It was a glorious day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the opening day of practice for the 103rd Indianapolis 500. There are 36 NTT IndyCar Series drivers entered for this year’s race, so there will be bumping in qualifications this weekend. The weather was wonderfully warm – not too hot, just right with only a slight breeze. It was 64 degrees F at noon, but it felt warmer. The track temperature was 90 degrees F. It warmed up to 70 degrees F by 4pm, with track temp of 103 F, and then clouds started appearing. The wind increased a bit eventually to 7 mph. Then the clouds mostly blew away and the sun came out brightly at days end. Mid-day there were lots of school kids in groups, evidently on field trips.
Tuesday’s practice was divided into three segments: Oval Veterans, Rookies & Refreshers, and All Cars. There were 31 times recorded in the first two-hour segment, which included all the NTT IndyCar Series ‘regulars’ plus those one-offs who have already completed their Rookie or Refresher sessions. Ed Carpenter/No.20 Preferred Freezer Services Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet was the fastest in this session, at 228.653 mph. Other than the open IndyCar test at IMS, Carpenter, who only races ovals, hasn’t been in the race car since last year. He said “There is always more you can get done, but today was a really good start. The baseline setup was good and we were able to work through everything that we wanted to try today not only on my car, but the other two as well. There will be a lot of data to go through tonight. Certainly there are areas for improvement. All things considered, where we are starting Day 1, speed-wise and race setup-wise, we are in a decent place. We tried a couple of different things today that were interesting and still need to be explored, but I am excited for the rest of the week.”
In these sessions, team drivers are allowed to get into each other cars for shakedowns. An example of this was James Hinchcliffe getting into the all three of his teammates Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Hondas. Max Chilton/No.59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet shook down the No.31 Chevrolet of his Rookie teammate, Patricio O’Ward.
Seven drivers were in cars for the for Rookies & Refreshers. Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet was the fastest, at 223.344 mph. In the overall group of the second session
By the end of the day, all 36 Indy 500 drivers were on course during one or more session, and some drivers in more than one car. If my calculations are correct, more than 3,000 laps were turned Tuesday. One driver who didn’t run in the last open session for all cars was Rookie Patricio O’Ward/No.31 Carlin Racing Chevrolet. He was experiencing car trouble … still, and hasn’t passed all levels of his Rookie Orientation Program. He will be allowed to practice Wednesday morning at 10:20am, prior to the open session at 11am. In the meantime, his Carlin teammate, Max Chilton, drove 13 laps in the car in the last session, coming in 35th of the 39 times posted. O’Ward said “We were hoping for a better start to our month of May, but unfortunately, we had a gearbox issue early in the rookie practice that took us back to the garage for the rest of the ROP (Rookie Orientation Program). The team was able to fix the issue, but we just didn’t have enough time for me to make it back out and get through everything we needed to for me to join the rest of the field in the final practice this afternoon.”
Left to Right: Helio Castroneves/No.3 Chevrolet; Carlton Herta/No.88 Honda; and Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Chevrolet
In the All session, Ed Carpenter was fastest from the start, based on his morning fast lap. That lasted until 4:35pm, when Will Power/No.12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet pipped his time, at 229.745 mph. The top four drivers remained the same for much of the session: Carpenter, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet, Rookie Colton Herta/No.88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda & Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda. And then, before Power topped the charts, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet worked his way into this small group.
The final top five lineup was: Power, Pagenaud, Carpenter, Castroneves and Herta – who was the top Rookie and the top Honda. Spencer Pigot/No.21 AutoGeek Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet turned the most laps – 128.
One car looks different than originally planned. The No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet is all white, with no sponsor livery. Unfortunately, the team has lost its two main sponsors, which have “withdrawn. Kaiser said the team is actively looking for sponsors and whatever they can get will go on the car. If nothing materializes, they will do something fun with the car. “Yeah, from my mindset, it doesn’t change no matter what’s on the car, if there’s nothing on the car, if the car is covered in sponsors, which obviously is what we’d love. But for now, I go out there and I drive the car as best I can and put the car at the front every chance we can, and hopefully, if we perform the way we’re supposed to perform, then we’ll have people coming in to get on the side of the car.
“Actively we are looking for sponsors to be on the side of the car, because that’s what keeps the car going the track, obviously, but, regardless, the cars, if we qualify for the race, we’ll be in the race. I don’t feel like my confidence is contingent on what the car says or what the car looks like. If that was the case, I wouldn’t be a very good driver if my driving depended on what color the car was. So I go out there, I do my job, I drive the car as fast as it can go, and I let the business end take care of itself.”
Another somewhat naked white car is No.81 10 Star DragonSpeed Chevrolet driven by Ben Hanley of England. And the No.42 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, driven by Rookie Jordan King of England could use more livery.
Those three drivers turned the fewest laps of the last session: Kaiser-10; Hanley-14, and King-42. They all turned more laps in the ROP/Refresher session: Kaiser-49, King-82, and and Hanley-44.
There was three cautions for debris, and one for Herta, when he spun at Pit Exit and stopped on course with a flat tire. He said “It was not fun. I guess just bit off a little bit more than I could chew. Was just trying to creep up to pit exit and pushed a little too hard and caught me out. We also did a front wing change which I don’t think had anything to do with it, but yeah, just carried a little bit more speed than I had been and spun out. The Total down time was 28.40 minutes.
Power, Herta and Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet met with the media at day’s end. Power was asked about the speeds being higher. “The speeds — I think the speeds are — yeah, maybe a little quicker by yourself. All the big speeds came from big tows. The tire that — what INDYCAR wanted Firestone to do with the tire is exactly what it has done, which is help that front work off the corner so you can follow closer, and you’ve just to obviously get your car to work around that.
“Yeah, it’s kind of hard to judge the true speeds of cars right now by themselves. You don’t know what aero configuration people are running, whether they’re doing qualifying sims or they’re in race trim. We don’t know where we stack up, honestly, as far as true speed.”
Kaiser was pleased to breeze through his Refresher program this morning.”It went exactly how we hoped it would be for the most part. I mean, we went out, had to do the 210 (phase), the 215 (phase). Obviously initially we had to make sure everything was working properly. We hadn’t been out here since last year. Make sure everything feels right, obviously the new tire compounds and everything.
“We went through that, we got to try some different aero pieces and wanted to make sure they all read the same, and it went really smoothly. I was just overall happy with how the car felt. It felt very similar to last year, and last year we had a lot of pace, so I think it’s all feeling really positive going into the rest of the week.”
Herta said “I think today we were more towards trying to figure out the race car, and that’s how I want to kind of go, because if we can — I think we have a good qualifying car already. We were kind of fast on our own. I was really struggling in traffic, though, and that’s when it’s going to count, in the race. I think we have a good enough car to make the show and then to compete in the race is another thing.
“Just focusing on the race car mostly and getting some qualifying runs in in the morning and then the rest of the morning, all afternoon trying to work on the race car.”
While the Indy Lights Series is struggling to fill the fields, it’s quality not quantity. The series still remains the best stepping stone to IndyCar. Patricio O’Ward is the latest Indy Lights Scholarship Winner, utilizing his 2018 Championship to help fund his partial IndyCar season. Twenty-four of this year’s Indy 500 drivers are graduates of the Indy Lights Series. They are:
Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, Helio Castroneves, Max Chilton, Conor Daly, James Davison, Scott Dixon, Jack Harvey, Colton Herta, JR Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe, Ed Jones, Kyle Kaiser, Tony Kanaan, Sage Karam, Charlie Kimball, Matheus Leist, Pippa Mann, Josef Newgarden, Patricio O’Ward, Spencer Pigot, Felix Rosenqvist, Oriol Servia, and Zach Veach.
The track opens officially at 11am Wednesday morning for an open session for all drivers. Rookie O’Ward will get extra time to complete his ROP, starting at 10:20am.