INDIANAPOLIS — Wednesday’s opening day of Indianapolis 500 testing was delayed by 90 minutes and ended 30 minutes premature. Between that, the 1,547 laps turned around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval on a cool spring day was action packed that left concerns not only in Gasoline Alley but within the NTT INDYCAR Series trailer too.
Action got started at 12:30 p.m. ET for what was supposed to be a 5 minute install lap session for all drivers. However, we instantly had a stoppage for Alexander Rossi spinning on the warmup lane while coming onto the track.
At the time, most thought it was just another odd example of bad luck that has been striking the 2016 Indy 500 champion lately. 6 hours later, we found out that maybe it wasn’t such bad luck after all. We had a problem…
The 2 hour session for the 24 eligible drivers would go off without a hitch after. Same for the 2 hour rookie orientation/refresher course participants. In the all-skate though, that’s where issues really arose.
At 5:11 p.m. ET, just 39 minutes after the green flag dropped on the final session of the day, Helio Castroneves spun in similar fashion as Rossi in the same warmup lane. He’d spin back up on the track though and hit the outside SAFER barrier in Turn 2.
Castroneves was unhurt, but his Indy 500-winning No. 06 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda suffered significant front, right-side and floor damage.
“I didn’t feel anything strange, anything bottoming, I wasn’t pushing,” Castroneves said. “And the rear just spun out. I was trying to control it, making sure I didn’t crash, and it was a very odd situation. Unfortunately, we couldn’t avoid that. It was very unusual.”
Again, we felt like something was brewing but maybe these were flukes. 22 minutes later, just six minutes after going back green, we saw another problem again. This time, it was Will Power who spun in the warmup lane in Turn 1 and when he went back up on the track in front of oncoming traffic, Colton Herta went high to avoid him and as a result, made right side contact with the Turn 1 SAFER barrier.
These incidents were starting to become reminiscent of Alex Zanardi’s in Germany in 2001. That crash left him with both legs amputated. We graduated from a fluke to a concern because when you have 3 of the last 6 Indy 500 winners spinning in the warmup lane, including 1 of which a 4-time winner, you have problems.
INDYCAR decided to halt the session 30 minutes early as a result and go back to the drawing board.
“The first thing I said all day was I thought the warmup lanes felt slick,” said Conor Daly who was 2nd fastest on the day at 226.985 mph. “I didn’t know if I was just a bit of a weirdo, but then I saw Alex (Rossi) spinning, so it made sense.”
When asked if his incident was a case of cold tires, Power said it was quite the opposite actually. He had warm tires from coming off the track. He just came off the track to not impede a draft behind and went back out. He still spun.
The blame may be the sealer put down on the track. While they’ve done so on the actual racing surface over the last few years, they’ve not actually done it on the warmup lanes.
“We had a sealant, but it’s the first time since 2018 the pit entries and exits have been done,” said Scott Dixon. “I don’t know. I know when we did the engine test here, the painted sections of the circuit were quite slippery to start with, then it comes good. That hasn’t come good yet.”
The actual track itself while slippery early, wasn’t bad they all said. It’s just getting off pit road where the issue lies.
“The track surface feels good,” continued Daly. “I think, like Marco said when we walked in here, you can usually get out of pit lane, be flat right out of the gate. I think there was a little bit of nervousness on maybe we can’t be flat out of pit lane.
“I mean, it just took a little bit of conservativeness. I didn’t necessarily say it would have been worth stopping the whole day. I think we probably could have still kept running because the track surface was fine. It was quite enjoyable running in traffic, getting a feel for it again. I didn’t think it was worth stopping the day. Obviously since people were spinning and crashing, yeah, that’s probably not great.”
Dixon, says that while the situation isn’t similar to his in his crash here a few years ago, it’s not an ideal one to be dealing with.
“Well, I think any situation like that is not great,” said last year’s pole sitter. “I think Will was extremely lucky there that the car didn’t roll back any further because it would have been massive.
“To compare situations like that is pretty tough. It was in the middle of the race, somebody crashed in front of me, had nowhere to go. His, he could have lost it on the pit exit.
“Yeah, I’m sure he had a few bowel movements in that situation. I know I would have (laughter).”
As far as what you can do about it? We have another day long session ahead on Thursday.
“I was talking to them. I don’t like putting my fate in other people’s hands,” said Marco Andretti. “If I’m on the track, I don’t want, you know, somebody — and vice versa.
“I was talking to Jay (Frye) and Kyle (Novak) about it. Like, I mean, we were at first going to talk about the two-stage limiter. I think it’s such low grip, going from stage one to stage two would be sketchy with wheel spin.
“If they could grind the track, that would be perfect. I don’t know how long something like that takes, what a process that is. I would feel a lot better with that, for sure.
“That’s the scariest part of our business. They probably weren’t pushing until then, right? That’s why they didn’t feel it. I felt it on my first run because I get a lot of feel for that going out of the pits. I said, This is going to claim somebody today. I didn’t know it would claim three or four. Hopefully they find a remedy.”
Daly agreed but said that the laps need turned and that they need to find a way to go on tomorrow.
“I think it’s also cold and it’s day one. I think it’s definitely, like, just tell everyone, Hey, I think it’s more important for us to get on the track and just continue to keep doing laps. Every lap that people are leaving the pits, it’s probably going to get better.
“Again, every lap we feel more comfortable. We’re like, Oh, let’s go faster out of pit exit. I think, again, it will get better. Obviously there is something that is different.
“Again, I think the more laps the better. I don’t think it’s worth shutting it down. I think obviously us drivers just want to get out there and get into traffic quite quick. That means trying to leave the pit box quite quickly. It’s unfortunate, but I do think we can run if we just try to be a little bit more responsible out of the pit lane.”
When we did have action, Dixon picked up where he left off here last May. He was quickest in nearly every practice session and also won the pole as well. In the two sessions he took part in on a blustery day, he was fastest.
Dixon, went 225.622 mph in his No. 9 Dallara-Honda in session 1 and 227.187 mph in the final one.
“I think the conditions are always pretty ideal when you run this time of year,” Dixon said. “The car feels really good. A lot of it depends on track placement and how much confidence you have in the car, how big a tow you can get. I guess we lucked out on that today.
“We still have a bit of a test. We didn’t get through too much of it because the session was kind of fragmented, then obviously finishing early. Still a lot of work to do I think for the tomorrow. Maybe we’ll get a bit of a time extension tomorrow depending on conditions. All in all, I think all the drivers were really confident with how the day went and how the cars felt. But I think that’s maybe across the board because of conditions.”
Conor Daly was second fastest overall at 226.985 in the No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet. Callum Ilott was the fastest of the seven Indianapolis 500 rookies, third overall at 226.308 in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet.
Santino Ferrucci was fourth at 226.182 in the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, while Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top five at 225.341 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Global racing stars Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson continued their journeys toward their first Indianapolis 500 starts, turning laps with the veteran drivers since both completed the Rookie Orientation Program during testing last fall at IMS. Formula One veteran Grosjean’s fastest lap was 223.253 in the No. 28 DHL Honda, while seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Johnson’s best lap was 222.255 in the No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
All five Indianapolis 500 rookies still needing to complete the Rookie Orientation Program – Kyle Kirkwood, Devlin DeFrancesco, David Malukas, Christian Lundgaard and Ilott – passed all three phases of the test today. Marco Andretti completed his refresher test, while two-time “500” winner Juan Pablo Montoya and Sage Karam will finish their refreshers Thursday.
Ericsson could have been awarded the unofficial driver of the day award after he deftly darted around the spinning cars of Castroneves and Herta in separate incidents, barely evading a major incident.
“He was going left and right and wasn’t sure, and my brakes weren’t quite locked up yet, so it wasn’t clear which direction I was going,” Herta said Ericsson’s evasion of his spin. “Then I locked them up, and luckily he’s a heads-up driver and got out of the way.”