INDIANAPOLIS — Like Wednesday, Day 2 of the NTT INDYCAR Series open test session was delayed at the start. Unlike Thursday though, the on track action that we witnessed felt like race day.
3,267 laps were turned in the 4 hour all skate session which had 32 cars eligible to take time around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. However, we were down 1 car with Helio Castroneves’ No. 06 Dallara-Honda being shelved following a crash in Turn 2 on Wednesday evening.
Under blue filled skies in Central Indiana, the temps rose to normal conditions which made April feel more like May with the aroma of the Dallara’s filling the air on a beautiful Thursday afternoon.
Josef Newgarden turned in a top speed of 229.519 mph in his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet which topped Scott Dixon’s speed of 227.187 mph.
“Yeah, it was very productive actually,” he said. “Once we got into the swing of it, we were really making a lot of progress on our race car specifically, which I was happy about. I really wanted to get into some race work this afternoon. We spent a lot of the time doing that, probably the majority of it.
“Positive test for us. We try to divide and conquer on Team Penske, get through as much as we could with all three cars.
“Happy about it. The weather conditions turned pretty beautiful there at the end. It was just about perfect. So pleased. Happy to be here with Team Penske as always. I like the new Shell car this year with the extra gold, I think it looks pretty racy. I think Team Chevy has done their homework, too.
“We’ve been feeling positive to start this year. Big thing for us is to carry that into the month of May.”
For the Tennessee native and newest dad strolling through Gasoline Alley, he’s entering next month with a ton of momentum. Newgarden, has won each of the last two NTT INDYCAR Series races including a triumph in Long Beach. While Barber Motorsports Park is up next, he has his sights set on an Indy 500 victory. He’s 0-for-10. Is this the year he gives the Captain Roger Penske his 19th Indy 500 glory?
So far, he’s off to a fast start.
“I mean, I can’t deny things feel really good on the 2 car,” said Newgarden. “They’re just progressing. We’re not taking steps forward and steps back. It’s not like two steps forward, two steps back, or vice versa. I feel like it’s going forward every single time and we’re just getting better.
“I like to monitor that. We’re all monitoring it pretty closely. We all want to keep that cadence throughout the year. Ideally we’ll just keep getting better all the way to the finish. We had a pretty good starting point. It would be great if we could do that.
“These things ebb and flow at times. We’ve been on a good trajectory at the moment. I don’t want to see it flatten too much, I want to see it go the other way. I feel confident with what we’ve got, feel good at showing up anywhere.
“Being at Team Penske makes that easier. I always feel confident in our group, feel like we’ve got the best of the best working on these cars.
“Yeah, confidence is high, but that only takes you so far. There’s always a lot that can knock you off.”
His teammate, Scott McLaughlin, winner of the season opener was fifth on Thursday with a top speed of 228.397 mph in his No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet. The second year driver notes that he feels so much more comfortable on this track saying that it took him over 15 laps to feel good enough to go flat out a year ago. He was flat on Lap 2 this time around.
Sandwiched between the Penske tandem on Thursday was two-time Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato. The Dale Coyne Racing/Rick Ware Racing driver set a lap of 229.427 mph in his No. 51 Dallara-Honda.
Sato, has 2 top 3 finishes in his last four starts here.
Tony Kanaan (228.767 mph) was P3 in his No. 1 Dallara-Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing while his teammate Scott Dixon (228.689 mph) rounded out the top five in fourth in his No. 9 Dallara-Honda.
While Penske placed two cars in the top 10, Ganassi had all five. Defending series champion and last year’s runner-up here, Alex Palou, was sixith (228.058 mph) in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda while rookie Jimmie Johnson (227.900 mph) and Marcus Ericsson (227.785 mph) were eighth and 10th respectively.
The day went incident free.
Marco Quietly Fast Amid Race Running For Andretti Autosport
Yesterday, Marco Andretti said that he felt like he had the slowest of the five Andretti Autosport cars here this week. 24 hours later, he was the fastest on a pivotal day of testing. The third generation driver set a lap of 228.185 mph in his No. 98 Dallara-Honda which was good enough for sixth fastest on the day.
The Andretti cars had a clear plan for this session and that was to pound the pavement. They consistently turned in group runs of at least 20 laps which is crucial information for next month’s race on May 29.
That’s why you didn’t see many of them towards the front of the speed chart. Romain Grosjean was next best in 16th, Devlin DeFrancesco was 19th followed by Alexander Rossi (23rd) and Colton Herta (28th).
Andretti, completed 113 laps, Grosjean 145, Rossi 138, Herta 134 and DeFrancesco 100.
Ganassi The Ones To Beat?
Last year, Chip Ganassi Racing went quickest in 5 of the 6 practice session and put all 4 cars in the Fast Nine Shootout. In the lone superspeedway race of the season thus far last month in Texas, they also put all four cars in the top seven of the finishing order.
Even with gaining a fifth car for Indy only this year, they look like the team to beat. All five of them were found in the top 10 on Thursday as they look like the clear favorites so far.
“I think we’re all paying attention to that pylon,” Johnson said. “We’re all trying. As long as the session is green, we’re all trying to be the fastest car out there. When any car was on new tires, people were trying to create a gap, trying to put up a fast lap time.
“I think our cars do have a lot of speed. For myself, it was really just trying to understand how to get that gap and pull up to the group in front of you, pop off a lap.
“Looks nice on the scoreboard, but there were a few cars that could really pass. I think that’s what we’re all deep down inside focused on, and going to debrief and work on, is to figure out how to get off of turns two and four and make better passes.”
Veterans Found Up Front
Josef Newgarden is here for the 11th time. Takuma Sato the 13th. This will be Scott Dixon’s 20th time here while Tony Kanaan is back for his 21st straight appearance. Marco Andretti is back for his 17th attempt. These guys took 5 of the top 6 speeds in the Thursday test.
I don’t think that’s a fluke.
Last year, it was guys over 40 who dominated the speed charts. This time, the veterans shined again.
Indy is a place that chooses it’s favorites. You have to show this place the respect that it commands. It’s also why the veterans of the sport shine brighter because you have to have patience.
The lines are subtle but make a big difference in the speed department. That’s why once again, the speed chart was filled with veterans up front.
Pit Lane Fixed?
The main reason for yesterday’s chaos was the incidents that littered the Turns 1-2 warmup lane. That’s what sparked an early end to Wednesday’s session. Track officials admitted that the cause of the lack of grip in that area was due to a sealant put on the warmup lanes on both ends of the track as well as pit lane too.
See, the track has sealed the racing surface over the last few years but they’ve not done it to pit lane and the two warmup lanes. Now, they did last Fall but did so on a different day as the actual track itself. In turn, it caused a mess of problems.
IMS ran a tire dragon and did prep work on the warmup lane areas until after midnight. They felt like they made progress. Unfortunately, heavy rain fell last night and into this morning. They couldn’t truly know if it worked or not until the rain stopped, the track was dried and a grip meter test was done.
Firestone felt like the fix overnight added more grip so away we went. However, Tony Kanaan says that it’s still not ideal yet.
“Better in one lane. They have a lot of work to do,” he said. “They know that. If there’s a track that’s going to make it happen, it’s going to be this one, so..”
DRR Vastly Quicker
Dennis Reinbold was sick of seeing his cars qualify in the Last Row Shootout. Even when adding a second car and then scaling back to one car, they found themselves near Row 11. So, they decided enough was enough. When they come to Indy this year, they’re not going to be there again. They wanted to be faster.
So far, they look improved.
Santino Ferrucci was 12th on the Thursday speed chart while Sage Karam was one spot behind in 13th. Both were over 227 mph. Can they remain in the top half of the field when they all come back next month?