INDIANAPOLIS – The second day of practice for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 began on a sad note, when I arrived early in the morning at the IMS Media Center and I learned of the passing of legendary IndyCar mechanic and car builder A.J. Watson. I was fortunate to spend some time with Mr. Watson, a Month of May not so long ago during an Indy 500 Old Timers gathering along with my good friend, and a peer of Watson’s, Ray Nichels.
Watson was American auto racing royalty.
His four Indianapolis 500 team victories (Bob Sweikert in 1955, Pat Flaherty, 1956, Rodger Ward in both 1959 & 1962) and six as the winning car builder in 1956, 1959 & 1962; plus 1960 (Jim Rathmann), 1963 (Parnelli Jones) and 1964 ( A. J. Foyt) were indeed what legends are made of. Watson’s passing was a loss for the entire IndyCar community. Speaking for many, Doug Boles, the President of Indianapolis Motor Speedway said: “AJ Watson was one of the most innovative and successful mechanics and car builders in the 105-year history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Watson roadster that was so prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s remains one of the most iconic racing cars ever constructed. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Indianapolis Motor Speedway organization are with the Watson family and the many friends and fans of A.J. Watson, who will always remember him for his passion for racing and his friendly and approachable personality.”
Getting back to the business of the day, the second full practice at the world’s most prestigious speedway proved to be fast and furious.
On the day, a grand total of 2286 laps equaling 5,715 miles were covered by thirty entrants in this year’s Indianapolis 500. Not one “T” or backup car was used during the session. At the beginning of practice, a track temperature of 97 degrees, coupled with a 78 degree ambient temperature and relative humidity of 71%, made for a Brickyard full of grip. “Happy Hour” was unusually busy as the threat of rain over the next 3 days has teams greatly concerned about track time when it comes to both working on qualifying and race setups, let alone the ability to run in traffic.
For the second day in a row there were no on-track incidents.
A handful of yellow flags for light rain and some debris did little to keep the car s off the track and as the day went on the speeds began to ratchet their way higher. Late in the session, Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 Andretti Autosport DHL Dallara/Honda, laid down the fast lap of the day, and the only lap above 225 miles per hour.
The top five drivers of the day were as follows:
|Rank||Car||DriverName||C/E/T||Time||Speed||Diff||Gap||Best Lap||Total Laps|
The quickest Target Chip Ganassi entry was Tony Kanaan in the No. 10 car, running a total of 131 laps with the quickest coming on lap 107 at 222.635 mph. Twenty six drivers ran faster than 220 miles per hour.
It was clear that the five Andretti drivers were working together quite well throughout the session. “We’ve got five quick cars, and it was great to all work together.” Hunter-Reay said. “It was nice to be fastest on a practice day for a change. But tomorrow’s Tuesday; we’ve got a long week to go.” During a lighter moment in the after-practice press conference, Hunter-Reay joked that the NASCAR driver Kurt Busch keeps asking for more “wedge” in his setup. “It’s getting annoying.”
Second fastest on the day, Marco Andretti in the No. 25 Snapple Andretti Autosport Honda said: “We got to get going a little bit today. We only did like a shakedown run and a pretty conservative (engine) map yesterday. Things are feeling pretty good, but as Ryan (Hunter-Reay) said it’s still very early days. We could have a fantastic car tomorrow, roll that same car and it’s totally different, so we’re prepared for that. Hopefully we can just keep up with the track and make the right moves at the right time.”
Helio Castroneves, driving the No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Platinum Team Penske Chevrolet, perspective on the day and his concern for practice late in the week was noted: “I feel that the weather is the biggest contribution here. Sounds like tomorrow and Wednesday and even Thursday possible rains. So yea, exactly that’s why you want to take a chance with the hot weather conditions for the race plus when you put the turbo number, we’re going to put more pressure on turbo so the speeds going to go up and we’re still going to go with that kind of scenario so right now I’m very happy with our car. I think everybody is getting draft so that they understand what their car is doing in traffic. But at this point, the name of the game is the same for all of us. We’re just trying to put some mileage, especially on the engine and go for it.”
Helio’s teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya added: “It was good to get out there and run a lot of laps today, which was important because we don’t know what the weather will be like for tomorrow. I will definitely sleep good tonight because that was a workout. I think the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet showed good improvement from yesterday. We picked up some time, as did some other drivers. It’s all part of the step-by-step process to get to where we need to be for the race. All in all I think things are going according to plan.”
One of the more insightful comments on the day came from a rookie, Mikhail Aleshin (R) driving the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda: “Today felt amazing out on track. We had a little bit of rain throughout the day, but we got a lot of laps in. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has prepared a very fast car. We plan on using the car’s potential to try a few different things on set-up, but we’re off to a great start. I’ve only been on the oval for two days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but I can already tell that this is a very tricky place. There are so many different things you need to learn. When you think everything looks good and you get comfortable, that’s when you could get in trouble. Above all, this track demands respect.”