Fast Friday expected to lead to fastest laps at IMS in years

INDIANAPOLIS — Buckle up NTT IndyCar Series fans, we’re about to see the fastest speeds that we’ve seen at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in several years. No, the record practice lap set by Arie Luyendyk set one 1996 of over 239 mph isn’t going to be broken this weekend. No, the track record of single lap (237 mph) as well as four lap averages (236.836 mph) in qualifying also set in 1996 by Luyendyk isn’t going to be threatened either.

But, expect to see low 230 mph laps though starting on Fast Friday.

The series will practice from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. ET (NBC Gold) on Friday and while speeds have been in the mid 220 mph range through the first couple of days of practice for next Sunday’s 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network), the boost levels are now being turned up.

We’re essentially doubling the horsepower that’s being aided from the boost.

In recent years, Indy Car has given the teams additional boost only for Fast Friday that lasts into the qualifying weekend. Once the cars are qualified though, the boost levels go back down to race day trim. It’s in efforts to raise the speeds.

Still, just five times over the last 23 years and only three occurrences in the last 16 has the pole winner for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” actually eclipsed the 230 mph barrier among their four lap averages. That likely changes this weekend.

IndyCar was already giving the teams extra boost this year over the past. Plus, they gave them even more to accommodate for the added drag and additional weight from the new Aeroscreen. The drivers, depending on who you’re hearing from, are expecting qualifying boost levels to raise the speeds beginning on Friday anywhere from 3-7 mph from the practice times this week. With 226 mph, that means we can get into the 229-233 mph range for qualifying trim.

But, with a boost in a tow, you can see even faster speeds on Fast Friday.

“It’s going to be cool,” Scott Dixon said. “It’s a big jump (in power). We’re pretty low speeds (today). I expect to see some pretty big speeds tomorrow, especially in tows. Everybody will be trying to get a clear track, but that’s going to be tough to get. I’m excited for tomorrow – Fast Friday.”

2017 race winner Takuma Sato describes what it’s like to hop in the car on Fast Friday, the first day with these boost levels.

“The first time you will notice out of the turn two after pit lane, you got acceleration,” Sato said. “Acceleration never stop basically. It’s really, really high. Every single turn seems to be much narrower because it’s, let’s say, tunnel vision. You go faster, it is more harder.

“I think once you get used to the rhythm, you will enjoy the sensation. Every time new tire, new tire. That’s why it’s really good practice to get used to the speed and sensation. After the qualify, you go back to the race boost and downforce, is so much easier after that.

“First of all, you will find it very challenging, particularly tomorrow we will have unknown. We will have up to 160 for the boost, which is the most powerful we ever felt. The aero efficiency is not as good as last year, means more challenging into the corner.

“I don’t know how much we can actually trim. Last year we went to the minus nine degrees. I don’t know if this year’s car we can go that way.”

The quickest qualifying four lap average since 1997 was Dixon’s in 2017. His time was 232.164 mph that year. That’s the fastest since Helio Castroneves went 231.725 mph on his four lap average in 2003. The year prior, Bruno Junqueria went 231.342 mph himself. Only Ed Carpenter (231.067 mph) in 2014 and James Hinchcliffe (230.760 mph) for the 100th Running in 2016, qualified on the pole with a four lap average over 230 mph since 1997.

Really, you have the record shattering year in 1996, the first record in 1992 and Scott Brayton going 231.604 mph in 1995 as the only eight years in the 103 year history of this race to where the pole speed was over 230 mph.

I think we get to nine in 104 years on Sunday.

But, first is Fast Friday. The quickest practice lap in recent years was Helio Castroneves’ of 233.474 mph on opening day of Time Trials in the morning practice of 2015. Mikhail Aleshin went 232.917 mph on the morning of the second day of quals a year prior.

Ed Carpenter’s lap of 230.522 mph in 2014 was the first 230 mph lap here since 2003.

With a tow likely happening on some laps on Friday, I can foresee laps well in excess of 232 or 233 mph on Fast Friday.

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