INDIANAPOLIS – The story of the month so far has been the struggles as McLaren Racing and how they’re dealing with it so far. But, one story that’s starting to be written is the emergence of DragonSpeed.
See, the small team that’s making their first endeavor into the NTT IndyCar Series not only were quick in qualifying on Saturday, they actually made the field for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET/NBC/INDYCAR Radio Network).
That is a feat in itself to be in already. DragonSpeed owner Elton Julian didn’t even expect to be in the top 30 on Saturday. He knew he was in a fight to beat the full time teams and was on the ropes already heading into qualifications. But, they prevailed and made it in the show with a four lap qualifying average of 227.482 mph. They’ll start 27th next Sunday.
“We expected to come and fight for the last row realistically, said Julian on Sunday morning. Had a chance that maybe we could crack that habit and exceed our no-tow speeds during the week and thinking, well, maybe just.”
Ben Hanley practices his DragonSpeed car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – INDYCAR Media Site
The driver Ben Hanley knew that they were in the bottom four of the speed charts each day but he just kept with the program. He knew the speed would come. But, what was difficult for him was, he’s just a rookie and he had to make not one, not two, but three qualifying attempts on Saturday to get here. It’s not easy to make one qualifying attempt for a seasoned veteran, but a rookie with no oval experience had to make three.
“I don’t know, probably worse because you know you’ve got to go faster,” Hanley told me on if his nerves went down each run. “But yeah, I had the confidence in — one thing we’ve always said from the start is we keep this group of people because we trust each other. If I ask for something, nine times out of ten we’ll make some changes and I get what I asked for. And vice versa, if the engineer thinks I need to change my line a bit or be a bit cleaner or a bit smoother then I’ll trust him and I’ll try it. So I knew we were going to improve little bits.
“But yeah, it was a great feeling yesterday.”
The feeling for Hanley, Julian and the team last night was second to none. They felt like they had won a race. Hanley, calls it the most satisfying qualifying performance that he’s ever done.
“This place is like no other, and there’s a much more real risk-reward scenario when you’re driving out there,” Hanley continued. “Those last two laps, they start to get a bit sketchy, so you really need to have some confidence in the car to be able to keep it flat. But at the same time, you know that a gust of wind or the little wiggle has big consequences. So you really need the confidence to do that.
“Yeah, it was an amazing feeling. I was watching the times on the dash, so I knew we were really competitive and a big step up from the previous run. And then I think I got a “well done” and then radio silence, and I assumed that everyone was pretty happy because I knew it was a good run, and the radio silence kind of said that everyone was pretty happy in the team.”
Julian, says that making the show on Saturday was so big for this team that it bodes well for them for next Sunday in terms of preparation.
“Coming back this morning, first feeling was relief, pulling into the parking lot knowing that we didn’t have to go out there and fight for the position we really thought we were going to have to, so that has allowed us now to clean up the mess in the box and start to prepare for — like a normal team,” said Julian. “What it does for us probably more than most people is because we’re so small, this extra couple of days, or at least this extra day, means everything to our preparation for the race. So this is huge.”
Now that they’ve had this feeling and are in the race, they don’t want it to leave. Julian, says they will stay humble though and keep the mentality that they’re on the ropes. He said that they don’t plan on letting that thinking go away. But, now that he knows that he will have a taste of three Indy Car races, he wants more.
Originally, the organization signed up for five races in 2019. The goal was to grow for more in 2020. But, they’re having such a good time, they don’t want to leave. They’re going as far as to scale back other endeavors and put more resources into their Indy Car program.
“Well, we’ve grown rather quickly in the past — I stopped driving myself in 2012, so we started in the Porsche Cup and Ferrari Challenge and then moved up from there, and we were fortunate enough to win in every formula we’ve been in, but always very quick to step up to the next formula, a bit like a driver’s career, trying to go through the ladder system,” Julian said on their future. “In that process we ended up racing in sports cars, and we’ve had a successful time there and really, really enjoy the formula that we’re in with the LMP2, and we stepped up to LMP1 in the world championship this year, but it’s been quite frustrating both from the championship side and the technical side for us. We’ve had a lot of drama with our package.
“But moving forward, having had a chance to come to INDYCAR, a personal aspiration of mine, but also looking for a place for the team to grow and to have a long-term future. Commercially there’s no other championship that seems as viable as this one, so the decision that you read about yesterday was to pull back a little bit on some of the world endurance championship stuff that we’re involved in, still keeping our prototype racing program in the European championship, which I think is a fantastic championship, and individual outings in IMSA and stuff like that, the big events. So we’re not leaving sports car racing by any means. That is our bread and butter and that’s what we do really, really well, but dropping the WEC stuff will really allow me to spend more energy and time in doing as many or more races next year in this championship because now that I’ve got my foot in the door I don’t want to leave.”