INDIANAPOLIS — On a day where you were more likely to see hats flying off the heads of spectators than cars on track, the fastest speeds of the month were still turned under the blue skies of Central Indiana on Fast Friday. Fast wasn’t just an adjective for the speeds at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. So were the winds. A sustained wind of 21-25 mph with gusts over 40 blew threw the famed grounds and wretched fear inside of Gasoline Alley.
It’s why we saw the fewest amount of laps turned in a day here in years that wasn’t affected by moisture. 473 laps were turned in 6 hours of action with the top lap being set by old familiar. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me three times…
With a fast lap in Happy Hour, Takuma Sato went 3-for-3 during practice week as the two-time Indy 500 champion topped the speed chart with a speed of 232.789 mph in his No. 51 Dallara-Honda. All week long Sato led practice but all were in the aid of a tow in Happy Hour. To go this quick without a tow is eye opening. In the two years that Sato has made the Fast 9 here, he’s won. He started 4th in his 2017 victory and 3rd in 2020.
“I’m just happy. Somewhat expected in terms of just the pure load speed,” Sato said. “We always know, observed Dale’s car was very fast and competitive in the load speed in qualifying, but car in some cases might be just a little knife edge car.
“So we just tried to massage and to bring some of my old experience from all the houses that as American system car I had experienced.
“Just to combine a little bit spice and the massage, and then here we are. We made the car really fast, so it’s the entire team’s great preparation over the course of the winter. It was very, very impressive, and good supplies, as well, but I’m very, very happy.”
His teammate David Malukas (231.414 mph) was 7th best to give both Dale Coyne Racing cars in the top 10 again on Fast Friday. Malukas was 3rd on Thursday and 7th on Tuesday but the most glaring was he set the 2nd quickest 4-lap average on the day too.
“Yeah, I mean, definitely wasn’t expecting it to be this well, but as soon as I got into the car for the first time and saw how quick it was, then my expectations started to go up,” Malukas told me.
“It all just comes down to the team. They’ve prepped it so well, and as soon as we went off I did some bad laps and they were like, well, it’s still very good; it’s still high on the charts.
“It’s kind of been like that throughout the whole week, and it’s just given me a lot of confidence to try different things and build my way up to it nice and slow, and now we’re still there.
“Yeah, I think a little bit under the radar. I don’t think people were expecting a result like this. I mean, I wasn’t really expecting anything like this.
“Whatever way it goes, I’m just happy. I have Takuma Sato as my teammate and I’m driving an INDYCAR at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and at the same time we’re quick. If you were to tell me this when I was a kid I would just think you were lying or I’d be pinching myself to wake up.
“Yeah, overall I’m just very happy.”
2nd quick was Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi. The 2016 Indy 500 champion circled the 2.5-mile track with a speed of 231.883 mph.
Rossi is no stranger to speed here for which he’s qualified in the top 11 in 5 of his 6 attempts. His fastest 4-lap average was 231.387 mph in his front row starting effort for the 2017 race. He went 231.046 mph last year.
He only elected to do 1 run though and put his No. 27 Dallara-Honda back in the garage and elected to not risk it any further.
“We learned how to cool the engine down efficiently, so that was good,” he said. “That’s about it. It was a pretty tough day just to sit around and watch, but I think the car has been good all month and we had a pretty good understanding of what we have and what we need to do tomorrow in much different conditions.
“Didn’t learn a lot whole, unfortunately. But yeah, it was pretty wild out there for sure.”
Pato O’Ward (231.798 mph) was third in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet while Marcus Ericsson (231.782 mph) and his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate of Scott Dixon (231.530 mph) rounded out the top five.
“I’m pretty happy with where I am with the car and my confidence level,” Ericsson told me. “Obviously first things first to get in the Fast 12 tomorrow is going to be the target, and to be there for Sunday. But yeah, I’m feeling confident.”
So is O’Ward.
“I’m happy where we’re at. It’s hard to say. If tomorrow is going to be like today I think it would be a bit of a different approach.
“But since it’s going to be so different, it’s just — just like everybody else, we didn’t really see any gains on tuning for a track like this today, and it being so different tomorrow.”
2 of the 3 AMSP cars were found in the top 6. 4 of of the 5 Ganassi cars were in the top 12. Jimmie Johnson scrapped the wall early and was found 17th as a result but he also was 6th quick on the four lap average too.
Team Penske went 9th (Scott McLaughlin), 10th (Josef Newgarden) and 11th (Will Power) respectively. The trio were in the top 7 of the no tow list on Thursday too.
Combined, that’s a top 12 full of Penske, Ganassi, AMSP, DCR and Andretti.
This race may shape up to be a battle of Penske vs. Ganassi. What’s new, right? The two teams have only combined to win each of the last 9 series titles to go along with 13 out of the last 14 overall. Not only that, they’ve combined to win 44 of the last 69 races in the series (66%) since this new UAK car came out. Since the Aeroscreen?
24 wins in 35 tries (73%). They’ve combined to win 9 of the last 13 races overall and if you count Texas in March, the only other superspeedway on the schedule, they combined to sweep the entire top 7 of the finishing order.
On the overall speed chart for the two-day test, they took 4 of the top 5 speeds and 7 of the top 10 overall. Is this their race to lose?
They have 6 of the top 8 drivers in points right now.
Throw Andretti Autosport in there, and these three organizations have won 13 of the last 17 ‘500’s overall and 17 of the last 22 (since 2000).
RLL and MSR are the only two outliers with RLL taking two of the top three spots in 2020 and have won 2 of the 5 that the “Big 3” didn’t since 2000. MSR won a year ago with Helio Castroneves.
Plus, the last non Penske Chevrolet driver to win at Indy was Al Unser Jr. with Galles in 1992.