INDIANAPOLIS — The most compelling story at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday didn’t involve any of the 30 cars on the race track that turned 1,632 laps of practice.
The most compelling story are the two cars that have yet to even be wheeled on to pit road or even out of the Gasoline Alley garage stalls.
Dragon Racing is attempting to dump its contract with engine supplier Lotus over breach of contract and is expected to hit the track on Thursday with a Chevrolet engine. Although team owner Jay Penske cited legal reasons why he could not confirm that, the specter of circumstantial evidence indicates the change has already been made.
Chevrolet engineers were seen in and out of the Dragon Racing garage on Wednesday. Team Penske was offering assistance to Dragon Racing, which is owned by Roger Penske’s youngest son, Jay. And crew shirts were being delivered with the Chevrolet logo replacing the Lotus emblem that had been on the shirts all season.
According to sources, Lotus has not lived up to its contract with the team as an engine supplier and Dragon is attempting to end its relationship with the company whose racing engines are being built by John Judd.
The performance of Lotus has been a major concern in the IZOD IndyCar Series all season. Former Formula One driver Jean Alesi was unable to pass the final phase of his rookie test until Tuesday simply because the Lotus could not reach the required speed of 210 miles per hour.
Of the 30 cars that took the track for Wednesday’s six-hour practice session, the two slowest were Alesi’s Lotus at 205.389 miles per hour and Simona de Silvestro’s Lotus for HVM Racing at 205.009 mph.
“Right now, I feel very unsafe, being quite slow in the middle of the track,” Alesi said. “So I am quite concerned for my fellow drivers, if we are not able to get the speed that we need. I am flat out and I have reached 205 as the maximum that I can see. So it is not a comfortable position right now.”
By contrast, rookie driver Josef Newgarden was the fastest driver for the third time in five days with a fast lap of 222.785 miles per hour for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.
At least those drivers have had a chance to compete in practice this week because Dragon’s two drivers – four-time Champ Car World Series champion Sebastien Bourdais and rookie driver Katherine Legge — have not even been able to suit up. Legge still has to go through the Rookie Orientation Program and IndyCar officials are making the unusual move by holding ROP from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on Thursday morning. Regular practice begins at 12 noon and runs through 6 p.m. Thursday.
Instead of driving around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in his IndyCar Bourdais was on a bicycle driving through Gasoline Alley on his way out of the garage area. He won’t believe everything is settled until he actually gets onto the race track on Thursday.
“I don’t know about that,” Bourdais said. “It doesn’t mean we are getting on the track. We were not ready to compete any way. We knew it was going to be difficult. If it is difficult it is difficult. There is the rest of the season coming up after this and that is the bigger picture. There is a pretty big difference between the two (Lotus compared to Chevrolet) so hopefully we can be contenders after that.
“If we get on the track Thursday we have just two days to figure it out. But with just enough cars to fill the field of 33 we won’t have to worry about qualifying so that will ease the situation for sure.”
Jay Penske refused to speak on the record. Chevrolet officials also would not confirm a deal even though it was plainly visible that a Chevrolet engine was being fitted onto Dragon Racing’s Dallara DW12 chassis.
Penske was seen huddled with IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard and vice president of technology Will Phillips to help solidify the change because of the potential litigation that is involved.
Meantime, back on the race track, Newgarden was not only the fastest driver in practice but the first to have an incident. That came with 17 minutes left in practice when Newgarden did two full counter-clockwise spins exiting Turn 4 and tapped inside retaining wall with left front wheel, nose and left rear wheel before car spins a half-turn clockwise and stops on the front straightaway.
Newgarden climbed from the car without assistance and was cleared and released to competition.
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