It wasn’t quite so windy Thursday, but still gusty enough to blow off a hat for a major part of the day – 19 mph. It died down in the afternoon and was clocked at 2 mph by Happy Hour. It was hot all afternoon, with temperatures still high eighties at checkered flag: 87F/31C, and the track temperature was 117F/47C.
Jay Howard/No.77 Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda was the second car out of the chute at noon, right behind Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Sonny’s BBQ Dale Coyne Racing Honda, and Howard quickly took over the top spot and kept it all afternoon. He was the only driver to reach the 226 mph level. He ran 86 laps.
Howard hasn’t been in an IndyCar for the past six years. He passed his Refresher Phases early on Monday.
Howard said “It was really busy. It’s kind of like a fairy tale. This is like a dream right now. I don’t know if I’m going to wake up tomorrow and it’s all gone. Where do I start? First of all, what an amazing group of people I’ve got behind me. Team One Cure. Tony Stewart Foundation and I was fortunate enough to have Tony here today. That was fantastic having him around.”
The day Tony Stewart showed up Howard turned his fastest lap. “I’m going to chain him up in the garage. He ain’t going nowhere. He might think he’s leaving, he aint. He’s going to get out to his car, he’s got flat tires. He’s not escaping.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda was second, a time set early on also, and he kept his position all session. He went 225.826 mph and ran 79 laps. RHR is a past Indy 500 winner – 2014. “It’s been tough work, today I guess, but the past couple days. It’s been tricky out there. We’re definitely driving the cars a lot, I can tell you that. We’re on edge. You never really know what the next lap is going to hold, what surprise is coming at the next corner with dirty air or a gust of wind or whatever.
“We’ve done quite a bit of testing. We’ve tried a lot of things. We’ve kind of bounced around a bit. But certainly it’s pretty difficult out there.
“We’ll see what the weather does over the next couple days. Hopefully we can get in some qualifying simulation runs on Fast Friday if the weather cooperates. But we’re looking forward to the next page here tomorrow.”
Third was RHR’s teammate, Marco Andretti/No.27 United Fiber & Data Honda, with a lap of 224.709 mph. He ran 77 laps, and set his time on Lap 18 of 77. He kept it all afternoon.
Fernando Alonso/No.29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda was fourth and top rookie, at 225.619 mph. He took that spot late in the afternoon, displacing Josef Newgarden/No.2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet – the top bowtie. Newgarden had held that slot much of the afternoon, even though he only ran 35 laps. Alonso ran 96 laps and his fastest was on lap 74.
Alonso said “I was (running) behind a car just a couple of seconds in front, but we (tried some laps) without any car in front. We tested a couple of different trims and different setup options. The car felt quite OK from the very beginning of the morning, but then I think we did improve it during the day, so I’m quite happy. We worked still a lot on the race situation, keeping other guys out there and running in traffic. I think we found a good balance for traffic. I think tomorrow we will concentrate a little bit more alone on qualifying, but the priority is the race.”
Two or so hours into the Thursday practice session Newgarden came into Turn Two hot, and slammed the SAFER Barrier hard on his right side. He was seen, checked and released from the Infield Care Center, cleared to drive, although he has a sore foot. His car will require care.
“I’m fine. Tough break for us in the (No.) 2 car with Team Penske. It’s obviously not something you want to do, especially on a day like today – a pretty nice day out, no big issues. I’m disappointed that we ran into a problem. I just got called into the pits, so I was coming in and I didn’t want to check up too much for the guys behind me and cause a problem. It just seemed to get away from me. Until I get to look at everything, I’m not 100 percent sure what caused it. We were having a really good day. We had a good run up until that, so again I’m not sure what went on. It was probably my mistake, but until I get to look at everything it’s hard to tell. I feel bad for our guys that we’ve got extra work.”
Sage Karam/No.24 DRR Mecum Auctions Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet was sixth fastest, the only other Chevrolet in the top ten.
Team Penske veterans, Will Power/No.12 Verizon Chevrolet and Helio Castroneves/No.3 Shell Fuel Rewards Chevrolet clocked the most laps. Power turned a 224.563 mph on Lap 28 of 103. Castroneves was fifteenth fastest, at 224.407 mph, which he ran on Lap Six of 117. As with many drivers, the fstest laps were set early on. “The Shell Fuel Rewards Chevrolet felt pretty good today. We were able to turn a ton of laps today after not being able to get any track time yesterday with the conditions. Today, we had a good chance to continue down our checklist and experiment with a few things. We’ll just keep worrying about our program and moving forward and not spend time and effort wondering what others are or aren’t doing.”
Buddy Lazier/No.44 Lazier Racing-Stalk It-Tivoli Lodge Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet made it through Tech mid-afternoon and made a couple of slow laps. “After our late start, today went really well. We would have liked to run more, obviously. We did two installation runs; one for the motor and one for telemetry and we are ready to go all out tomorrow. The team has obviously expanded significantly as the week has went on and we are about where we need to be right now. I know my way around this track, it’s my 20th start this year. I’m super appreciative to Chevrolet and all the partners on our effort that have brought us to this point. For a late start, we are in really great shape.”
Thirty-two cars were on track in the first hour. All during the afternoon there were spurts of activity – running in traffic, then periods of inactivity, just cautions for debris and track inspections. There even were cautions back to back with no cars on course.
The majority of the fast times were set Thursday. Seven were fastest on Monday and four were fastest Tuesday. No one was fast on Windy Wednesday. The most laps were turned Tuesday-2404.
Of the 13 Thursday Cautions, one was for a real incident, one was for smoke from a race car, and the rest were the usual Clean-up vehicle laps. The Holmatro Crew should be leading Team Points by now. The down time totaled 1.57.16 hours – nearly a third of the track time.
Rookie Zach Veach/No.40 Indianapolis Women in Tech Championship AJ Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet is perhaps the only driver who has to be the one in the car for the tow to and from Pit Lane. Because of his slight frame, the crew is hard pressed to find someone small enough to fit in his cockpit. Team Owner AJ Foyt (and others) are telling Veach to eat up and gain weight.
Veach finished twenty-eighth, with 37 laps – two more than Newgarden who crashed out early on. “Pretty tough day overall, just still not much track time. We just kept making some changes, getting the car ready for race day. Had a few little gremlins come out there at the end that the crew is working extremely hard to fix, so want to thank everyone here at AJ Foyt (Racing) for working as hard as they can to make sure everything is ready for tomorrow. Still, just extremely happy to be here in the IWIT Champ car making great progress every time out. It’s just that that’s the way Indy is – sometimes it doesn’t go your way. We’re just going to keep working overnight and tomorrow will be a better day for all of us.”