Daly hungry for more after taste of Indy success with Andretti

Conor Daly was sitting in the Andretti Autosport hospitality tent Saturday at Detroit — dressed in his Air Force colors and looking very much like he belonged. Just like last weekend at Indianapolis.

A week removed from the best Indianapolis 500 of his career, where he ran as high as fourth and wound up 10th, Daly was greeted by several well wishers as he contemplated his next move.

“People have been coming up and saying, ‘Hey you proved it to us at Indy,’” related Daly, breaking into a smile. “I said, ‘Thanks but it’s all about having a good car.’”

The 27-year-old second generation driver has shown flashes of proving it for years as he jumped from car to car at places like Road America, Gateway and the Indy GP, and he’s always been a better racer than a qualifier. But he went from a filler to a factor at IMS because the Air Force sponsored him for a ride with Michael Andretti’s well-oiled machine. He was the fifth wheel on this team but performed better than all but teammate Alexander Rossi. He qualified 11th, was in the lead pack all afternoon and looked headed for a top 5 until a late wing adjustment dropped him back to 10th.

“We didn’t finish where we should have and that was really frustrating,” said Daly, who passed Rossi and Bourdais back to back to move into fourth place two-thirds of the way through the race. “When I got by Seb, I thought, ‘Now we’re in the game,’ and I was happy to be in that group with Simon (Pagenaud), Alex, Ed (Carpenter) and Josef Newgarden). I was just going to settle in and get ready for the last 20 laps.”

Andretti took the blame for the front wing change but Daly said it was just a racing situation that was nobody’s fault.

And nothing could really dampen his spirits following last Sunday. May has never been very kind to Conor. One year his car caught fire on the parade lap, another he qualified a car with old parts and, other than his ride with A.J. Foyt, mostly it’s been kind of a fire drill just to make the show.

But he knew from Day 1 that Andretti would be his best opportunity ever. From the team’s comprehensive damper program to engineering depth to the sharing of information, his sixth Indy 500 was a dream.

“I had to change how I drove because last year — it was massive understeer and I couldn’t feel the car initially,” he explained. “This time there was so much mechanical stability built into the car and it was so nice. We struggled with a lot of stuff in practice but we were 12th or 15th and you know why you’re struggling.

“It was just everything you dream of. My engineer, Andy Listes, is incredible and one of the best I’ve been with and he made me comfortable from Day 1.”

Now it’s time to focus on the rest of this year and 2020. Daly had help from the MannKind Group (which provides the Type 1 diabetic with insulin) Gess biofuel, Capstone Turbine and, of course, the Air Force.

“I hope Air Force found the same value this year as they did last year and they come back with me,” he said. “Can they do more, I don’t know but I know I’d like to come back with this team. I’d love to put a deal together for the full season with Michael but it’s full of drivers and I think I’d have to have a big sponsor to get him to run five cars. Right now I’m just trying to put something together to run another race this season.”

And his preference?

“Pocono with an Andretti car,” he replied.

 

Tim Clauson on Indy: “An incredible foundation to build upon”

Tim Clauson’s decision to take the USAC team he co-owns with Richard Marshall and attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 has paid off in numerous ways. Entering the No. 39 Chevy, he aligned with Pippa Mann to drive the car, and despite being an odds-on favorite to miss making the field of 33, the Briton made the show on Saturday, avoided the Bump Day dramas, and had an almost faultless run to 16th place in the race.

“Well, I think it went better than I think any of us could have imagined. I made no bones about it, that I really felt like our race would be getting into the race,” he said. “And on pole day, sitting there was a Ganassi car and McLaren, thinking we might have to fight for that 30th spot there, it was really surreal. When we went in Saturday, we really thought if we went that first round in the top 25 that we’d really be solid.

“And we ended up going, I think 24th after the first round, and we kind of went, ‘OK, well now we can start thinking about other things.’ As we watched cars go and times pick up, we went ahead and got into line, but really made the decision that we didn’t want to beat ourselves. As long as we were locked in, we were going to ride it out. Which we did, in that slow lane. I told somebody going in that I was happy that there was going to be more than the 33 cars, because I really wanted to compete to be in the 500. And to get to go through that last hour on Saturday, and live every emotion that you can live in the sport was one of the most incredible, frustrating at times, and then exhilarating things I’ve ever been through in the sport.”

Finishing directly ahead of previous Indy 500 winners Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves, the rookie team — a mash-up of IndyCar, sports car, and dirt racing veterans — delivered the most unexpected surprise over 500 miles of hard racing.

“Really, we had modest goals on race day,” he continued. “I think Pippa talked about her goal was to run in the top 15. I thought she was being a little generous with that hope, but really if I felt like if we finished on the lead lap and could run in the top 20 then honestly that was going to be a win for us. As a first-year program, really just trying to learn our way around the whole thing. From my standpoint, it was a great success on the racetrack — and I think off the racetrack, it was even more so.”

And with the No. 39 chosen specifically to honor the one used by his late son, short-track legend and three-time Indy 500 starter Bryan Clauson who was an organ donor, the family patriarch won the race to drive awareness for the team’s primary mission on behalf of their sponsor.

“The amount of people who came to talk to us about organ donation and Driven2SaveLives, and tell their donor stories, and not just fans but, I have to guess, we may have had somebody from about every team there that made their way over to just share their story or just thank us for what our team was there representing. From that standpoint it was truly humbling to get to do that,” he said.

“Some of the partners that Pippa had brought with her that are personal sponsors, had said how much they’d enjoyed being a part of something, maybe even a little bit bigger than trying to win the race on Sunday, that they really felt a connection to organ donation as a whole, but even more intimately, our story. Our donor story. I think that’s one of the keys for us.”

Clauson likes the idea of returning for year’s Indy 500. It will involve securing more sponsorship, and given his choice of driver in 2019, he’d like to see if finishing better than 16th with Mann is possible.

“I think really collectively that to get to go back there with a group of people — and I say get to go back there; we still have to work on that piece of it,” he said. “But to get to go there with a group that understands why we’re doing it, and the reason that we’re doing it, and the bigger picture of it all, makes it that much more satisfying for when you do have the results that go on top of that.

“There were several reasons both personally and professionally why we wanted to go with Pippa. From the personal standpoint, I’ve said it before, what she did for not only Driven2SaveLives and organ donation, but for me, my family, and Bryan’s last year after she didn’t make the show, was something that most people, let alone race car drivers aren’t going to do. She did all that. The second piece of it, I remember Bryan telling me in 2016 how good she really was, and how good she was from an engineering standpoint, from the feedback standpoint. From those two things, that got us going that direction, obviously.

“But then also, I’d argue there’s probably not too many people, if anybody, that work any harder at the day to day to put an Indianapolis 500 program together. Us as a new team, we needed that experience. Her in the race car really … I think she’s a fabulous race car driver, but I didn’t get to experience that intimately until this month. And to watch her just be so methodical, know what our goals were. I think in her position, if it was anybody else, maybe they do try to make that big run to do something heroic for their own benefit, right? But she didn’t. She stuck to our plan all month long and honestly. Not only was she the perfect fit for us out of the race car, she also turned out to be the perfect fit for us in the race car as well.”

The Indy 500 remains the top attraction for Clauson.

“As far as running more races, it’s not really something that I want to do,” he said. “I love the Indianapolis 500. Obviously, I have a very personal connection with the Indy 500 with what Bryan got to do there. Our goal would be to go back next year and in future years. And I think that with Pippa’s help, we’ve laid down an incredible foundation to build upon. Going into the month, I would say, it was probably 50/50 or less if we would do it again next year — just not knowing. But we’ve been able now to lay this incredible foundation. I learned a lot. Richard Marshall my partner, he learned a lot. When we go into the next week or two and have these conversations, I’m a lot more positive, and quite frankly excited about building upon what we got to do this year.”

Listen to the full conversation with Clauson below:

Bretzman brothers savoring second Indy 500 victory

Simon Pagenaud’s Team Penske race engineer Ben Bretzman joined his older brother Eric on Sunday as an Indy 500 winner. Eric Bretzman’s victory with Scott Dixon at the 2008 Indy 500 opened the family’s account at the Speedway, and with Ben’s win last weekend, it’s believed they’ve become Indy’s first set of brothers to win the big American race from the engineering stand.

“That’s awesome, right?” the younger Bretzman (pictured at right, above, with Pagenaud) said. “Looking back at it, my dad was an old gearhead in the ’60s and ’70s and put a lot of work and effort into us — trying go-karts, to see if we were actually good enough to be a driver or not, and learning we weren’t, and putting a lot of money and effort into basically teaching us about racing and cars.

“I think it’s a super proud moment for him, because both his kids have Indy 500s. That’s a pretty cool deal, and I think that’s the thing I’m most excited about, how happy Pops is.”

As Andretti Autosport’s technical director, Eric Bretzman isn’t responsible for engineering Alexander Rossi, the driver who fought Pagenaud for the win, but he does have his hand in making all of the Andretti cars contenders at every round. It wasn’t a direct case of Bretzman vs. Bretzman on Sunday, but it wasn’t too far removed.

“I’ve raced against him a lot now, so it’s always fun to see,” Ben continued. “It used to be, when he was Scott Dixon’s engineer, it was really hard everywhere. But now he’s got his hands over all the Andretti cars, right? Yeah, it’s special. It’s fun to be competitive with him there. It’s a great arena to do it in.

“It’s always special just to know your brother’s out there and we’re pushing each other as hard as we can. It’s one of those things you take pride in as a family in general. He’s always going to be competitive. He always has been, everything he’s done in his career. Unfortunately, it’s family that you gotta beat…”

Having won an ALMS championship with Pagenaud almost a decade ago, placed third in the 2013 IndyCar points with the Frenchman at the then-small Schmidt Peterson Motorsports outfit, and won the 2016 IndyCar title together at Penske, Ben Bretzman knows when his driver is performing at an elite level. Coming off a rough, winless 2018, Pagenaud’s engineer has seen tangible changes to the 35-year-old’s demeanor which, after sweeping the month of May, has a similar feel to what was used to devastating effect in the past.

“There’s a lot of little things that basically point to Simon Pagenaud never forgot how to drive,” he said. “When we were starting to hit on a couple things last year, you could see it. He was there, but he just didn’t have the confidence. You get beat down enough in anything in life. Like it’s hard to push yourself to the level that you need to be at. But you could see, there were glimpses of Simon there last year when all things were going right. Then we did a bunch of other work, whether it’s driving simulators, you could see it there. He was immensely fast.

“And then we basically started seeing in the off season this year, when we started to apply some of the things we wanted to do to help improve him, all of a sudden last year, when we would be we would be two-, four-, five-tenths off our team cars at all the tests , whether it’s road courses, street course, or testing at Sebring. And we go to our first test in Sebring and all of a sudden, he’s right there. Under a tenth to Will and right on top of everybody. You could see the glimmer of light in his eyes. He knew right away that it was there, and he was happy with his driving, happy with his performance.

Ben likes the No. 22 Chevy team’s chances leaving Indy as they embark on the double-header in Detroit, Texas Motor Speedway, and other venues where the new-old Pagenaud has shown his mettle.

“We’re just starting to gain momentum,” he adds. “What was lacking at the start of the season was just that sheer confidence to win. He hadn’t won in so long, right? And you kind of have to get yourself over the hump to do that. And it definitely wasn’t going to be a speed thing coming into the year. The pit crew was good; he was plenty quick. You have to will yourself over the finish line. I think he’s there now. He’s right back to, at least where we were in 2016, 2017. Ready to rip.”

 

Robin Miller’s Mailbag for May 29, presented by Honda Racing/HPD

Welcome to the Robin Miller Mailbag presented by Honda Racing / HPD. You can follow the Santa Clarita, California-based company at: hpd.honda.com and on social media at @HondaRacing_HPD and https://www.facebook.com/HondaRacingHPD.

Your questions for Robin should be sent to millersmailbag@racer.com. We cannot guarantee we’ll publish all your questions and answers, but Robin will reply to you. And if you have a question about the technology side of racing, Robin will pass these on to Marshall Pruett and he will also answer here. 

Q: At first I thought the Indy 500 race was good, but not great. As you have mentioned previously within Mailbag and elsewhere, the IndyCar fans have been spoiled with the recent Indy 500 races in that there is constant passing and action. So admittedly that was my mindset. As a Honda fan over Chevy down the stretch I had my preferences who I’d like to win so when Simon Pagenaud crossed the bricks I was thinking, “Meh.” Then I took a minute after the race to really think about what happened. To me, this was a “Mercedes F1” type domination from Penske and Pagenaud. It was their race to lose when you lead over 100+ laps at the Indy 500, and to lead with what seemed to be ease. So my hat is off to Penske and Pagenaud. Amazing effort with a just result. And the ultimate class act from Pagenaud was during the post-race interviews on NBCSN when he referenced being French but then followed up with thanking America for welcoming him. I thought that was fantastic and refreshing. Is he that good a guy?

Lawrence H., Sanford, FL

RM: It was a great finish but I think we all know the race had two classes – Simon and Rossi and everyone else. And Chevy definitely had a little more steam than Honda so that was the deciding factor. Pagenaud’s praise of America was very cool and classy, just like he is and he’ll make a great Indy champion.

Q: Such a great race! Didn’t want to see another Penske win, but it was fun. Simon will be a great champion. Is there any other racing in the world better than this? Only 364 days till the next one!

Tim B.

RM: Randy Bernard called me and said he made Garth Brooks watch the last 12 laps and they were screaming at the TV like 12-year-olds so that’s a pretty good endorsement.

Q: Santino Ferrucci would have been the driver of the race if it wasn’t for the jaw-dropping performances put on by Rossi and Pagenaud. The kid kept clawing his way forward on track. He earned all of those spots and some of them twice.

Also kudos to Conor Daly and Felix Rosenqvist – they both had great races. The fastest driver won, but Rossi did everything he could to win No. 2 — including putting two wheels on top of pit wall to make some passes.

So on the topic of Rossi: I don’t think Power, Newgarden or Pagenaud are losing a seat. Is Penske expanding to four cars again if he can sign Rossi?

Ryan in West Michigan

RM: I’d say the fastest engine won but I agree with all your observations. Can’t see The Captain ever going back to four full-time cars and like I wrote on Monday, Simon sealed his deal for at least two more years with Team Penske after his amazing month.

Q: Pagenaud and Rossi (and a late charge by Sato and Newgarden falls short) scrap was a modern day duel harkening back to Ward and Rathman. Pretty great. The BIG question is, now that Pagenaud and Power have earned their way into keeping their rides for a while longer and Castroneves has run his last 500, does this put Newgarden on the proverbial hot seat, and will Penske keep a fourth car and add another hotshoe like Rossi (although realistically I don’t see him leaving Andretti) or is there another driver The Captain has his eye on? If so, who? And, we can say it enough, NBC did a terrific job pre-race, race, and post race of covering the 500. And it will only get better.

Jake, Pasadena, CA

RM: Newgarden isn’t on the hot seat, he was leading the points until Sunday and R.P. isn’t going to run four cars even if Mears decides to come out of retirement. I think Roger covets Rossi but this trio is safe for a few more years.

Q: I really enjoyed the Indy 500 this year. It had a fantastic finish. Watching Pagenaud and Rossi slug it out was great. I loved Sato’s effort. Sato and RLL have been great for each other this season. I think Santo Ferrucci really showed some balls around that track. Racing Kanaan out of the pits was awesome TV. When Bourdais and Rahal decided to do the tango, I could not believe my eyes when Santo “threaded the needle” to mow the lawn.

Peter McGinty, Australia

RM: Santino made a lot of fans with his drive last Sunday and was rewarded with Rookie of the Year and Sato came out of nowhere to take third.

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How Roger Penske changed the Indy 500 – the complete series

Daily during the two weeks leading up to this year’s 103rd Indianapolis 500, RACER.com presented a fresh episode of the 15-part podcast series, ‘How Roger Penske Changed The Indy 500′. The series celebrated the most successful entrant in Indianapolis Motor Speedway history, culminating on the 50th anniversary of his team’s first appearance in 1969 and, as it turned out, on the day of another Team Penske Indy 500 triumph courtesy an on-form Simon Pagenaud.

In case you missed any of the episodes, here are links to all 15:

MILLER: For Pagenaud, this was more than just an Indy win

We don’t know if Roger Penske was planning to replace Simon Pagenaud after this season. His contract was up and so was Alexander Rossi’s, and The Captain is always looking down the road for the next fast face.

The French veteran is 35, and Rossi is 27. Prior to this month’s IndyCar GP, Pagenaud had been winless since 2017, while the Californian has been the talk of the paddock for two years with his rapid ascension to the top of the IndyCar queue.

Some on Rossi’s Andretti Autosport team were nervous, constantly asking, ‘Was their driver heading to Team Penske in 2020?’

Personally, I’ve said I wasn’t sure Rossi wanted to go to there; that Honda was going to do everything it could to keep him; and that he seems like a driver who might put loyalty before anything else.

I didn’t want to see him go because that would just upset the balance of power. I believe it’s better for IndyCar if Rossi stays with Michael Andretti.

But after Sunday, I don’t think what once figured to be the story of Silly Season has any oxygen left.

Pagenaud drove at the highest level possible this month. He swept May, and took the broom to all of those rumors. He won a thrilling battle with Rossi to snare the 103rd Indianapolis 500 and, more importantly, he secured his job.

You win Indianapolis for R.P., and you’re not going anywhere except back to North Carolina to re-sign for at least two more years.

To his credit, the Friendly Frog never seemed concerned about his place in the paddock during the slump. His standard response was that he hadn’t forgotten how to drive and he felt confident he’d have a seat somewhere in 2020. He never got snooty when asked if he was worried about his future, and he remained even-keeled through the shaky start he had this year.

Certainly there was no reason to spoil Pagenaud’s magnificent Indy 500-winning moment on Sunday afternoon with any questions regarding his status. But he made a couple of good points that always apply to Indy and to racing in general.

“Obviously in racing you need a little bit of luck on your side. You need everything to go your way,” he said. “So it did today. I could do nothing wrong, quite frankly. And sometimes I can’t do anything right. That doesn’t mean I’ve lost my talent; that doesn’t mean my team is not doing a good job. It’s just you have to accept that there’s a little bit of mystery out there that you can’t control.

“All you can do is the best you can and extract the best out of yourself in every situation. The rest? It sorts itself out really.”

Ever since getting paired with engineer Ben Bretzman at Schmidt Peterson in 2012, they’ve been a tough combination, winning four times for SPM before The Captain snatched them both up in 2015.

Simon was the 2016 IndyCar champion and finished second to teammate Josef Newgarden in 2017 before they lost their way in 2018. He started off this year with a 7-19-9-6, and the Rossi whispers were getting louder.

Then he staged a marvelous charge in the rain to overtake Scott Dixon and win the IndyCar Grand Prix. He followed that up by winning the Indy pole in his Menard’s Chevy. And then he applied the coup de grace on Sunday in a dandy duel with the racer who may have been offered his seat before the month began.

But R.P., whose standard response when asked about a driver’s future is that he doesn’t discuss anything until after the season, went off script Sunday.

Asked if Pagenaud would be back next year, Penske replied: “What do you think? Do you want to answer that question for me? Absolutely.”

That was a done deal when Simon flashed under the checkered flag a few car lengths ahead of Rossi. In the toughest circumstances, when you know that you have to deliver for the most successful team in American motorsports history and the clock is ticking, Pagenaud performed like a badass these past three weeks.

He kept his composure and his job. Viva la France.