(via Motorsport.com) – Fate wasn’t always smiling on the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports drivers in the Indianapolis 500, but there were some highly promising aspects to the team’s race, as David Malsher explains.
The almost mystical but definitely not mythical magic of the Indianapolis 500 has passed and it left an imprint on the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team as it always does. The person who fails to be moved by the sheer majesty of Memorial Day Weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is someone who really should just sell their tickets on.
“Honestly, it was a hell of a day for the Arrow Schmidt Peterson guys,” he said. “I really wanted that top-10. We were sitting there near the end, but TK, famous for his restarts, just snookered us there. We got boxed in and I couldn’t make a move. From where we started, we kept our nose clean all day – smart decisions on the racetrack, passed when we could, patient when we needed to be – and great strategy in the pits. We made the most of what we had today. It was a great comeback for the guys.
“On the first stint, the car was really dialed in. Then the track temps got hotter, we lost a little bit of front-end. The cloud cover came and went; we were up and down with the changes on the stops. The car was in a pretty good window the whole time. We were just fine-tuning. Thanks to all the engineers. It was a solid run for us.”
Remarking on a couple of close calls in which he flirted with accidents, Hinchcliffe commented: “I actually white-walled [brushing the white-painted SAFER barrier with the right-side tires] in the first stint coming off Turn 4. I hit pretty hard and was lucky enough not to bend anything.
“Then when the wreck happened at the north end, I was slowing down but [Ryan] Hunter-Reay also slowed at the same time and he was low so I couldn’t go there. After Charlie [Kimball] spun, he rolled back just enough for us to sneak through the middle – a little too close for comfort but we got through it. Not quite a top-10, but we’re pretty damn proud of that.”
Rookie teammate Marcus Ericsson, who had impressed throughout practice and qualifying, had a different kind of Indy 500 – disappointed with the result but pleased with his performance for the first 340 miles of the 500-mile race.
He had already been buoyed by he and his #7 crew winning the traditional pitstop competition on Carb Day [the Friday before the race].
From the start he played it smart, maintaining his 13th-place starting slot, before moving into the Top 10 following the first round of stops. Not long past half-distance, the Swede was eighth and looking in prime position to be top-placed rookie in a race that contained six newbies altogether. Unfortunately, he locked his rear wheels coming into the pitlane – easily done as a driver slows down to 60mph having been running 225 moments before – and as he spun, he broke his car’s nose against the pitwall.
A crestfallen Ericsson explained afterward: “The Arrow car was really good all day, and the guys had really good pit stops. Up until I did that mistake at pit entry, we were looking really good. We were running in the top eight most of the time, really in the race, like we were hoping and planning on. I just pushed a bit too hard and locked up the rears.
“After that, our race was pretty much over, but we still kept fighting and the car was still really good, so I was able to finish the race. It was a great feeling to finish and get the checkered flag, but obviously I’m disappointed for the guys because they put in so much work all month, and I was hoping to get us a better result.”
A couple of days later Marcus, who had finished second best of the rookies and 23rd overall, took to Instagram to reflect sincerely and movingly about the whole Indy experience. His words carry extra weight as a driver who has experienced Formula 1 at the greatest and/or most storied grand prix tracks, such as Suzuka, Spa-Francorchamps, Monza and Monaco.
He said: “Just want to write a few words about this past month. I never could’ve imagined how special and unique this event is. How much it means for everyone involved, how much every single person puts into this race. I’ve never experienced that strong emotions I felt before/during and after a race.
“The disappointment and sadness I felt after the race on Sunday was something I’ve never felt before. All that hard work and everything was just gone in that split second when the mistake happened. But now with a few days distance to it, I choose to see it in a different way. It’s so many positives to bring and I know I gave it my everything every single day. And one mistake cannot take that away from me. I’m proud of what I achieved, and I learned so much.
“And all this just means my hunger to come back next year is even bigger. When I was racing in Europe and all over the world I never understood how and why everyone said how special this race is. I just felt like it was just another race. But now I can say I really understand what it means. It truly is the greatest spectacle in racing. And I’m proud and always will be proud to say that I’ve done the Indy 500.”
Arrow SPM managing director Taylor Kiel was also looking at the positives when he spoke to Motorsport.com after the race.
“It was a bit disappointing how it ended up, of course,” he said, “because Marcus was having a really good run, from first practice right up to his incident in pitlane. I mean, he had been driving really well and I’m proud we gave him a really quick car. Overall, I think he should be proud of his first oval race.
“I liked the fact that Marcus went right out after that and passed some cars. The incident didn’t faze him. So he’ll be hard on himself but a lot of people much more experienced than him made mistakes on pitlane – skidding, missing pitboxes, speeding, and so on – so he shouldn’t be too down.
“The other thing is, I think because it’s become harder to pass here, as a driver sees the laps ticking down, he’s looking at other ways to gain time and get in front of the guy he’s been chasing. And yeah, you can make up a lot of time on the run in to the pits if you push to the limit, and on the out-lap too. But it’s so easy to go over that limit just a bit.”
Although Arrow SPM has been renowned for becoming imaginative with strategy whenever Fate has hurt them in qualifying and left them with unrepresentative grid slots, the squad elected not to do that with Hinchcliffe on this day.
“After one stint, James had already made up six places!” said Kiel, “so we thought we’d keep him on the same strategy as the leaders. He was making great progress. Obviously, as you come through, it gets harder and harder to make up ground because the cars you’re catching are faster and faster – that’s why they’re there, you know?
“But I still think he had some really good momentum, and then one of his tire sets was a little off – his right-front had a pretty severe vibration, like maybe a wheel-weight had been knocked off. We’re not sure yet. That would have kind of slowed his charge for a whole stint, because you don’t want to pit immediately for a new wheel: making that extra stop will just lose all the ground you’ve already made up. So he was just going to have to stick with it, but then luckily for us the caution came out and he was able to pit again without too much damage to track position [because everyone was running at heavily reduced speed]. In fact I think he only lost one place.
“It also gave us a chance to top him up with fuel so he could have made it to the end on one stop less than almost all the fast guys. I think Scott [Dixon of Ganassi] was the only other guy who could have done that. But then of course everyone’s fuel issues went away when that final caution came out so no one had an advantage.
“Looking at the basic facts, James went from 32nd to 11th by being smart, making passes, missing that huge wreck – just about! – and we gave him great pitstops too. I think if it had been the Indianapolis 600, we’d have been looking even better, but…
“At the end of the day, you’re never happy unless you win, but there’s at least a lot we can be satisfied with – we had fast cars, good pitstops and good drivers. It’s just that sometimes you need a little more to be on your side to get the results you feel you deserve.
“But we’re not going to dwell on it just yet. We have to keep pushing on to Detroit this weekend.”