INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Dixon (229.184 mph) set the tone early in Monday’s race practice in preparation for Sunday’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). In the final hour, his main rival, Will Power, put down the days fastest lap with a speed of 229.222 mph in his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet.
Power turned 88 laps in total on Monday but it was Lap 58 for which was his best. Bot he and Dixon were the only ones to eclipse the 229 mph barrier in the busy day that saw 2,005 laps turned in 120 minutes.
“We’ve been having vibration problems,” Power said. “I think we got somewhat on top of that, ran at the front, ran in the middle, ran in the back. I think the car is pretty good. Yeah, I think we’re in a good spot, really good spot.
“I think Chevy has a bit of an advantage on the power, as well. I feel like we have good horsepower, and I think we’re in good shape. A lot of people who are extremely good, a lot of teams.
“It’s almost going to be a day of no mistakes in the pits and just keeping out of trouble on track to give yourself a shot at the end.
“The package I have, you can run on the gearbox.”
Dixon’s teammate Takuma Sato (228.382 mph), Alex Palou (227.392 mph) and Tony Kanaan (227.094 mph) rounded out the top five of the session.
We witnessed the first crash of the oval activity this month when at 2:11 p.m. locally, Katherine Legge made front-to-rear contact with Stefan Wilson in Turn 1. It forced Legge to do a quarter-spin to the right and made right rear contact with the SAFER Barrier in the opening corner.
Wilson did a simultaneous three-quarter spin to the right and made front end contract with the same SAFER barrier. Legge would continue down the track and made secondary contact with the Turn 2 SAFER barrier. She would climb out of the No. 44 Dallara-Honda without assistance.
“The cars in front of me were checking up and I lifted as much as I could, downshifted, and hit the brakes, but that wasn’t enough,” she said.
Wilson however received assistance from the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team and transported to the downtown Indianapolis IU Health INDYCAR Medical Unit.
“He’s doing well,” Dr Julia Vaizer, IndyCar’s director, medical services said of Wilson. “He’s being transported to a local hospital for advanced imaging and further evaluation but he’s in good spirits.”
She told us he had, “no significant issues.”
Marco Andretti said that he felt like the incident likely occurred a lap earlier as everyone was checking up and going so slow out there.
“Literally a lap before that happened, we were in this string of cars, and I’m like, I can’t believe how slow the pack is going,” he said on the incident in Turn 1. “Like it caught me out in 3. I was way on the brakes, and I couldn’t believe how slow they were going.
“So I think from the looks of it, I only saw it from sitting in the race car, it looked like she just got caught out by how slow they were going.”
Will Power notes that he’s not shocked either with the drivers checking up here as that’s always an issue. It’s the drivers needing to get used to the longer brake pedal instead.
“That’s always the case. You’ve got to be really on top of — because the brake pedal is super long,” he notes. “When a big pack checks up, it can surprise you, so I always — if I see a bunch of cars up front, I always leave a gap and are aware that you can come in and have nowhere to go.
“That’s just these days because people — it’s not like the race where you can never lift. There’s people lifting out of line, trying to get back in, people on different tire life and such. Yeah, it can all pack up for you really quickly if you’re not ready.”
Rough Month Continues For RLL
The Friday before the GMR Grand Prix was the end of RLL’s good fortunes here. They qualified all three of their cars in the top eight including scoring the pole. Unfortunately, they didn’t even land a podium a day later and it’s been all downhill from there.
A rough week of Indy 500 practice saw all four cars (added an Indy only entry) remain on the bottom of the speed chart in nearly every metric. Jack Harvey blew an engine on Fast Friday. On Saturday, 3 of the 4 cars, all full-timers, missed being in the top 30 guaranteed starting spots. On Sunday, they all had to compete for the Last Row Shootout with Sting Ray Robb.
Robb made it which meant 1 of their cars went home. It was Graham Rahal’s. Now, a day later, Katherine Legge crashes in Turn 1 towards the end of Monday’s race practice.
Ganassi Cars Still Strong
This was the first time all month that a Chip Ganassi Racing car wasn’t leading the end of day speed charts. Still, they had 3 of the top four and look to be equally as strong now that we enter race week.
Last week, Ganassi went 1-2-4-7 on opening day. On Thursday, they went 1-2-7-9. On Fast Friday, they went 1-4-10-14 but 1-2 on the four-lap average chart. For qualifying, they put all four cars into the Shootout with qualifying 1-6-8-10.
“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 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.”
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.
The drivers have all made mention that the Ganassi camp seems untouchable right now, but a lot can still obviously change.
In 2020, they led 119 of 200 laps. 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. They didn’t have a win in either race.
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. However, with all those laps led, they do have just one win in this span.
Indianapolis is a hard place to win. It picks its winners. It’s why there’s no reason to give up and hand the Borg Warner over to Ganassi…yet.
A lot can happen over the course of a 500 mile race. A bad pit stop. A badly timed caution. A speeding penalty. You can be good for 199 laps, but not the one that matters.
Right now, Ganassi are the favorites, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much at this point either.
Power Leading The Penske Camp
On opening day, Will Power was the slowest among the three Team Penske drivers in 12th. On Thursday, he was the fastest in fourth. On Friday, he was in the middle of them in 12th again. However, he was the lone Penske represented in the Shootout as the 2018 Indy 500 champion will roll off from the Outside of Row 4 on Sunday.
During Monday’s race practice, Power was once again quick leading not only his Penske comrades in the two-hour session, but leading everyone.
The other Penske’s were 12th (Scott McLaughlin) and 24th (Josef Newgarden). At the moment, it looks like if Penske is going to pick up his first win as a team owner/track owner here, Power is going to be the one to do so.
Andretti Feels Good About “Race” Car
Marco Andretti called Andretti Autosport’s struggles on qualifying weekend, “embarrassing.” They didn’t have a single driver in the Shootout and will only start Sunday in 15th (Kyle Kirkwood), 19th (Romain Grosjean), 21st (Colton Herta), 24th (Marco Andretti) and 26th (Devlin DeFrancesco).
However, now that qualifying weekend is behind them, they’re starting to dial in their race cars. Andretti was seventh quickest in Monday’s race practice with a top speed of 226.632 mph in his No. 98 Dallara-Honda. He says that his actual car right now feels really good and that they’re in the realm of being a contender here.
The only problem for him is the lack of track position.
This is the third straight year that he’s started 20th or worse. He was 25th in 2021, 23rd last year and now begins Sunday’s race in 24th. The previous two years, he only got to 19th and 22nd. He says this year, if they can find a way to get track position, then he thinks that they have a good enough car to keep it.
“I think we’re pretty good, actually,” Andretti says. “Third year in a row with no track position, but I think if it’s able to materialize with strategy and stuff like that, I think we have a car to stay there.
“Yeah, it’s pretty tough to pass three or four back. I’m sure there’s been a theme. I’m not sure what is actually causing that, but I think to be honest, the new aero rules just allow that snake to be even closer, so when you get the runs on people, you pop into clean air and drag, and the car you’re trying to pass has a 20-car draft, so he beats you to the corner. So it makes it very tough to pass.
“I think adding the downforce made that snake on the straightaway that you see even closer.
“It makes it pretty difficult to make hay, but it is 500 miles, and we’ve seen this race end up crazy. We’re ready to fight. We have a car to fight.”
Andretti knows how to drive this place. He’s competed in 17 Indianapolis 500’s. Not only that, he’s also completed 3,200 laps on race day and led the 43rd most laps (144) all-time. So when Andretti feels what he feels, he knows what he’s talking about.
Andretti does his best work at this place. It’s why he’s scaled his program down to just one NTT INDYCAR SERIES race a year – this one.
This year, Andretti Autosport comes to Indy with some momentum. They have speed. They’ve won two poles and a race already this season.
Also, he has some continuity within the Andretti program. When he came to the team for Indy last year, he had a new look in the debriefing room. Devlin DeFrancesco and Romain Grosjean were new additions. So was Simon Pagenaud to the Meyer Shank Racing side.
This year, they will have seven voices in that meeting, but six of them are the same. Is that an advantage? He says he never really relied much on other programs anyways because they don’t always translate over. He said just look up how many teammates that he’s had in this series and that it’s so hard to adapt to everyone of them. I did. Kirkwood is his 35th teammate in this series.
“Always find I do my best work at this place when I’m focused on my program and then I end up leading the herd and people end up coming in to my my direction,” Andretti said. “So it’s hard to judge setups because it’s not I guess my confidence. Number one it’s never behaves almost exactly the same as another guy. And also, maybe you found that I’ve gotten out like it’s tailored to that particular guy as well. So rather have it tailored to myself.”
One change for him this year over last thought is on his timing stand. His dad, Michael Andretti, is no longer on it.
“No, we discussed it last year. I think with all the stuff he has going on. I mean just takes 100% focus and can’t be missing practices and stuff like that,” Andretti told me on if his dad was back on his stand this month.
In comes Eric Bretzman. He also has a fantastic assistant to him helping in engineering and fuel strategy, one who won the Indy 500 with Ryan Hunter-Reay before.
That veteran presence and support has Andretti hopeful to join his grandpa as the first grandpa-grandson Indy 500 winning combination.