Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is perhaps the busiest day of the Indy 500 experience. Although the Verizon IndyCars don’t take to the track until 11am, there are activities starting early on. In the Media Center there are back-to-back press conferences, with various teams, for announcements and awards presentations.
In the garages the teams are beavering away trying to get the last little inch of performance into the car so the drivers can work on speed today, in preparation for Saturday’s Qualifying. IndyCar will give the teams a turbocharge increase for Fast Friday.
Weather is a concern. At 10am it was 65 degrees F and cloudy, 68 percent humidity and 10 mph winds. By 11am, it 66 degrees F and the rain chances moved from 2-3pm. Forecast is for 73 F as a Friday high, But the rain chances are less than 100 percent and vary hour by hour. Showers could hit and run and not cause too much of a disruption. With Indianapolis, you won’t know until five minutes after it’s happened.
Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda missed his Friday morning presser as he’s a bit under the weather.
Monday Dale Coyne announced that Zachary Clamon De Melo would replace the injured Pietro Fittipaldi in the No.19 PaySafe Dale Coyne Racing Honda. And De Melo’s flag is hanging outside the grandstands, replacing Fittipaldi’s flag which hung during the GP week. Fittipaldi broke his left leg and right ankle. He’s in Indianapolis being treated by Dr. Terry Trammell, IndyCar medical consultant. Fittipaldi is undergoing rigorous rehab now and was at the track Thursday. Fittipaldi is staying in his motorhome at the track, so he can be with the team and involved with the race, and is also close to Dr Trammel and the medical center.
When I spoke with Coyne last week about the outreach he received regarding the open seat, he said his phone rang off the hook. He had at least 35 different drivers/teams wanting a chance for the ride. It is hoped Fittipaldi will be back in the car for the Mid-Ohio race and perhaps finish the season. Coyne is moving around races with Claman De Melo, who will probably do the Texas race.
The full field of 35 cars has been practicing three days already, with only one driver not going out Tuesday afternoon – Matheus Leist/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. He was on track for the rest of the sessions and turned a total of 118 laps for the week so far – the fewest of any driver.
Turning the most laps overall so far was Jack Harvey/No.60 Auto Nation/SiriusXM MSR w/SPM Honda.
Overall, Marco Andretti/No.98 US Concrete/Curb Andretti Autosport Honda has been the fastest driver at 227.053 mph and he’s run 260 laps. He turned his fastest lap time on Wednesday and it’s held. Second through fifth overall were Dixon; Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda; Robert Wickens/No.6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda, who was the top Rookie; and Graham Rahal/No.15 United Rentals Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.
Tuesday’s fastest overall driver was Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet at 225.787 mph. Second through fifth were Helio Castroneves/No.3 PennzoilTeam Penske Chevrolet; Ed Carpenter/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet; Jay Howard/No.7 One Cure SPM Honda; and Dixon. Wickens was the top Rookie.
Tuesday there was a two-hour morning session for Rookie Orientation Program, which Claman De Melo passed. It also served as a Refresher Course for James Davison/No.33 Jonathan Byrd’s 502 East Foyt w/Byrd/Hollinger/Belardi Chevrolet, Oriol Servia/No.64 Scuderia Corsa/Manitowoc w/RHL Honda, and Stefan Wilson/No.25 #Driven2SaveLives Andretti Autosport Honda. Carpenter turned the fastest No-Tow time at 221.564 mph. The day was run without incident, despite stopping for 71 minutes due to light rain and lightning.
Wednesday’s fastest five drivers was Andretti, Dixon, Sato, Wickens, and Charlie Kimball/No.23 Fiasp Carlin Racing Chevrolet. Wickens was the top Rookie. Tony Kanaan/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet was the fastest driver without a tow, at 223.048 mph. There was no drama, just the usual cautions for debris on track. The weather was beautiful.
Thursday’s fastest driver was Rahal at 226.047 mph. Second through fifth were Tony Kanaan/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet; Andretti; Carpenter and Sage Karam/No.24WIX Filters DRR Chevrolet. Top Rookie was Claman De Melo. Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was the top driver without a tow, at 223.971 mph.
Thursday was the first time a caution was thrown for an on-track incident – within the last twenty minutes of Happy Hour. JR Hildebrand/No.66 Salesforce DRR Chevrolet had a problem with the car in Turn Three. He skimmed the SAFER Barrier, then slid along the wall and stopped in Turn Four. JR was afraid he would go down the track in the groove, so he drove the car into the wall to stay there for most of the time. Then it slid down to the apron, where the front wings got under the tub. The damage was limited to front wings which got under the tub and minor left side damage. Hildebrand was unhurt and was cleared to drive. He said “We weren’t that deep into the run and we had something happen in Turn 3 with the car. We are still analyzing what might have happened. The car felt out of the ordinary. I didn’t feel like I was losing the car at all. I thought for sure I could save the car, which is why I’m a little confused on what happened.”
The fastest speeds so far this week were set in traffic with a tow. It’s a decidedly different scenario when a driver is running without a tow – as they will be for Qualifying. Drivers tried hard to get into track positions for a solo run, but it wasn’t easy. Rahal said Thursday “Stefan Wilson came out in front of me. He was at the end of the back straight as I was going out of (Turn) 2. I thought, for once I’m just going to stay in it (on the accelerator). Not normally my M.O., but I thought I might as well put a good one up there, at least lower my dad’s blood pressure for the night.”
The Indycar Race Control Live Streaming T&S on a laptop shows the tow and no-tow speeds, unlike most of the T&S screens seen in various other platforms. The No-Tow speed doesn’t appear in the IndyCar-released results.
The teams are hoping for a full afternoon Friday of track time.