Carb day at the Brickyard. The final day of practice for the Indianapolis 500. The Lotus Fan Force United team and Jean Alesi need their #64 FP Journe-sponsored machine to get as much track time as possible. Alas, this was not to be.
The green flag flew over the Speedway at 11am, and Jean Alesi, driving with a freshly-mounted Lotus engine, steered on to the circuit for an installation lap. One lap is needed for a leak check before the team and driver get busy seeing what exactly their new and upgraded powerplant can muster.
Checking over the rear of the car that has been effectively taken apart and re-assembled since Sunday’s qualifying run, and with everything seeming to be in order for the moment, the engine is fired and Jean is motioned out of the pit at 11:07am. It’s time to spend the next hour running race condition laps, practicing pit stops and launches, and making crucial final preparations. Jean’s first lap at speed was in excess of 204mph. This does not equal the pace of the guys at the front, to say the least, but this does generate satisfied looks all around the Fan Force United team pit. Jean posts a couple more laps at a similar pace, running with traffic before returning to the pit to completely fill the tank and make his first full-tank runs of the month.
Returning to the pit, Jean slides to a stop and the team performs a live pit stop. Curiously, the brakes are smoking, which is unexpected. This draws a bit of attention, and many are curious as to the source of this strange smoke. Naturally, the brakes are hot on a hot day, but that doesn’t offer a satisfactory explanation. Nevertheless, the tyres are changed, fuel is delivered, the jack is dropped, and at 11:19am Jean again motors down the pit lane, eager to discover how his fully-fueled mount will feel around the 2.5 mile creator of legends.
This will prove to be Jean’s final lap on the morning, as Jean returns to the pit, brakes smoking again (something about a solvent that was used to clean the brakes – a minor issue that has been addressed). There seems to be a problem at the rear of the car. As the team inspects the back end of the racing machine, it is discovered that there is a leaky seal at the front of the gearbox. Thankfully, it is not an issue with the engine that limits Jean’s laps, but as far as the plan for the day is concerned, it’s still a disaster, as it cannot be easily addressed in the pit lane. This is the first mechanical issue that has limited the team’s ability to run laps since the month began. Oddly, it comes not after the 48 hours in which the car was assembled and placed on the racetrack. Rather, it comes after five days of careful assembly. The racing gods have a sense of humor. The up side is that the problem was discovered on Carb Day rather than race day.
After the aborted attempt to practice, Jean turns his attention to the Indy Lights race, paying special attention to the two Fan Force United cars of Armaan Ebrahim and Emerson Newton-John (nephew of Olivia). Afterwards, Jean makes a trip to the suite of his sponsor, FP Journe watches, which has a large contingent of retail partners in town for race weekend. After an appearance there, Jean returns to the garage, going over details with his team while interacting with guests, signing autographs, and continuing to enjoy his maiden Indianapolis 500 experience. At 6pm, Jean makes an appearance at the annual “Last Row Party,” accepting his extra prize money of 33 cents for being the 33rd and final starter in the 500 field. He enjoys some good-natured ribbing, taking it all in his stride with a wink and a smile. From there he is off to the IndyCar Soiree, for a brief appearance before being whisked off to a dinner with FP Journe and his guests.
The day is long and full, but not nearly as productive as had been hoped.