Ben Hanley knows he is unlikely to spend any time at the front of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.
That’s not how he plans to judge success.
The British sports car driver will be behind the wheel for DragonSpeed Racing and starting last in the 33-car field, filling out the traditional 11 rows at the last minute. The team owned by former driver Elton Julian announced just two weeks ago that it would show up at the Brickyard, and the team barely got on the track until the week before the race.
There were mechanical issues. Electrical issues. All the things that a one-off team could expect to happen, but without much time to overcome. Hanley is left not only starting in the back but likely a bit uncertain about what exactly he will have under him.
“It’s been a little frustrating,” Hanley acknowledged ahead of final practice on Carb Day. “We knew it was quite last minute doing the race. The guys did a great job of getting the car ready in the time they had.”
DragonSpeed has been fielding cars in European series for more than a decade, but only recently did the team begin to toy with IndyCar. Hanley qualified 27th in their debut at the Indy 500 last year before a mechanical issue took him out early.
The goal this year is not so much to win as simply finish.
“We know what we’re up against in terms of experience, investment teams have in preparation of cars, the development in certain areas. So we know it’s a tough ask,” Hanley said. “You have to start somewhere. We started last year. We’re working this year, and the goal is to do more races as the years go on. It’s not just about having goals of winning. Of course we want to win. That’s what we do as race people. But at the same time, you have to have achievable goals.”
SO OVER OVALS
To put it mildly, Max Chilton does not particularly enjoy racing on ovals.
The British driver grew up karting, advanced through the European road racing series and eventually drove Formula One. But with his move to IndyCar came the opportunity to race at places such as Pocono and Iowa, and Chilton found he disliked the experience so much that he basically retired from oval racing.
“If I’m completely honest with it,” Chilton said, “I think life is too short not to enjoy what you’re doing.”
The Indianapolis 500 is different, Chilton explained. There is the history, the pomp and circumstance, and the complete devotion to a singular race among everybody in the paddock that he finds appealing. So that is why he returned after failing to qualify last season, and he will start on the outside of the 10th row for his Carlin team on Sunday.
“We always get like, two weeks of practice, and everybody treats it with respect,” said Chilton, who finished fourth in the 2017 race for Chip Ganassi. “It’s done properly. It’s not like going flat and hoping for the best. Tracks like Pocono and these one-day events, I just didn’t enjoy it. But I think a lot of people respect my decision.”
Santino Ferrucci earned himself a “bad boy” reputation while driving in Europe, where he once crashed into his own teammate and was fined for texting on the track. But if you want to see the softer side of the 22-year-old American, a good place to do it would have been Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week.
Ferrucci is a sucker for dogs. And he just got a new puppy.
“My dad has a West Highland Terrier,” Ferrucci said, “and my girlfriend was telling me I need another dog, and I was like, ‘I don’t need another dog, but I’ll share a dog.’ So that turned into her picking out a yellow Labrador retriever.”
The pup has become the unofficial mascot for his Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan team.
“He’s the light at the end of the day for us,” Ferrucci said. “It’s nice having him around.”
One of the big unknowns that came with postponing the race from its typical Memorial Day weekend to August was the weather. It figures to be warm on Sunday with the forecast calling for highs in the mid-80s, though to the relief of everyone there is only a slight chance of rain.
Also a relief? The wind should be minimal, taking away some of the uncertainty out of how the new aeroscreen might change the racing.
“By adding the aeroscreen, it just added a bunch of surface area,” James Hinchcliffe said, “and that’s just more area for the wind to grab. We’re hoping for a calm day from the wind perspective.”
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