INDIANAPOLIS — The fastest laps of the month occurred on Thursday as Scott Dixon laid down a flier late in the day with a top speed of 226.102 mph in his No. 9 Honda. He was P3 on the speed charts on Wednesday (224.047 mph) as the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader looks like he could very well claim his second career Indianapolis 500 crown next Sunday.
Dixon’s obviously got some help with that lap from a tow in happy hour, but the Kiwi is pretty happy right now with the balance of his Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
“Today, we made some minor changes and tried to figure out some different balances,” Dixon said. “We’re also focusing on how the car feels.
“The No. 8 car had some changes yesterday that (Marcus Ericsson) liked and we tried them, but I’m on the fence. We’re just running through those variations and trying to run in as much traffic as possible and get the car as comfortable as possible for the race.
“It’s good to have three cars to learn from, but it’s also about trying to learn what each driver feels differently. Everyone can be picky in certain areas or have attention to detail on something the other driver doesn’t really care about. What Marcus feels might not equate to something that I like.
“All of the information is fantastic, and that is what we’re trying to feed off and get a pattern going of what somebody likes and we know the conversion. We’re really just working hard on race setup. We’ve had a lot of options to work through and we also wanted to run some of the things the other two cars have tried. We also worked on finding traffic today to see how the car would respond.”
2017 race winner Takuma Sato was second fastest in his No. 30 Honda. The lap put down of 225.693 mph was set early on in the day and held on until the closing minutes. Sato, was P13 (222.551 mph) yesterday. He says his car isn’t 100-percent of the way there for his race trim, but he’s 90-percent there.
“I’m pretty happy,” Sato said. “I think it was quite a productive day. Obviously the scoreboard was nice, being in the first place and second place felt good.
“It means nothing, but I think that’s a reflection of the cars getting quite a good adhesion. You get in a big tow, you able to follow people with the new tire. Obviously, that pure speed is far off from non-tow situation, but I’m pretty happy with that speed.
“In the traffic run, which is very difficult this year, with the Aeroscreen the air efficiency goes down, and it is very difficult to overtake. I think we were landing on a good pace. Overall, I think it was a very good day.”
Marco Andretti (225.249 mph) set the days third fastest lap while Conor Daly (225.106 mph) and Alex Palou (224.971 mph) rounded out the top five on the speed chart.
We saw the first crash of the month in happy hour too when Fernando Alonso got too low and below the white line in Turn 4 and skated his No. 66 Chevrolet into the outside SAFER barrier at turn exit as a result. He’d do a half spin after and slide backwards onto pit entry before coming to a rest.
Alonso, would climb out under his own power and say that the contact wasn’t severe enough to have to go to a backup. He felt the car could be repaired overnight and ready for Fast Friday a day later.
The session saw an uptick in laps run with 2,444 completed on opening day on Wednesday and over 3,400 being turned around the 2.5-mile track on Thursday. Part of that is due to the practice session being run from 11 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. ET today while yesterday’s was separated by a two hour session in the middle of the day for Rookie Orientation and the Veterans Refresher Program.
The other part of that is this is the final day of practice on race trim until Sunday afternoon. On Friday, the boost levels get turned up for qualifying setups, so there’s no need to work on race day pace when you have all that added horsepower. It would give you false data.
So, that led to a busy session which picked up in terms of action this afternoon as race time next Sunday is at 2:30 p.m. ET. That’s exactly when we saw more cars take to the track to work in race day traffic in order to simulate setups and data.
The day started off tame, but from 2:30 p.m. locally on, the action picked up immensely.
Tough To Pass?
On Wednesday, we saw some good runs that cars were getting in traffic. But, that was at the front of the train. On Thursday, it appeared that passing could be very difficult on race day. See, the cars up front are punching a huge hole in the air like always. Add to the fact that the Aeroscreen is creating more drag and you quite possibly could get more passing up front than in the last couple of years.
Passing is hard this year. The cars are having a tough time handling in a bubble behind the car in front and it’s getting harder and harder to suck up to the cars in front of them if they’re not in that bubble.
So, you need to just remain in that bubble in wake of the car in front of you and if you can, passing can happen. If you fall behind it, so far it’s showing that it’s going to be hard to close up to the front again.
The drivers are all saying that passing is going to be as difficult as ever and a track position race will likely ensue. That puts even more emphasis on qualifying to get much needed track position for next Sunday’s race early.
“We struggled for most of the day in traffic, which is a little concerning, but I think we made a pretty good step in the end,” said Alexander Rossi. “That’s all on the back burner until Sunday.
“I think our qualifying pace is good. It’s going to be a track positions race, for sure. It’s going to be really hard to pass and really hard to get runs, so I think qualifying is going to be extra important this year. I feel pretty good about that, but it is going to be tough with the added boost, so we have to go out and execute tomorrow to be prepared on Saturday.”
Penske’s Not On Top Of Speed Charts, But Look Good In Traffic
The point above is relevant, especially since Team Penske is one of the few teams that are able to work well in traffic. They have been working a lot over the past couple of days to run in front of the pack, then drop to varying spots with a gaggle of cars. They’re not having any troubles working their ways back up to the front.
So, while they have not been near the top of the speed charts the last couple of days, they’ve looked racy, which lets be honest, this was “race practice” the last two sessions. That’s what to me matters the most right now.
“It was another great day of developing the No. 3 Pennzoil Chevy,” said Helio Castroneves. “We worked again on the race setup and running a bit more in traffic. We feel great. We feel really strong. We know tomorrow there’s going to be a lot more horsepower, and so we will turn our focus to that so when we get to Saturday we are ready.”
Defending ‘500 champion Simon Pagenaud is also really happy with his race car too.
“It was a great day,” Pagenaud said. “We went through a roller coaster of emotions when we couldn’t get the balance the way we wanted. We reset ourselves to where we were happy and then made a slight adjustment with it, and I am extremely happy now. We had a great run in traffic in the Menards Chevy – a good run, and it feels like it should feel. So, I am very excited for Race Day. I know other people will catch up, but we are ahead of the program right now. That is a big positive. I am super happy to represent the team well with the equipment I have. That is where I wanted to be today.”
Penske may have only been 16-18-23-27, but they don’t seem concerned so I’m not either.
Andretti Autosport Looks Stout Again
Andretti Autosport has won three of the last six Indianapolis 500’s. After the first two days, they appear to have the most overall speed right now. What’s more glaring is, they’re good on their own too.
On the no tow list, Andretti Autosport went 1-2-3-4 on Wednesday. Factor in their alliance car with Jack Harvey and you get a clean sweep of the top five.
On Thursday, Harvey (222.123 mph) was the only driver over 222 mph on his own without a two. Colton Herta (221.895 mph) was second. He was fourth on that list on Wednesday. Ryan Hunter-Reay (221.777 mph) was third on Thursday and second on Wednesday to give Andretti Autosport another 1-2-3 day on the no tow chart.
“The 28 DHL team got a lot of work done today, especially in race running,” Hunter-Reay said. “Pretty happy with the car. It is a good starting point for once we are done with qualifying. I think everyone out there is having to work hard to make a pass on track. We’ll see tomorrow for the qualifying side of it. You really don’t know until the boost is added, so I am looking forward to going fast tomorrow.”
Factor in James Hinchcliffe’s no tow lap of 221.421 mph and you get four of the top five for them.
Now, things could certainly change overnight because the boost levels get turned up and will greatly affect the balance of these cars too. There’s wholesale changes coming to these Dallara’s, so it’s hard telling whether this pace shown over the last couple of days on the no tow list remains in tact on Fast Friday for Andretti.
“Today was pretty good,” Herta said. “I think we seemed pretty good on no-tow speed and then in the tow, we seemed good, too. Seems like we are in the right path to get into qualifying this weekend. It will be exciting for tomorrow and see how much faster we go as we get ready for qualifying. The Gleaners car was really good today. We got through our testing plan nice and easy and seem to be on good pace.”
They’ve won just one Indy 500 pole (2005). Does a second come on Sunday?
Ed Carpenter Racing quietly good too
Its been a weird two days of practice so far this week. While it’s been different without fans on the grounds, the sessions in general have been different.
With the loss of Tuesday’s practice session as opening day was moved back to Wednesday and Monday’s post qualifying practice being moved to a two hour session to close Sunday, on track time has been critical over the first couple of days of practice. Everyone is on race trim since Friday’s boost levels go up.
As we sit here today, there’s no clear cut favorite right now. If you had to pick some drivers, the ones not necessarily dominating speed charts is where I’d start — that includes Ed Carpenter Racing.
On race pace, it’s not about single lap speed. Next Sunday’s Indy 500 is 200 laps, of one. You need to be quick over the course of 500 miles, not 2.5.
ECR put two cars on the front row last year and all three in the top four. So far this year, they’ve been quiet. But, it’s not like they’ve been slow either.
“All in all, it was a much better day than yesterday,” said Ed Carpenter who was only 30th quickest on Thursday. “It was one of those days where you almost need to ignore the speed charts when everyone is getting a big tow to put up a number.
“We made a lot of progress on race running with how I feel in traffic and doing long runs. That was productive. Still not totally sure what speed we have in the U.S. Space Force Chevrolet, but we’ll sort that out tomorrow. There’s room for improvement, but overall I’m pleased with the progress from yesterday to today. We’re heading in the right direction.”
Conor Daly is leading the camp right now. He was ninth on opening day and fourth on Thursday. His No. 47 Chevrolet looks good in all aspects so far. The battle now is, trying not to overthink it.
“Today was another step forward for us,” said Daly. “Cole (Pearn, engineer) and I are figuring out what I need and what he wants to do.
“We’re definitely close to where we want to be, but that becomes a difficult area to work in. Cole doesn’t have the experience yet, and I really don’t have the experience to know exactly what we need. We’re trying to mess around with some things and figure out what we can do next to make it even better.
“I like where the U.S. Air Force Chevy is at. It’s fast. We don’t want to out-engineer ourselves. We’re going to keep our heads on straight and keep on trucking.”
Even rookie Rinus VeeKay has been solid. He was in the top 10 of the now tow chart on Thursday too.
“We had a really good second day of practice. We got in a lot of real traffic running before Fast Friday,” said the Dutch rookie driver. “I’m looking forward to that! Extra power. The SONAX Chevy felt really good. Yesterday, I was fast on my own but struggled a little bit in traffic. Today, we ended the day on a high. It felt amazing. I could really pass people and move my way through the pack. The ECR team made incredible progress. We’re strong, we’ll see how tomorrow goes.”
Marco Andretti looking solid so far
Marco Andretti is currently 0-for-14 in his career at the Indianapolis 500. While it looked early on that Andretti would eventually end that dreaded “Andretti Curse” unfortunately, he just never has.
Andretti, was leading on the last lap before Sam Hornish Jr. beat him during his rookie start in a drag race to the yard of bricks in 2006. He’d finish third two years later for two top three finishes in his first three Indy starts. Throw in another third place run in 2010 and you get three top three’s in five tries.
He’s just been as jinxed though as his dad and grandpa.
From a wild pit stop that saw tires put on his car on the wrong sides, to freak incidents, he’s just never been able to sip the milk in victory circle here.
That sounds a lot like the way that his season has gone thus far too.
“Yeah, I mean, when stuff is out of my control, there’s not much I can do, right?” Andretti said on Wednesday. “Just got to keep going. A lot of it’s been circumstantial, DNF’s here, a fire in Iowa, stuff like that.
“I think we just came off one of my worst tracks, is Iowa. We top 10’d it. That was our first normal race of the season and we were in the top 10.
“We started at Texas, we should have finished fourth through sixth. We had some stuff go wrong there.
“It’s not really pace this year. That’s kind of what is keeping me upbeat and positive. This place, I feel good around here regardless.”
The pace has been there so far here at Indy this week too. The third generation driver was P2 on Wednesday (224.345 mph). He backed that up with being P3 on Thursday (225.249 mph) in his No. 98 Honda.
Is this the year that he gets that ever so coveted victory? While it’s just two days of practice, he’s not been going for speed and his car is still there up front.
“Funny enough really I was more focused on the racecar,” Andretti said of his pace on opening day. “I was trying to bury myself in traffic on older tires a lot today. We didn’t really focus on fast times. It was kind of nice that materialized as well. Well, second fastest time.
“It’s good that the car rolled off with some pace. That’s always kind of like the first hurdle you have to get over. From there it’s just working on the car balance. That’s what we were able to do. We were one of the better ones in the pack today. It just seems kind of hard to pass where things are at right now.
“So far so good. It was a good start.”
Still, Andretti isn’t going to be fooled by this pace. He notes that he’s been fast here during practice a lot. He’s just not turned that speed into a win.
“More days like this,” continued Andretti. “I’m not just talking about the speed. Just the way the car felt, really putting ourselves in really tough situations like the race is going to be. That’s going to be my focus, is to try to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and put myself in really tough spots, make the car as good as we can make it.
“Really, really focused on the race. I’ve been quickest here a lot, I’ve been on the front row, I’ve been in the top 10 the majority in qualifying, but it hasn’t gotten me a Borg-Warner. That’s my focus right now.”
Andretti, has the luxury of essentially six teammates to debrief with post practice. He says that can be an advantage and also a disadvantage too. But, in order to decipher through it all, he has a strategy on that.
“I just think you have to look at who’s good and who’s happy, who’s smiling,” said Andretti of having so much data and debriefs to sort through and if it gets overwhelming. “I kind of hone in on that. You just pick and choose your battles.
“I’ve always done my best throughout my 15-year career focusing on my entry and my entry only. You find yourself dragging the whole train with you when you focus on yourself. There’s always stuff to learn off the other cars. We’ll go through the meeting. The way we shorten it is, Say what your good changes were. We sit down and can see if we want to implement it to our package or not.”
Andretti, has qualifying ahead of him this weekend before turning his No. 98 Honda loose for the 104th Running next Sunday.
Palou Quietly Impressing
Alex Palou has never been to any of these tracks here in the NTT IndyCar Series before. He’s spent his life racing overseas. In fact, he’s never raced on an oval prior to this past June in Texas. So, this could be a daunting task for not only a rookie driver, but he’s going faster here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway than he’s ever gone in his life.
Despite that, he’s quietly been the best rookie among the talented five driver rookie class.
Palou, led all rookies on the speed charts on opening day with a top speed of 223.128 mph in his No. 55 Honda. That was good enough for P8. He backed that up on Thursday with a top lap of 224.971 mph. That was P5.
For a rookie driver in a field as competitive as this one is, he’s not supposed to be this fast this early. He’s a driver to watch as the month progresses on.
Ben Hanley Slow To Get Out On Track, Passes 1st Phase Of Refresher Course
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 had to wait until after practice on Thursday before they could complete one of the two phases and become Indy 500 eligible. He was able to do just that this evening and is now Indy 500 eligible.
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 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.
Aeroscreen Not Really Noticeable In Person
I remember the debate about the Aeroscreen coming out once it was announced here in May of 2019. Heck, I was even skeptical because I liked to see the drivers’ helmets and hands and them working at the steering wheel inside of their race cars.
But, now that we’ve seen two days of practice here, it’s honestly not very noticeable at speed. If you didn’t know they were there, with them being painted the colors of the cars themselves, you don’t notice it.
So, it has the safety aspect that we’ve long lauded as well as keeping a similar look to what we’ve seen all of these years where it doesn’t look at speed like anything different.
Day 2 Speeds
- 9 Dixon 226.102
- 30 Sato 225.693
- 98 Andretti 225.249
- 47 Daly 225.106
- 55 Palou R 224.971
- 88 Herta 224.648
- 4 Kimball 224.613
- 66 Alonso 224.363
- 51 Davison 224.315
- 7 Askew R 224.159
- 28 Hunter-Reay 224.154
- 21 VeeKay 224.068
- 60 Harvey 223.828
- 14 Kanaan 223.676
- 26 Veach 223.657
- 3 Castroneves 223.633
- 29 Hinchcliffe 223.630
- 1 Newgarden 223.617
- 15 Rahal 223.297
- 5 O’Ward R 223.221
- 18 Ferrucci 223.070
- 45 Pigot 223.043
- 12 Power 222.978
- 10 Rosenqvist 222.645
- 8 Ericsson 222.630
- 27 Rossi 222.581
- 22 Pagenaud 222.216
- 41 Kellett R 221.959
- 67 Hildebrand 221.583
- 20 Carpenter 221.563
- 24 Karam 221.510
- 59 Chilton 220.606