INDIANAPOLIS – Opening day of practice for this year’s Indianapolis 500 was challenging to say the least. The Verizon IndyCar Series was a just a day removed from the Inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and all teams had to labor diligently to prepare their “speedway” configured cars for the biggest prize of the Month of May, a victory in the 500.
Well-healed teams with multiple cars broke out their speedway entries, while the lesser-funded teams spent their time “converting” their cars or making substantial repairs to those who did not fare well during Saturday’s race. Make no mistake there was plenty equipment to be repaired after the four yellow-flag, 82 lap road course race just some 18 hours before.
On the day … Twenty-four drivers, including three Rookies, laid down 731 laps, for an afternoon test session of just over 1827 miles.
With the Speedway returning to the oval configuration, the track opened for business at 12 noon with an ambient temperature of 74 degrees, a slight wind from the northeast and a track temperature of 104 degrees.
The next order of business was the completion of the final Rookie Orientation Phase 3 Test for Sage Karam (R). The 19-year-old reigning Indy Lights Champion, who hails from Nazareth, Pennsylvania, the home town of a whole list of racers by the name of Andretti, is now qualified to attempt to make the field. He is part of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing Development Program and is entered in the 500 field in the No. 22 Dreyer & Reinbold- Kingdom Racing Chevrolet being supported by Ganassi Racing.
One driver who was not in a car for the opening practice was Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe, who on Saturday, during the 57th lap of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, suffered a concussion when a front wing end plate off of Justin Wilson’s car struck “Hinch” in the helmet.
A CT Scan performed Saturday night on Hinchcliffe at Methodist Hospital showed a concussion. James may be scheduled for an evaluation by the IndyCar Medical Staff as early as Tuesday, though he has not been scheduled for one yet. Until then, he won’t be allowed to practice. In the interim Andretti has put E.J. Viso in the No. 27 United Fiber and Data – Dallara/Honda. On Sunday, Viso, the consummate professional that he is known to be, was the sixth fastest of the 24 drivers that hit the track, running 28 laps, with his fastest lap of 222.105 mph.
Another day of challenge for Andretti Autosport was with the one-off Indy 500 effort of Kurt Busch (R). The NASCAR driver got on the track late in the day, due to repairs being made to his No. 26 Suretone Honda, after suffering through a crash (and engine change) while being driven in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis by Franck Montagny. Busch was able to log 31 laps and finished 12th fastest on the day, with a quick lap of 220.352 mph.
Of his experience Sunday, Busch said: “Today was a nice shakedown. The the second run out was a baseline run, and then the third time out was to follow around Ryan Hunter‑Reay, a champion. That’s helping me. It’s really nice to have his lead. Carlos Munoz was in our pack, as well as E.J. Viso. It’s nice to have the teammates looking back in their mirrors for me and to help out.”
Fastest on the day was Will Power in the No. 12 Team Penske Verizon Dallara/Chevrolet logging 82 laps and running at the top of the practice leaderboard at 223.507 mph. He was followed Penske Racing teammates; Juan Pablo Montoya at 222.502 mph and Helio Castroneves at 222.373 mph.
Power was tempered in his response on being the fastest of the day saying: “Apart from the speed, it’s great, to be at the top of the speed charts, but the car felt really good, too, today and we got to do quite a few laps, try to get the mileage up.” He further explained. “Just anticipating that it might be wet the next couple of days it was important to get a lot of laps. “Actually we did a bit of race work today, just anticipating the rain here,” Power said. “I think it’s important to get some race stuff in, because you get to the end of the week and you get to thinking about qualifying, which pays big points, too. So you have to be pretty honest with that. But the whole race does pay massive points, double points. Honestly, I think it is way too far but it is what it is right now.
J.R. Hildebrand in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer/Ed Carpenter Racing Dallara/Chevrolet was fourth quick with a lap at 222.200 mph, leaving Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2012 IndyCar Series champion, to close out the top five with a 222.134 mph in DHL Dallara/Honda.
Some periods of light rain slowed the day’s overall traffic, but with the challenge of getting back on the track after the race on Saturday, just about all of the teams proved themselves ready to make a sound run qualifying this weekend.
Photos Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway & IndyCar