May 13, 2012  |   By Dave Lewandowski

Clauson Has Quick Day On IMS Oval

Immediately, Bryan Clauson relates, he felt at home at the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing shop. And that was important last fall as the reigning USAC National Driver Championship title-holder was seeking to transition from short tracks and Firestone Indy Lights ovals to the IZOD IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500.

“You could tell there was something different about the group and the level of comfort there was instantaneous,” Clauson said of the Indianapolis-based team that was formed in 2008. “It was a place I could see I could call home for a long time. It reminds me a lot of what we’ve tried to do on the USAC side of things.

“Having Sarah, who’s made the transition like I’m trying to do, there to help me through it is going to be huge.”

Fisher was Clauson’s spotter on Opening Day at the Speedway as the rookie posted the third-quickest lap (40.9776 seconds; 219.632 mph) of the session. He followed with another strong outing May 13 by being second quick (40.6922 seconds; 221.173 mph).

Sebastian Saavedra of Team AFS, who will pull double duty for the second time by competing in the Firestone Freedom 100 and Indy 500, topped the speed chart on the 2.5-mile oval with a lap of 40.6272 seconds (221.526 mph) with a tow from teammates.

Clauson, who started from the pole in the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Speedway last year, was the recipient of the USAC Scholarship, which provided some of the backing to enter the 500 Mile Race. He and fellow rookie and teammate Josef Newgarden tested at Texas Motor Speedway in April – their first exposure to high-banked ovals in an IZOD IndyCar Series car. Both zipped through the Rookie Orientation Program on May 10.

Clauson, who acknowledged “we’re fairly close to doing at least another oval,” said the speed didn’t come as a surprise though “Turn 1 looks like it’s 2 inches wide when you’re crossing the start-finish line.”

He’ll keep listening and learning each session, pointing to Pole Day qualifications on May 19. Then, and only then, will he focus on the race.

“The great part about the position we’re in is there’s not a lot of expectations,” said Clauson, who turns 23 on June 15. “We have a good shot to be there at the end of 500 miles and who knows what can happen then. It’s been an exciting time and a lot of people have worked extremely hard to make this happen.”
Saavedra, who welcomed his mother from Colombia to the track on Mother’s Day, relayed a similar message.

“I have to take the guys out for dinner,” said Saavedra, who competed in the IZOD IndyCar Series with Conquest Racing in 2011. “More than anything, (Ryan) Hunter-Reay and (James Hinchcliffe) who were in the front. It’s exciting, we’ve been struggling the past couple of years and so starting the Month of May this way, it’s a very satisfying feeling.”
Newgarden was third quick on the time sheet in the No. 67 Dollar General car (221.158 mph), while 2008 race winner Scott Dixon (220.829) of Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Justin Wilson (220.615) of Dale Coyne Racing also were in the top five.