INDIANAPOLIS — For the second straight practice day, it was the same 1-2 with the top speed being set in the final minutes during happy hour once again.
Takuma Sato went 227.519 mph in his No. 51 Dallara-Honda to keep his batting average at 1.000 heading into Fast Friday. Sato did the exact same thing on Tuesday going 228.939 mph in similar fashion. He was also P2 during the overall two-day test at that. His Dale Coyne Racing teammate of David Malukas was third in his No. 18 Dallara-Honda as well. The rookie driver went 226.869 mph after being 7th on Tuesday.
They seem to be the sleeper team this month while Chip Ganassi Racing looks like the ones beat for next Sunday’s 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) still. They’re after the milk sized prize dangling at the end of the string on Memorial Day weekend. They may be the only ones thinking long-term though as a majority of the teams from a hot day in Indianapolis elected to get a head start on qualifying trim instead.
While the boost doesn’t get turned up until Fast Friday, that didn’t stop a majority of the teams in Gasoline Alley from simulating what this weekend will feel like with most of the opening 4 hours of practice seeing single car qualifying sims.
“No, it was our plan coming into the day,” Carpenter told me on why the shift in philosophy to focus on quals sims a day early. “I think anytime you lose a whole day to rain you’ve got to modify the plan a little bit. I didn’t do — all we do on opening day was race running. Didn’t even think about any trimming.
“The car changes a fair amount of times when they give us all the qualifying power that we’ll have tomorrow, so I think it’s important to at least have an established kind of qualifying baseline balance going into that just so then the only thing we’re dealing with tomorrow is a whole lot more horsepower.”
That’s why if you look at the overall speed chart, you’d see Team Penske in 17th (Scott McLaughlin), 21st (Will Power) and 31st (Josef Newgarden). However, on the no tow chart? They took 3 of the top 7 speeds led by Power at 224.325 mph in his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet. McLaughlin (223.614 mph) was 5th with Newgarden (223.481 mph) being 7th.
Penske knows that they need to qualify better. That’s what’s ruined their race pace over the last 2 years. Prior to Roger Penske owning this place, he figuratively OWNED this place in scoring 18 Indy 500 victories. The next best in terms of car owners is 5.
Penske swept the Grand Prix and Indy 500 in back-to-back years between 2018 and 2019 but since Penske took over the keys to the land in 2020, he’s 0-2.
Penske qualified 13-22-25-28 in 2020, finished 5-11-14-22. They’d lead a grand total of 16 laps that day. A year later, they’d qualify 17-21-26-32 and finish 3-12-20-30 with just 3 laps led all day.
19 total laps led in 2 years.
That’s why they’re already looking at qualifying.
Ganassi on the other hand, well they know that they have qualifying speed. They led the way in 5 of the 6 practice sessions last May and also put all 4 cars in the Fast 9 last year at that. This time they have 5 cars here but they haven’t slowed in taking 5 of the top 9 speeds on Tuesday and 3 of the top 7 on Thursday.
Dixon sat on top of the 6 hour session with a top speed of 227.335 mph in his No. 9 Dallara-Honda for most of the day again until being topped by Sato late in the day. He was also 2nd (227.768 mph) during the all skate on Tuesday and 1st (227.119 mph) in the morning session that day too.
In the two-day test, he was 1st, 1st, 4th in the three sessions during those days.
Last year, he was in the top two or three in almost every session including a pole run at that. Now, he looks as good as ever.
The Arrow McLaren SP full time duo of Pato O’Ward (226.048 mph) and Felix Rosenqvist (225.788 mph) were 6th and 8th respectively while the Ganassi duo of Jimmie Johnson (226.409 mph) and Marcus Ericsson (225.937 mph) went 5th and 7h respectively themselves.
Between Ganassi and Coyne, they combined to take 7 of the top 9 speeds on Tuesday and 5 of the top 7 on Thursday.
That’s on race pace. How will they translate over to qualifying pace?
Ed Carpenter Racing looks good on both. That was their goal for this week anyhow. Ed Carpenter (225.493 mph), Rinus VeeKay (225.258 mph) and Conor Daly (224.775 mph) were 10th, 12th and 18th respectively on the overall speed charts but also 2nd, 3rd and 8th respectively on the no tow chart too. ECR has had at least 1 car in the Fast 9 Shootout in each of the last 9 years and as of now, look the part to repeat.
“Yeah, I think we did a little bit of everything, so yeah, we started the day off doing some race running with the change from where we were the other day, first day I guess it was,” Carpenter said.
“So it took us a little bit to kind of rebalance that change. In the end I think it was better, but we weren’t super happy in the first part of the day, then we wanted to shift gears and start getting some of our configurations and balances ready for tomorrow when we start going fast.
“It’s one of those weird ones like I kind of would have liked to have done what Ganassi did and just do race running all day long, but we also have gone into Fast Friday not in a great head space for qualifying before, and kind of gotten confused once the boost is turned up. We wanted to go into tomorrow feeling pretty good about our balance at different trim configurations.
“I think we accomplished all that, and then finished off race running again at the end of the day, and felt right nice.”
VeeKay qualified on the front row last year and was 5th on Tuesday.
So, while the bowties went 1-2-3-5-6-7-9 on the no tow list, I still don’t think that you can dismiss the Honda’s in the sense that they really focused on race trim on Thursday compared to qual trim for the Chevy’s.
“Feel like we’re in a decent spot. But again, a lot of people haven’t shown their hand just yet,” Carpenter said on the situation. “I don’t think Ganassi has really shown anything — there’s someone else, McLaren I don’t think did any Q sims either today. So there’s some big hitters that still are concealing what they can do.”
Hardest Worker Award
We saw several drivers cross the 100 lap threshold with Jimmie Johnson leading the way with 147 laps turned. 16 of the 33 drivers eclipsed 100 laps turned on the day.
It revolves around the boost being turned up on Friday. With added boost, the drivers are going to be pushing 240 mph entering Turn 1. That’s a stark contrast from where they are now.
“For me it’s a little bit intimidating going from qually sim and pulling out the downforce out and feeling how light the car is there,” Kirkwood told me. “It’s kind of like you don’t really want to turn the wheel because you’re just unsure what the car is going to do, and adding another 10 or 15 miles per hour to it is going to be less than comfortable, I would have to say.
“From the people that I’ve talked to they all say it’s not that big of a step. It actually feels better because you get the runs out of the corners and it’s not like you lose tons of grip due to the speed. I guess I’ll let you know after I go through Turn 1 the first time with more power.”
“Yeah, all of that, and then the only thing to add is the last time I was in qualifying trim here was in a Cup car, and we let off used little brake to get into Turn 1.
“So to feel the boost and the straightaway speed and look down at that 90-degree turn and think that I’ll hold it flat, it’s going to be an interesting conversation with my right foot.”
Both Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Kirkwood have some good people in their corners this month. Johnson, has Chip Ganassi as well as people like Scott Pruett, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Alex Palou and Marcus Ericsson. Kirkwood has none better than AJ Foyt. So, what has the best advice been given to them thus far?
“For me Chip has just been really adamant about knowing where the right rear tire is,” Johnson told me. “In a Cup car I feel like the advantage I had for so many years is I was willing to drive the car really loose, and it really benefitted the style of racing and the way the fuel burns off of those cars and protect the right front tire.
“Here you certainly need to have the car turning well, but you cannot slide it around like you do a Cup car. The advice Chip has given me and Dario keeps hammering me on know is just know where that right rear is.”
Kirkwood said that the top thing Foyt told him was to trust his thoughts.
“Yeah, the number one thing he said to me just trust instincts when you go out there. If something doesn’t feel right just stop, because there was a moment where we missed it on aero and ended up with a wrong rear wing and I went out and did one lap at 185. I was like something doesn’t feel right. I remember he said that. Came in and we realized we were two degrees off on the rear wing, so was one thing.”