to buy Alono’s way into 2019 Indy 500

McLaren has vowed not to buy a place for Fernando Alonso on the 2019 Indianapolis 500 grid after the team failed to qualify for this year’s race.

Setting the 31st-fastest time during Saturday’s qualifying meant Fernando Alonso had to take part in the Last Row Shootout on Sunday, where the two-time world champion was narrowly bumped by the final run of the session by Juncos Racing’s Kyle Kaiser.

With McLaren having directed considerable resources toward its one-off Indy 500 program, sporting director Gil de Ferran was asked if he would comment on speculation the team could attempt to purchase another entry.

“Yes, I can comment on that,” de Ferran said. “We will not do that. We want to earn our place in the field.”

De Ferran’s remarks came after Ricardo Juncos was asked how he’d respond if McLaren approached him about purchasing his entry, to which he replied: “We’re racing next weekend. That’s it.”

Indy’s last-row rollercoaster

Qualifying weekend at the Indianapolis 500 delivered drama, tension and heartbreak as six drivers fought for the final three places in the Last Row Shootout.

While there was crushing disappointment for Fernando Alonso, Pato O’Ward and Max Chilton, there was elation at the same time for Sage Karam, James Hinchcliffe and Kyle Kaiser. But even his delight in knowing he will be taking part next weekend’s 103rd Indy 500 could not wipe away the impact of what Karam admits was the most nerve-racking two days of his life.

“I genuinely believed that a run like I did just now, I would be able to bounce back and do that yesterday,” Karam said. “But we just kept slightly missing the balance for the weather, and ended up having to come back today to fight into the field.

“That was the most stressful 48 hours of my life – probably one of the biggest battles I’ve ever gone through mentally.

“We put a good run in and I knew the speed was there,” Karam continued. My teammate did it and our cars are pretty similar. We had a really good car for two laps, but we didn’t really have a great car for four. So today we bettered that drop-off, and that was the difference. If we would have fallen off even a little bit more, who knows then what would have happened; but the team rallied.

“It’s just been a really, really tough month. To be able to say we qualified when we were kind of backs against the wall there for a while… The last row in general, I didn’t have as tough a month as the other two guys (Hinchcliffe and Kaiser). Those guys nearly going upside down, then putting back-up cars together and coming back is pretty frickin’ amazing. It’s an amazing story for those two guys, so I’m happy I got in. In 2014 with the same crew and same car – everything – I started 31st and finished ninth as a rookie; so if it shapes up like that again I’ll be quite happy.”

Karam hadn’t had an easy Month of May, but he stepped up when it mattered. Image by Kuhn/LAT

Hinchcliffe had to run first in the Last Row Shootout and then nervously watch as others attempted to beat his effort.  Having missed the show last year, he had fresh memories of just what was at stake.

“My heart goes out to the ones that didn’t make it –  to Max, Pato and Fernando,” Hinchcliffe said. “We all know how much they put into this race and how much this means to everybody. I’ve been on the other side of this a year ago, so I know how much it sucks. I hate that we have to send guys home today.

“Man it’s crazy, way more dramatic… I’m getting too old for this stuff. I need a week off now, but we’re back in the cars tomorrow!”

The biggest celebrations were at Juncos, where Kaiser bumped Alonso out by just 0.019mph; a result that was the culmination of a remarkable turnaround following his heavy crash during practice on Friday.

“It felt like we qualified on pole when I came in to be honest, it was pretty wild,” Kaiser said. “I didn’t really know right away, I had no idea. I had somewhat of an idea because I got to see the laps but I heard it was really close. I came across the start/finish and the first thing I asked was ‘Am I in? Did we make it?’ and I just heard screaming, that was a good sign.

“But the last 48 hours have been an absolute whirlwind, it’s been crazy. We had really good pace with our main car, but obviously we had an incident that’s meant I’ve just had no balance since then.

“I have to give the team pretty much all the credit here because they’ve been working super-long nights. I think they had 40 straight hours of work to try and get that car together … just an unbelievable effort. Obviously the back-up car didn’t have the same pace as our main car, but we didn’t give up, this was just an amazing battle from their end.”