INDIANAPOLIS — The Thursday practice session leading into the qualifying weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has become one of the more interesting days of the month. See, this is the final day that drivers are on their race day boost levels. So, you only have realistically just today, a short session after qualifying on Sunday, then a two hour session on Carb Day to get your race car dialed in.
That means that you need to take advantage of this day in general. But, you also have a day headstart on getting some qualifying sims in too.
This has become a track position race and why give it up early when you don’t have to. That means everyone knows just how beneficial it is to start on the front row. The top 3-4 cars are able to pass pretty freely this week. The guys behind can’t.
So, you have to get some qualifying sim work done so you’re not too far behind for this weekend. One day just isn’t enough.
That’s what makes Thursday so interesting is that you get so many different practice plans to decipher through.
Speaking of which, we saw our first couple of incidents of the month and both involve Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing. It all start shortly after the drop of the green flag. The RLL team were trying to create a photo op across the yard of bricks which caused a chain reaction behind.
Simona de Silvestro was running behind exiting Turn 4 on the low line. Scott McLaughlin had to check up in the middle lane. Colton Herta didn’t get the heads up on that and he had to scream above McLaughlin but unfortunately scrapped the SAFER barrier as a result.
“I am doing 220 and coming around the corner and these idiots are doing 170. It’s just ridiculous,” said Herta on the NBC Peacock telecast.
The second incident came at 4:14 p.m. ET with the Santino Ferrucci losing control in the apex of the second corner and making heavy contact with the wall just in front of the Turn 2 suites.
Ferrucci, was able to climb out of his car but needed assistance from the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team in getting to the ambulance as he couldn’t put any pressure on his left leg. He was transported to a local hospital downtown for further evaluation and imaging before getting released not too long after luckily.
The Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing driver had just turned the days second fastest time not long before that with a speed of 224.922 mph. That was his 50th lap turned when he crashed.
Ferrucci, was 29th quickest on opening day and 34th on Wednesday. A couple of drivers said that they felt he was going to crash a couple of laps prior due to his car being out of control.
Tony Kanaan topped the speed charts on Day 3 with a lap of 225.341 mph in his No. 48 Honda. Kanaan, was fifth quickest on Wednesday too. Conor Daly (225.245 mph) was second in his No. 47 Chevrolet. Daly, second quickest on Wednesday as well.
Josef Newgarden (224.885 mph) and Scott Dixon (224.666 mph) rounded out the top five of practice.
Ganassi/ECR Guys Look Stout
If you wanted an early favorite on who looks the best right now, you can’t overlook both Chip Ganassi Racing as well as Ed Carpenter Racing. Ganassi, was 8-10-11-24 on opening day, but improved to 1-4-5-8 on Day 2 and 1-5-8-11 on Day 3. Oddly enough, they said that Tuesday’s pace seemed better and that they’re still very, very happy right now.
ECR is right there too.
Conor Daly was fifth, second and second respectively in his No. 47 Chevrolet with Ed Carpenter (18th, 3rd and 20th) and Rinus VeeKay (15th, 11th and 6th) himself.
ECR has put at least one car in the Fast Nine for nine straight years now and as we sit here going into Fast Friday, they feel good again.
Andretti Guys Focusing On The Race
Andretti Autosport has had a dismal season thus far. Yes, Colton Herta has won a race, but despite that, he’s still only 10th in points. That’s tops among the four full time drivers for them entering the Indy 500. Most figured this would be the spot to make up some ground though too.
They dominated last year’s speed charts all month long. If they needed a get right race, this was it. So, in saying that, you may be wondering why they’re not very high on the speed charts this week. Well, you have to combine all the factors above to find out that they’re after race pace instead.
Last year, they were the class of the field. They took exactly half of the top 10 in the starting lineup. That didn’t equate out to success as none of them even finished in the top five when it was all said and done. Marco Andretti started on the pole but didn’t lead a single lap.
They’re vowing to not let that happen again.
Chevrolet improved this offseason, more on that in a second, so Andretti knows a pole isn’t necessarily in reach. In saying that, why focus on qualifying runs when you know you won’t get a pole? Why not make your race car the best that it can be and ensure you have a solid run next Sunday and improve on your race conditions for the actual race itself?
So, while you’d notice the absence of Andretti on the speed charts this month, don’t be alarmed. They’re after the milk and have taken a different approach over 2020.
Honda vs. Chevy
We’re through three days of racing running and at the moment, Chevrolet and Honda look as even as they’ve been in the last several years. In 2018 and again in 2019, qualifying and this race was dominated by the bowties. Last year, Honda flipped the script. So far this week, they look even.
Chevrolet has certainly closed off the gap between the two. That’s for sure. The drivers have all mentioned that. Some actually wonder if they’re holding back some a may be a little bit better?
The Penske’s haven’t been real high on the speed charts this week and they weren’t last year either. It led to a bad qualifying performance for them which in turn led to a rough race day. You have to figure that they won’t allow that to happen again.
They seem calm and relaxed and have noted the upgrades in their performances. With ECR looking so much improved over last August, you know Penske has more. If Penske and ECR are towards the front, how far low does that push Honda?
Ganassi seems there and like a legitimate contender. Andretti isn’t on qualifying trim but are on race. Do they close the gap back up in that area?
O’Ward Has Been Quietly Good
Pato O’Ward was seventh fastest on Tuesday. He was seventh again on Wednesday. He was 14th on Thursday. No one is talking about the young Mexican driver and that could change next Sunday. See, O’Ward has been quietly fast and at the moment is flying dangerously under the radar.
Think about it, he won at Texas earlier this month. He’s sitting fourth in points at this very moment. He told me twice this week that they’re focusing on race trim and race trim only due to needing to fine tune that setup first. They felt so good with what they had, they just went with varying setups on Thursday just to see where those stands. If they were off, that’s okay. They have a good baseline that they’ve figured out over the last couple of days prior.
O’Ward keeps talking about how terrifying it is to be in the middle of a pack here and how important that it is to qualify up front. He said if his race car feels good, then he knows his No. 5 Chevrolet will on qual trim too.
2 Bump Spots Anyone’s Guess
Another common question being asked right now is who are the two drivers that are going to be sent home on Sunday. RC Enerson for rightful reasons is one. But, who is the second? That’s hard to find. The field is so tight right now and the speed charts really irrelevant through three days, good luck finding the bubble drivers.
Does the second one become Ferrucci now? We know he has speed and if he’s cleared on Friday, I don’t doubt his ability to be among the fastest 33 drivers.
There’s too much change on the bottom of the speed charts each day that how do you really know. The thing is, by this time tomorrow, we will have a better understanding.