By: Wm. R. LaDow
As reported for the Post-Tribune – A Chicago Sun-Times Media Company
The 225 mile per hour mark fell just 8 minutes into the “Fast Friday” practice session as IndyCar teams got up to speed in a hurry at the Brickyard.
A half an hour later, it was JR Hildebrand in the #4 National Guard Panther Racing-Chevrolet posting the fastest lap of the month at 226.943 mph and the speeds just kept rising.
IndyCar teams got their first chance to utilize an increase in turbocharger boost (upped from 130 kPa to 140 kPa) bringing about 40 more horsepower to their Chevrolet (twin-turbocharged IndyCar V6) and Honda (single turbo-charged HI13R) engines. Saturday qualifying will be the next (and final) opportunity to run with the increased boost as the level will be returned to 130 kPa for final practice on Carb Day on Friday, May 24 and the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday, May 26.
It became clear quite quickly, that with probability of rain showers, race teams had every intention of “getting after it” from the start of practice.
At 1:07pm it was EJ Viso in the #5 Andretti-Autosport-Chevy, who ran the fastest speed of the month at 229.537 mph. It’s true that Viso had help with a tow, but there were others right behind him on the speed charts. Viso’s Andretti Autosport Chevrolet-powered teammates Marco Andretti and Carlo Munoz (R) were second and third fastest on the day at 228.754 mph and 228.520. Rounding out the top five were Will Power in his #12 Penske-Chevy at 228.401 mph and was JR Hildebrand’s car who climbed in speed to 227.549 mph.
It was apparent that many of the teams had trimmed out their cars and were planning to make more high-speed runs later in day pushing the envelope on through “happy hour” in an effort to be primed for a run for the Pole on Saturday. But those plans were thwarted by lightning and thunderstorms that hit the speedway hard beginning at 3:08pm. Speedway officials called it a day at 3:42pm with Viso atop the Leaderboard, resulting in E.J. and his Chevy-powered No. 5 Team Venezuela PDVSA CITGO/Andretti Autosport team being awarded the $10,000 F.E. Harding Asphalt Companies of Indianapolis “Fastest Lap” Award.
Viso explained the team’s approach: “We went little by little, step by step, trimming the car one step at a time. Until that point, I believe our realistic time was in the high 227s or low 228s. There are so many factors in play when we were running that we really won’t know until all of the factors are the same for everyone. I think that we have evolved as a team and heading into the right direction. Every day we’ve been on the track and testing a number of pieces on the car. And, as of today, we have a stronger car than what we started the week with. It’s all about finding as much mechanical grip as possible, and when it comes time to trim it, you should be in a good position if you did your homework.” (Is Andretti Autosport the favorite for winning the pole?) “I think we have a strong team, and we will definitely have a good shot for it. But the Penske guys have showed that they are strong. I think Helio (Castroneves) didn’t put everything he had in his run before it rained. Will (Power) was fast. AJ (Allmendinger) was the first car to go out on the track, and he was not totally trimmed and he was competitive. Those guys are also doing their homework, and that is what we are here for. It is fun. It is a great month, and the more competitive it is makes it better for the series, better for the team. It’s better for everyone, and it’s really what we like.”
Though no one officially broke through the 230 mph mark on the day, it appeared attainable and the crowd obviously hoped that someone would do for the first time since 2003, when Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon hit 233.200 mph.
Rookie Conor Daly, who’s No. 41 A.J. Foyt Racing/ABC Supply-Honda made contact with the wall exiting Turn 1 on Thursday was the lone entry not to get on the track. Team Race Strategist for A.J. Foyt Racing, Larry Curry said: “We got the car in here after the accident yesterday and got it taken apart and assessed the damage. We worked last night until midnight then sent everybody home. Then we all came back in here at 6 o’clock this morning. We just fired it up at 12:30 (today). We were shooting for getting it out on the track today between 3 and 4 (o’clock) to at least get a shakedown run on it. So far, so good. If we don’t run up against any other glitches, we’ll be just fine. A.J. just had us fix the car straight up. We did not go out and take apart the backup car that is out in the truck to put parts on this one. Header-wise, the header manufacturer didn’t have what we needed, and so we were able to get a set from Ganassi (Racing). Other than that, I think everything else we have been able to get from the vendors.”
Past Indy 500 winner; Buddy Lazier got on track for the first time and turned 21 laps before the rain ended practice. His top lap was 222.464 mph. He commented: “The guys (crew) did a great job. The car feels incredibly good. We would have gone a lot faster, but we were just flat out of gear. We were on the rev limiter more than two-thirds of the racetrack. We’ve already spotted all of the other guys (drivers) six days. So we are going to go back to what we would be doing on the first day and start going through different steps and start trying to find some speed and race setup.” But the car feels good. I like this new package. Obviously, I have some ‘fit’ issues. I’m still trying to get fit in the car just right. And these things you can’t tell until you get up to speed. You get up to speed, and then you do some adjustments. We can’t really skip a whole lot of steps. We’ll skip the few that we can, but other than that, we just have to go step by step. But it feels really good. So far, so good.”
Ganassi Racing was challenged by the reduced running time for the day with Scott Dixon saying: “We really didn’t have the chance to do much today with the Target car due to weather. We still got to trim out the car a little bit, though, and we got some more performance out of the engines. We didn’t really get to achieve much today, though. We came out for our second qualifying simulation, and then the rain came. We’ll just have to see how it goes tomorrow.”
The managing Director for all of Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Mike Hull though feels his team his making progress: “It was a pretty short day today because of the rain and storms in the area. Dario had a really good run while the track was still dry, and we made really good progress. The definition of having a team is so you can compare notes. And we’ll continue to do that and progress forward. We’ll come back strong tomorrow.”
There we no on-track incidents at 32 drivers laid down 707 laps on the day.
A total of 42 cars are at the Speedway, with 42 passing technical inspection. Thirty-three drivers have been on the track to date and turned 10,352 laps (25,880 miles) this month.
Open practice is scheduled to resume at 8am Saturday and run until 10am. Pole Day qualifications start at 11am and Qualifying will run until 4pm, when the drivers with the nine fastest times will qualify again to determine the order of the first three rows of the 97th Indianapolis 500 field.