Ericsson (229.607 mph) quickest in Day 3 of practice for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 on Thursday, recap with my top thoughts/takeaways

INDIANAPOLIS — Chip Ganassi Racing was back at it again with a second straight day of being 1-2 on the speed charts on a sun filled Thursday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. This time, it was Marcus Ericsson’s turn to lead the day with a lap of 229.607 mph in his No. 8 Dallara-Honda. The defending Indianapolis 500 champion turned the lap early in the day which stood the test of time to land Ericsson with his second straight top 10 day.

“A really good day for the whole Chip Ganassi team,” Ericsson said. “Yesterday we worked a lot on the race cars. We were good straightaway. Then today we built on that. I think we did some changes overnight that helped me in my feeling in the car. Felt really happy with my race car.”

Like Wednesday though, Scott Dixon remained in second. The two-time defending Indy 500 pole winner clocked in a lap of 229.186 mph in his No. 9 Dallara-Honda to put him P2 on the board.

The next three speeds were all launched in Happy Hour with Simon Pagenaud (228.681 mph), Will Power (228.577 mph) and Colton Herta (228.240 mph) being third, fourth and fifth respectively.

MORE: Day 1 Indy 500 practice recap/5 takeaways

Conor Daly (228.215 mph) led the ECR brigade while yesterday’s top driver, Takuma Sato (227.818 mph) was seventh in his No. 11 Dallara-Honda.

“Yeah, thankfully this track we’ve still managed to retain our speed,” Daly said. “It’s been nice. It’s been fun. The couple days have been interesting.

“I still think it will be very interesting come tomorrow when the power goes up because I think we’ll see a general trend on fast cars, but what is that going to look like when we got all the juice? We’ll see what happens.

“But I’m very confident so far, more confident than I would say I was last year at this time, both in traffic and in no tow. So, yeah, not too bad.”

A day after having all four cars in the top seven on Day 1, CGR put all four in the top nine 24 hours later (1-2-7-9).

Even more, some Ganassi’s elected to make a Quals sim run in the closing minutes of Happy Hour. Ericsson went to the top of the No tow list at 224.414 mph. Dixon was fifth (224.192 mph)

“In the end we just did some stuff for tomorrow, some preparation for tomorrow one run in, managed to be P1 on the no tow as well. Very positive day,” Ericsson said. “Hats off to the Ganassi team. The organization has done a really good job again this year with really good cars.”

Pato O’Ward said last weekend that he expected the Chip Ganassi Racing cars were going to be the ones that everyone was going to be chasing again.

“Obviously last year the Ganassi’s were the different benchmark. They’re the ones that we’re chasing,” said last year’s runner-up finisher, Pato O’Ward.

So far, he looks to be right.

In 2020, they led 119 of 200 laps and had the 2nd place finisher. In 2021, they had 4 of the top 9 starters including 2 more on the front row with leading 42 of 200 laps and having 3 finishers in the top 11 including a runner-up. Last year, they led 163 of 200 laps (82%).

That’s 324 of 600 (54%) of the overall laps led in the Aeroscreen era and already this month leading the charge.

“I think last year we were super good all practice, the whole week as well,” said Ericsson. “I think we are as good this year for sure.

“I think the team has done a really good job of trying to improve the package that we already had last year very strong.

“I thought yesterday I was struggling a little bit in traffic. Today we made some changes that made me more happy with my race car. I was actually quite pleased mid afternoon when we started to change over to quallie trim. I definitely feel we’re in a very, very good spot.

“We feel strong. We feel better than last year, and last year we were pretty good.

“We feel better. We worked hard in the winter already to improve on a strong package. Testing is testing, it’s hard to make conclusions. But of course we feel we’re going to be fighting up front. From what we’ve seen so far, we should be up there.

“We don’t want to underestimate our competition because there’s a lot of good teams that work really hard to improve. We can’t underestimate that challenge going into this weekend and the next one.”

The day was another clean one. There were only three cautions for track inspections. Yesterday saw just five stoppages, all for debris and/or track inspections totaling 35-minutes and 10-seconds of down time.

Takuma Sato practicing for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Ganassi, McLaren Cars Working On Primarily Race Pace

For the second day in-a-row, the Chip Ganassi Racing cars were found at the top of the speed chart. That’s by design. They’ve turned their focus on getting their “race” cars in the window of perfection. Is it fast out front? Can it draft and suck up to the car in front? Can it make passes? Every minor detail the Ganassi cars are working on and so far, they think that it’s paying off.

Same for the Arrow McLaren Racing cars too. They’ve not had the speed in the traffic practices, but they’ve done the work which as a result, not has landed them all very high on the speed chart list.

They’re not panicking though nor worried. They’re right in their planning window. Bc

Will Power during practice for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Chevrolet Leading The No Tow List, But How Much Does It Matter?

This year is shaping up to be a lot like last. On opening day last year, Takuma Sato led Scott Dixon on the overall speed charts. Same thing on Wednesday. For Thursday’s practice, Will Power was leading the no tow list at 224.325 mph until Ericssons late flier. He led it again this year too at 224.283 mph.

Can this year, he lead that to a better qualifying day?

Power was the only one among the Penske camp to make the Fast 12 Shootout last year. Josef Newgarden qualified 14th. Scott McLaughlin was 26th.

Turning in a better qualifications weekend is one of the main concerns the Penske camp had.

“Yeah, probably,” Josef Newgarden told me on if the Penske camp would alter their approach this year and to jump on qualifying setups earlier in the week. “Just because it is important to qualify well. I mean, you can win from wherever, but it’s equally important to qualify well too, so I think you’re seeing more people do that.

“We’ll probably see the same this year. But I think just even more so than the race just people are putting more emphasis on qualifying well and trying to find the speed in the car.”

Penske cars failed to lead a single lap a year ago here and now have led a grand total of 19 over the last 3 years (600 laps). They finished 13th (Josef Newgarden), 15th (Will Power) and 29th (Scott McLaughlin). Their drivers 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.

That’s why qualifying pace is very important for their resurgence.

They had two cars in the top six on the no tow on Wednesday too and went 1st (Power), 2nd (McLaughlin) and 4th (Newgarden) on Thursday. That’s far better than they were on the overall speed chart with them being 4th (Power), 19th (Newgarden) and 23rd (McLaughlin).

Ed Carpenter Racing has also been once again quick on the no tow list. They had all 3 cars in the top 5 on Wednesday including 1-2 between Rinus VeeKay and Ed Carpenter. On Thursday, they had P6 (VeeKay), P10 (Carpenter) and P11 (Daly). Like Penske, they also were found more midpack. Daly was sixth overall, but VeeKay was 30th and Carpenter 31st.

However, that’s six of the top 11 speeds on the no tow belonging to the Chevy camp between Penske and ECR. Does that mean much when they were further down the overall speed chart?

It didn’t necessarily last year and I wonder if so this…

“So this is a month you know, we’re gonna be fast here,” VeeKay told me before practice even began. “We will definitely have a great car and hopefully get the pole.”

Chevrolet had the preferred power in this race in 2018 and again in 2019. They’ve swept the front row both years.

Then in 2020 it was all Honda. This time Honda swept the front row and took 11 of the top 12 starting spots. In 2021, it was more Honda dominance in taking 7 of the 9 spots into the Fast 9 and 9 of the top 11 overall.

Last year, Chevrolet swept the provisional front row on opening day of Time Trials but a day later (Pole Day), the Honda’s adjusted and took 4 of the top 6 starting spots instead.

“Honestly, it depends on I guess who is developing the most grip mechanically,” Daly said. “We could see some people, at Texas it was interesting, some people managed to run with more downforce and actually be faster.

“It’s about efficiency, the less scrub the better. So sometimes you can trim out here too much and be a victim of kind of being a bit too aggressive.

“It’s just finding that little window. By lap four, for sure the tires are going off. When you’re doing two hundred a ton miles an hour, the first laps feel like I got this, then three and four you’re fighting an animal – at least I have been.

“I’ve always struggled a little bit in qualifying here, but I feel better already going forward, so that’s nice.

“All three of our cars are similar in speed, which is encouraging. Obviously the team brings three good cars here all the time.”

Kyle Kirkwood has been all smiles this week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Watch Out For Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport Camp

Kyle Kirkwood told me this morning that he was so happy with his No. 27 Dallara-Honda on Wednesday that he would be good if they didn’t hit the track the rest of the month. He wanted to just put the car up and not touch it.

It was that good.

“It was a strong first day I think from us as a team and general I felt like I was one of the few cars that can make a pass in the middle of the pack and in lead fine,” Kirkwood told me on Thursday morning in the shadows of the victory podium. “So we spent a lot of our time got it in that top five range. I couldn’t be happier with the car I was I was ready to wrap her up and put it inside the trailer pull her out for race day.”

They didn’t make many laps for the first half of the day on Thursday, but when they did, they tried out a qualifying sim and went to sixth on the board when doing so. He fell to ninth in Happy Hour.

He was right up there with teammate Colton Herta who was eighth on the no tow list. He was sixth on the overall list on Wednesday and fifth on Thursday.

These Andretti cars have way more speed that they’ve shown on paper thus far and I think that could be scary for the field.

They’re deceptively quick by themselves. They’re good in traffic. What more do you need?

Marco Andretti told me on Thursday morning that he has a car capable of Row 3. That’s a borderline Shootout car too. He was 12th on Thursday’s no tow.

Andretti put all five cars in the 2020 Shootout here. Do they get at least three this weekend?

Alex Palou leads a group during practice for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Drivers Playing With Other Teams In Traffic

In the early hours of Thursday’s practice session, we saw all four Chip Ganassi Racing cars practicing in tow. Between them however, was Alexander Rossi. One lone McLaren within four Ganassi Honda’s. That was by design.

“Obviously last year the Ganassi’s were the different benchmark. They’re the ones that we’re chasing,” said last year’s runner-up finisher, Pato O’Ward.

Ganassi drivers led 163 of 200 laps (82%) last year. They went 1-2-4-7 in Wednesday’s practice.

“Marcus (Ericsson) out of nowhere just came out with insane speed,” O’Ward said last year when he finished second. “Got by me like I was standing still. Got up to Felix (Rosenqvist) I think within two laps, passed him like he was standing still, left him. I got to Felix finally. I passed him. I had nothing for him. I said, I need a yellow to try and have a shot.

“Tony was also really quick coming behind me. I know he was catching me faster than what I was catching Marcus. When the restart happened, I said, I have one shot, I have to go flat, and still wasn’t enough.

“Too fast in the straight. Maybe if I would have timed it a little bit better. I really don’t think I could have done it much better. I did enough to what we had been doing all race.

“But, yeah, at the end I was surprised with how much more pace they had in a straight line with quite a bit more downforce. I was just trying to time it as good as possible.”

They even qualified 1-3-4-6-12 a year ago and 1-3-7-9 in 2021.

That’s why they’re the ones to beat. That’s also why Rossi was the Guinea pig to run with them to see not only where the McLaren Chevrolet stacks up, but maybe see if they can pinpoint some things the Ganassi’s are doing too.

“I mean that traffic that’s the that’s the whole reason that you get into traffic, right because you can see what other people are doing to an extent and understand what you need to excel on with your car,” Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood told me about learning on what other teams are doing in traffic. “And it’s also good to work with teammates, because you know that they have some differences and that they’re trying to tune in on something here like where did that help them because it’s almost easier to see how someone else’s car is reacting compared to yours than it is when you’re actually in the seat.

“So that’s the whole point that we all run together and we all get as many laps together as possible because we all know that we’re on different setups and we know where each other thrive and where we don’t.”

If you can’t beat them, join them. Why not see how you stack up and see if you can see some subtle things on their cars while doing so.

Callum Ilott practicing for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Whos In Trouble After 2 Days

It’s hard to tell at this point since everyone has varying programs. Some teams have worked extensively on qualifying sims. Others have done just race runs. It’s hard to gauge who’s in trouble or not because of that. However, a slower car is a slower car and the trends are starting to shed some light on who may be worrying about a Last Row Shootout.

Callum Ilott was slowest on Wednesday and only turned 80 laps. On Thursday, he was 32nd. While they took him off the bubble list, it didn’t move him though very far. He was troubled with a bad handling car during the open test and now that they’re back, they still didn’t produce a ton of speed. Early on yesterday, Ilott’s top lap in the first half of the day was barely over 215 mph. He did gain five mph later in the day and went even faster after in going 223.408 mph, but that was good enough for last on the speed charts. He was the slowest (212.269 mph) during the open test.

RC Enerson did pass all three phases of ROP on Wednesday but was only 33rd (224.019 mph). He was 28th (225.112 mph) on Thursday.

Then you have some RLL cars next. Despite all that momentum, a few were at the bottom in 31st (Katherine Legge) and 32nd (Christian Lundgaard) on Wednesday. On Thursday, they were 21st (Harvey), 33rd (Legge) and 34th (Lundgaard) before the final runs which saw Rahal went to 12th from 31st and Lundgaard up to 27th.

Rahal says they have midpack speed on the no tow, which is why I don’t fully worry on them yet, but I do have a few of their cars with the panic button close.

In the open test, RLL went 23rd (Rahal), 26th (Lundgaard), 28th (Harvey) and 31st (Katherine Legge). Last year, they had 2 of the bottom 3 qualifiers (Lundgaard 31st, Harvey 32nd) and earlier this season in Texas, they qualified 24th, 27th and 28th out of 28 cars.

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