INDIANAPOLIS — JR Hildebrand and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing may have been the last announced entry into this year’s 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) but that deal was known to be done for a while before that unveiling. The last true entry was DragonSpeed’s announcement on Saturday afternoon in that Ben Hanley would drive their No. 81 Chevrolet for this year’s race.
They were an underrated story last year. One of the few single car entries in the field in 2019, Hanley qualified 27th with a four lap average of 227.482 mph. Most thought the new entrant would be one of the three that didn’t make the show last year. Not only did they make it, they made it solidly and avoided the Last Row Shootout.
This year, it couldn’t have gone much worse thus far.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, Hanley didn’t even arrive to Indianapolis via England until Monday. Several team members didn’t land in the United States until Tuesday. So, they were already put behind schedule because of that.
With opening day of practice for this year’s race being on Wednesday, it didn’t give them much time to get the car ready. So, instead of doing their refresher course on track during the two hours available on Wednesday (1-3 p.m. ET), they elected to just work on their own pace in Gasoline Alley instead and ensure that their car was ready the right way and not rushed.
See, they don’t have the luxury of having a backup ready. They don’t have much finances available to get spare parts to fix a wrecked race car. If you rush the car to get ready, you risk a practice crash which would all likely end their Indy 500 hopes in 2020.
So, without the danger of being bumped and only having 33 cars for 33 spots this year, they’re doing things slow and steady.
IndyCar gave them an extra 30 minutes after practice closed for everyone on Wednesday evening but only three laps were turned before having to call it quits for problems with their car. They were given an additional hour before practice this morning, but the same issues arised which forced them back to the garage for repairs.
So, they were finally able to hit the track this evening where Hanley turned in a top speed of 215.896 mph. He completed enough laps to pass his first phase of the veteran refresher and is eligible to compete in Indy 500 practice.
Where this is an uphill fight for them is, Wednesday and Thursday were the only two days available until post qualifying practice on Sunday to get on race setups. Friday, the boost levels get turned up and they’re not allowed to be turned back down.
So, the only on track activity before qualifying for them was finishing up their phases tonight and then on the quals boost levels this weekend. That means they will go into the Indy 500 with no time in traffic other than Sunday afternoon and Carb Day.