Johnson, Kirkwood head into qualifying weekend at Indy wide eyed and ready to go

INDIANAPOLIS — Friday is dubbed Fast Friday here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That’s because after a week of practice around the famed 2.5-mile oval, an abbreviated one at that, the boost levels are turned up and remain that way until Monday.

Practice one way all week and now enter the daunting first turn of IMS at speeds in excess of 10+ mph faster. That changes everything from your approach to entry to how you mentally prepare inside of the car at that too.

“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,” Johnson told me after practice on Thursday. “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.”

Kyle Kirkwood called it a little intimidating.

“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.”

Kyle Kirkwood has been quietly good this week at Indianapolis. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Luckily for them, both 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.”

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