For the sixth time in his Indy career Friday, three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves won the Pit Stop Challenge on Carb Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The Team Penske driver made it the 14th win for Team Penske in the competition. It became a Penske/Ganassi showdown in the finals with Castroneves’ team walking away with the $50,000 winners’ prize.
Castroneves got off to a slow start from the line, but his time clocked at 14.475 compared to Franchitti’s 14.854.
“I can’t believe I screwed up,” he said. “I saw Dario go up [into the box] and I thought I didn’t have a chance. I didn’t know who won or not. When they go into the shop, they practice day in and day out. And they keep pushing each other. And we do have the best guys in the business.”
“You can come up against any of these teams, especially the Penske guys, and you can’t make any mistakes. And we had a little mistake there on the right rear,” said Franchitti, whose team earned $15,000 for second place.
Castroneves was the last driver who won the pit-stop competition and then went on to win the Indy 500.
Right before the pit competition, drivers in the Indy Lights series hit the track for the Firestone Freedom 100.
In his first Freedom 100, Peter Dempsey won, just edging Gabby Chaves, Sage Karam and Carlos Munoz at the start/finish line in a photo finish. Dempsey was in fourth exiting Turn 4 on the final lap when he found an opening on the outside wall about 50 feet from the finish. His margin of victory was .0026 of a second, the closest on an oval in the 100-plus-year history of the Speedway.
“You’re not going to get it better than four wide across the line,” said the 27-year-old native of Ireland. “We all raced each other so fair and that’s what racing is about for me. So hats off to the other three guys.”
Chavez placed second, while pole-sitter Karam was third.
In the final hour of practice before Sunday’s race, Simon Pagenaud led all drivers with a fast lap of 225.827 mph. The Honda-powered Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports entry was one of three Hondas in the top five. Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais were fourth and fifth on the speed charts with laps of 224.870 and 224.848 respectively.
“Honda’s racing mentality is to go racing and that’s exactly what they’re doing. They provided us with an engine that is clearly a lot better,” Pagenaud said.
E.J. Viso and 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay were second and third fastest of the day.
“The Hondas turned up the power, which we were expecting. It’s going to be a pretty hard-fought race,” Hunter-Reay noted.
Ryan Briscoe’s car blew an engine just as the checkered flag fell on the final practice session.
“Looking at the bright side of things, it’s better to happen now than the first couple laps of the race,” Briscoe assessed. “So maybe we’ll be really lucky and be able to put in a fresh engine without a penalty for the start of the race. It looks like the cars are running strong, so I’m feeling good for the race.”
There will be no on-track activity at the speedway until Sunday when gates open to the public for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 at 5:30 a.m. The green flag drops at 12:12 p.m.