Opening Day for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 at The Brickyard. It was sunny and hot Monday, and eager fans were in the garages aka Gasoline Alley. It was busy with the teams setting up their cars for Monday afternoon’s practice session. At noon local/ET time, all the drivers were allowed five minutes for installation laps to check out their cars and the track. Then all but a selected few parked their cars until 2pm when the track was open for all. The starter waved the Yellow Flag for the start of the Installation Laps.
The famed race track has had a full conversion, from the 2.439-mile, 14 turn road course circuit to the 2.5-mile, four-turn oval speedway. The work started with a crew of 25 immediately after the Indianapolis Grand Prix Saturday afternoon, and went until 10pm. It started up again Sunday at 8am and went until 4pm, with temperatures in the mid-eighties, and little wind for respite. It took 18 hours over the two days.The barriers, tire walls and fencing has to be removed and replaced, the track cleaned up and swept, and painting done. Lots of equipment was utilized to do the heavy lifting. Job well done!
Firestone tires issues three extra sets of the Indianapolis 500 race tires to the Rookies, and two sets to the Refreshers. There is only the one tire for this race, and it has the same compound as last year, with a new rear construction. There are no rain tires for oval racing. The tires are color-coded: Left side tires have a silver rim with a white Firestone F logo; the right side tires have a bright blue rim with a red F logo.
There are but a few taking the ROP – Rookie Orientation Program, required of all rookies who haven’t previously run the Indy 500. It is also a Refresher session for those who haven’t run in a while, which could include the one-off drivers. The three Rookies who went out late were Jack Harvey/No.50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda; Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda; and Zach Veach/No.40 Indy Women in Tech Championship AJ Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet. Those in the Refresher category include Rookie Fernando Alonso/No.29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Andretti Autosport Honda, who passed his ROP in a private test Monday week; Jay Howard/No.77 Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; Sage Karam/No.24 DRR Mecum Auctions Dreyer & Reinbold Chevrolet; Pippa Mann/No.63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda; Sebastian Saavedra/No.17 AFS Juncos Racing Chevrolet; and Oriol Servia/No.16 Manitowoc Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. Mann indicated she wouldn’t participate in the Refresher session.
Alonso is garnering a fair share of attention and he’s paying back. He was seen at the airport signing autographs when he landed from Sunday’s Formula One race, after flying in with Zak Brown of McLaren, in a private jet. And he stuck around after his F1 race in Spain to do the obligatory bull pen interviews, smiling and grateful to have finished a race. In the Gasoline Alley Monday morning, Alonso was again seen signing autographs.
Alonso was fastest in the Rookie/Refresher Session, at 221.634 mph, on Lap 26 of 35 laps. Then the car went back to the garage for a couple of hours.
Second through seventh during the Rookie/Refresher session were: Servia, Rookie Jones, Howard, Saavedra, Rookie Harvey, and Rookie Veach. Others on the Installation Lap were Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda; Ed Carpenter/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet; JR Hildebrand/No.21 Preferred Freezer Service Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet; Carlos Munoz/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet; Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak N’Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda; and Spencer Pigot/No.11 Juncos Racing Chevrolet.
All but one Verizon INDYCAR field have been through Scrutineering, at least the Safety Check portion. Drivers are allowed to have just the Safety Check portion, and waive going through the Technical Inspection until after they’ve been on track. That portion must be completed before the driver can compete.
The only driver yet to appear is Buddy Lazier/No.49 Lazier Racing-Stalk It-Tivoli Lodge Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet. He is on a ‘short-short program’ and won’t be on track until Thursday. Lazier is in stealth mode, with no garage sign installed yet.
Lots of school children were on field trips Monday, ostensibly with a STEM focus. There are small groups of elementary school children with chaperones, and a huge mob of Indiana middle-school students from Speedway, practically the whole student body – 200. They and other middle school students were here with the Perdue University MSTEM3 Initiative. Verizon INDYCAR Driver Rahal spoke to the group before the track opened. Monday and Tuesday Honda’s STEM Connections Tour to promote STEAM – Science, Technology, the arts, and math behind motorsports. On Tuesday 2016 Indy 500 winner, Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda will speak to high school students. After the talks the students were free to roam.