Fast Friday lives up to billing, Andretti turns fastest practice lap in Indy since 1996, main takeaways

INDIANAPOLIS — Fast Friday has lived up to its billing today. This year, the NTT IndyCar Series drivers put the “fast” in Fast Friday even more so than normal. Due to doubling the boost levels being doubled in comparison to recent years, the speeds rose to levels that we haven’t seen in more than two decades.

That led to Marco Andretti turning the fastest lap since 1996 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as he topped the speed charts on Fast Friday with a speed of 233.491 mph in his No. 98 Honda.

The previous best lap other than Arie Luyendyk’s speed of 239.260 mph in 1996 was Helio Castroneves’ speed of 233.474 mph on pole morning in 2015.

Andretti’s lap though was turned with a tow as was the second best time of 232.337 mph set by Conor Daly.

The quickest no tow speed went to Ryan Hunter-Reay as the 2014 Indy 500 champion went 232.124 mph in his No. 28 Honda. That would rival the four-lap average of Scott Dixon in 2017 who won the pole with a time of 232.164 mph. That was the third fastest qualifying average here at Indy ever, behind 1996 (236.986 mph by Arie, 233.100 pole speed by Tony Stewart that year, Scott Brayton initially won the pole 233.718, but passed away in a practice crash after) and 1992 (232.482 by Roberto Guerrero).

As we sit here today, it appears that for just the ninth time ever, we will have a pole four-lap average over 230 mph.

Dixon (232.290 mph) and Spencer Pigot (232.116 mph) rounded out the top five of the overall speeds on Friday, but the key when digging deeper is the no tow chart.

Here’s my main takeaways.

Honda’s The Ones To Beat For The Pole

The top no tows were the biggest thing to watch and the biggest thing that stuck out to me was this weekend is Honda’s pole to lose. The last couple of years have seen qualifying been dominated by their Chevrolet counterparts. In fact, the bowties have swept the front row in each of the last two years.

Now, Honda looks to be the ones heading towards a front row lockout.

The top nine no tow speeds went to Honda drivers. Chevy was just off in comparison to them.

Since Chevrolet came back to IndyCar in 2012, they’ve won seven of the eight Indy 500 poles. James Hinchcliffe gave Honda their only pole in the last eight years back in 2016 for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Chevy Lacking Qualifying Pace

Honda’s worked this week on qualifying sims. Chevy’s didn’t really. The speed charts were reflective of that. The bowties were found towards the bottom of the daily speed charts this week while Honda’s were found up top. But, we didn’t see that as a reason for concern because the Penske foursome and the three Ed Carpenter Racing cars looked the best in traffic.

Penske and ECR have been the have combined to win five of the last eight Indy 500 poles and have just been so dominant in qualifying here.

When the boost gets turned up on Fast Friday and their setups get more geared for qualifying, they’d certainly rise right?

On Friday, they didn’t.

Now, they look like they’re fighting for spots 10th on back. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Honda’s not only swept the front row, but they could sweep the Fast Nine at that.

Will Power put it bluntly on Friday saying that they just aren’t fast and that they simple can’t compete with the Honda drivers for this year’s pole.

Power, has won 58 career Indy Car poles, most among all active drivers and trails Mario Andretti by nine for most ever. For him to say that, well that holds a lot of merit in my brain.

The reason they have been struggling is, Honda’s are faster on the straightaways. For Chevy to match them, they have to trim out further. The problem is, the further they trim, the worse they get in the corners which is forcing a ton of understeer and them having to get out of the throttle.

They worked on it all day and finally found a bit of speed in happy hour, but with qualifying tomorrow ending before the time the speeds went up on Friday, wouldn’t that favor the Honda’s still?

Andretti Autosport Pole Favorites

Andretti Autosport went 1-2-3-4-5 on the no tow speed charts on Wednesday. They were 1-2-3-5 on Thursday. Still, we didn’t put a lot of stock in them. Chevrolet, most notable Team Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing would rise to the top again right?

Well, they didn’t. The pole this weekend’s is Andretti Autosport’s to lose.

Andretti had six of the top eight no tow speeds on Fast Friday and if that can stick for Saturday and again on Sunday, this would just be the second time ever that Andretti has won an Indy 500 pole. Tony Kanaan was the driver for them the other time in 2005.

Ryan Hunter-Reay was quickest in the no tow and fastest on the four lap average chart too. He’s the favorite right now.

Marco Andretti The Practice King This Week

Marco Andretti set the fastest time of the month on Fast Friday with a top speed of 233.391 mph in his No. 98 Honda. That comes after him being third fastest (225.249 mph) on Thursday and second (224.345 mph) on opening day.

There’s no doubt that Andretti won practice. Now, can he win the big race next Sunday? He’s 0-for-14 during his career in the Indy 500 but a good qualifying spot this weekend, well it would go a long way for that drought to end at 14 and not extend to 15.

Track position is going to matter and Andretti has a chance to get it by virtue of a good qualifying opportunity this weekend. He was fourth on the no tow list and eighth on the four lap averages during the Fast Friday practice session.

This is his shot.

Starting Position Key Here

The drivers have all been saying that qualifying is just so important this year. With these cars having a more difficult time in wake to follow and suck up to the car in front of them, that will likely leave next Sunday’s 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 a track position race.

“I definitely won’t beat around the bush, they don’t race well,” said Conor Daly on Friday morning about the cars this year with the Aeroscreen on them. “It’s tough. It’s hard to know if it’s the Aeroscreen that’s making it a little bit worse. Probably is. That’s the only difference and only variable.”

It was unanimous with drivers echoing Daly’s assessment of this years car. Plus, with the tires having more grip as well, they’re not falling off as quick which is going to lead to less mistakes.

That in turn leads to track position being as important as ever and with that said, qualifying is as important to ever too.

The race winner the last two years came from the front row. In 2017, the race winner came from fourth. So, if qualifying is going to be Honda dominated, does that bode well for them and not Chevy?

RLL Sleepers To Watch

Andretti Autosport are the ones to beat for the pole, but one sleeper to watch is going to be Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan’s program. They had Spencer Pigot ninth on the no tow list but on the four lap average chart, both Graham Rahal (3rd) and Takuma Sato (7th) were in the top nine.

That’s a great sign that RLL can get at the very minimum one car into the Fast Nine but quite possibly have two in the Shootout between the three of them

A sleeper among them too is Pigot himself. This will be his fifth career Indy 500 start and he’s surprisingly been a very underrated qualifier here.

Pigot, qualified sixth with Ed Carpenter Racing in 2018. He improve one full Row last year with the same team and started third. Now, he’s been good this week with RLL.

Pigot, was fourth overall in his No. 45 Honda on Fast Friday.

ECR Tough To Figure Out

Ed Carpenter Racing has been so strong in qualifying over the recent years here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Driver/owner Ed Carpenter enters this weekend with three straight top two starting spots in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing and five in the last seven years including three poles.

Last year, ECR put two cars on the front row and all three in the top four of the starting lineup. The year prior, all three were in the Fast Nine again. They’ve done so with five different drivers at that.

JR Hildebrand (6th 2017), Spencer Pigot (6th, 3rd last 2 years), Danica Patrick (7th in 2018) and Ed Jones (4th) last year have joined Carpenter up front over the last three years.

Now, it’s Conor Daly and Rinus VeeKay’s turn. Unfortunately, the trio have been difficult to figure out.

Carpenter was only 27th quickest overall on Fast Friday as well as just 27th on the four-lap average chart too.

Daly, was second on the overall speed chart but he had a tow on that lap. His no tow pace wasn’t very good and his four lap average was only 30th best out of 33 cars.

VeeKay has their best shot. He was 21st overall on Fast Friday but 10th on the four lap averages.

We know the speed can be found overnight and I’d think Daly will pick up more pace with these changes in qualifying. But, with Honda’s performance too, can he get to the top 10? I think a top 15 would make Daly much happier tomorrow than where he ended Friday.

Foyt Going For Race Pace, Not Qualifying

Charlie Kimball set the second best no tow lap among the Chevy camp. Kimball, went 230.861 mph in his No. 4 Chevrolet during happy hour. But, that could give them a bit of false hope. The California native was also just 29th on the four lap average chart too. But, that’s not too surprising though.

See, AJ Foyt Racing is electing for race pace, not necessarily risking a crash by trimming out too much in qualifying. Tony Kanaan confirmed as much earlier on Friday saying that they didn’t think that they had much of a shot for a Fast Nine opportunity on Saturday. After practice on Friday, he wasn’t wrong.

The bowties look inferior to the Honda cars on qualifying trim, so if Team Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing look off, it’s not like AJ Foyt Racing was going to do any better.

So, they’re playing the safe route. The cars in race trim are what matters, so that’s what they’ve focused on this week.

So, if Kanaan, Kimball and Dalton Kellett all qualifying mid pack on back on Saturday, don’t think something is necessarily is wrong.

 

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