INDIANAPOLIS — The practice reports for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) will all look familiar. It’s virtually a Chip Ganassi Racing vs. Takuma Sato driven one.
Last week, Sato topped the Ganassi’s with a late lap during all three Happy Hour sessions. During Monday’s two-hour race practice session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Sato put another late top lap down of 228.381 mph in his No. 51 Dallara-Honda. This time though, it only broke up the Ganassi party up front but didn’t jump to the top.
That’s because while the Ganassi’s sat out most of the first hour of the session, they immediately went to the top when they did finally hit the 2.5-mile track a little after 2 p.m. ET.
Defending series champion, Alex Palou, ended up P1 in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda. Last year’s runner-up circled the Brickyard with a top speed of 229.441 mph. He was bested by Scott Dixon 24 hours ago but this time, Palou got the better of Dixon with the pole sitter for the 106th Running going 229.000 mph in his No. 9 Dallara-Honda.
Jimmie Johnson (228.467 mph) made it a Ganassi 1-2-3 while Marcus Ericsson put four Ganassi cars in the top five at 228.017 mph.
Dixon has been in the top two in literally all 5 normal practice sessions excluding the qualifying practices last weekend. In fact, he led opening day but has been 2nd ever since.
Palou was 8th, 6th, 20th and now 1st in the same 4 sessions. Sato has been 32nd (morning session of opening day), 1st (afternoon session), 1st, 1st and now 4th respectively.
Ericsson may be the sleeper. He was 2nd, 4th, 7th and 5th in his No. 8 Dallara-Honda.
Do the Honda’s have a leg up? It’s still hard telling despite them having 6 of the top 7 speeds on opening day, having 5 of the top 7 on Thursday’s session and now 6 of the top 8 including 11 of the top 14 on Monday. They also have 4 of the top 6 starters on Sunday too.
In saying that, Monday’s practice conditions weren’t likely to be reflective of how Sunday’s race will look. Ambient temperatures were in the upper 60’s while Sunday will be almost 20 degrees warmer.
That changed the approach to some drivers on how to attack practice on Monday. Do you set up for the current conditions or go with the future more in mind?
“Yeah, you just nailed it because the old me would have had the car trimmed for today and trying to go for P1, but we were actually trying bigger wickers and trying to nail the car for 90 degrees,” Marco Andretti told me. “It actually might rain Friday, so the next time we’re on track might be the race.
“I think we’re ready for that and those conditions. I think I actually welcome those conditions because it gives me more of a shot when it comes down to car balance than if it’s just speed. Unfortunately it might take both speed, luck and balance to win this race, but if we get luck and balance, we can have a pretty good shot.”
Conor Daly agreed.
“Yeah, I mean, there were a lot of different levels of downforce,” Daly told me. “With the cool temperatures, we saw it in qualifying, cool temperatures equal massive speed. Everyone felt like a hero I’m sure at some point today.
“I mean, you also still have to be the best in the conditions, and so today there were a few people that looked better than others and there were a few people that were definitely struggling. As Simon said for sure, it is going to get warmer, but also Indiana weather, heck, I have no idea what’s going to happen in the next seven days. We obviously could get rain on Carb Day, we obviously could not.
“I feel like if we did get rain on Carb Day we’d be happy where we are now. We just wanted to get through the tires today, how are they going to react 28 laps in, 30 laps in, because if you can take advantage of the end of the stint, that’s really powerful.
“We’ll see what happens, but I think our car was quite consistent today, but again, we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves because of conditions. Every day seems to have been different so far this whole month.”
For 2019 Indy 500 champion Simon Pagenaud, he said it was all about trying to figure out who had the balance right.
“Well, for me I just wanted to get my balance right to be able to feel people the way I wanted to feel people knowing what I needed for the race. But certainly with the temperature going up, the downforce level changes, so yeah, it’s still a tricky one. I’m trying to process the whole session in my head right now. There’s definitely a lot going on with — you saw a lot of people with different level of downforce, some people running way too fast in the front. So it’s difficult to gauge yourself against those guys doing stuff like that.
“But yeah, I’m expecting something a lot different on race day.”
We also saw the first practice crash of the month too when Dalton Kellett found the Turn 1 wall at 2:27 p.m. ET. He did a half-spin and made hard left hand contact with his No. 4 Dallara-Chevrolet into the SAFER barriers. Luckily he walked away unscathed.