Friday morning the Verizon INDYCAR Series race cars queued up and paraded out through Gasoline Alley to Pit Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first session of the month – practice for the INDYCAR Grand Prix. This is the fourth year for the road course race, utilizing various infield portions of the Speedway, making it a 14-turn, 2.439-mile circuit. The weather was mostly cloudy for the 9:15am session, chilly, breezy, a wind chill factor of 55 degrees F. The session got off to an inauspicious start with a very early red flag for debris. The field has 13 Hondas and nine Chevrolets.
Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet led the field Friday in the first practice. He turned his fastest lap of 1:09.3172 / 126.670 mph on his last lap as the checkered flag about to fly, rising to the top for the first time in the 45-minute session. Power edged past Joseph Newgarden/No.2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet who had been leading and led two other times; and Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, who was running third and had led twice earlier.
The qualifying track record is 1:08.6746 / 127.855 mph set last year by Power in the first round of knockout qualifying. Last year’s pole was 1:08.7696/127.832 mph, set by Simon Pagenaud, who went on to win the race. He also won the inaugural GP in 2014, with Will Power the 2015 winner.
Juan Pablo Montoya/No.22 Fitzgerald Kits Team Penske was seventh fastest, in his first INDYCAR race of the season, since he left Penske after the end of last season. “I got an idea this morning of what we needed out of the car, and I think it helps. Even though we screwed up in the first session.” Later, JPM joked that he had to come back and lighten things up for the team, as they were getting too serious.
Helio Castroneves/No.3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was twelfth. This weekend he is running the silver Verizon livery on the road course chassis. For the Indianapolis 500 he will run a new gold livery for Shell Fuel Rewards on the Speedway chassis. Travis Law, the Chief Mechanic for Castroneves’ car said that livery changes are labor intensive. The No.3 car has six different primary sponsors, which means six complete graphics changes for the driver, crew, and all equipment as well as the car. Everything changes. The Verizon car is a wrap, which takes about eight hours. Four of the guys in the Paint Shop help out with some specialized outside hired help. The special gold livery for the Indy 500 is painted on, with PPG help. PPG is one of the team’s sponsor and has been a great help with the technology as well as color design. It takes days to complete.
This weekend there also are three support races from the Mazda Road to Indy Grand Prix Presented by Royal Purple Supporting Lupus Foundation of America Series: Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda; Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires; and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.
Indy Lights has a field of 14 drivers, from six countries and the US. Half the drivers are Rookies.
The Pro Mazda field is 15, with three countries and mostly US drivers represented. Ten are Rookies, and four are in the National Class – which means the driver either has an older spec car, or is older than a kid.
The largest support race group is the USF2000 field, with 23 drivers, including two women – the only group with female drivers. Ten countries are represented, plus the US, and 17 are Rookies. What fun! Five of those foreign drivers commute from home or another country, while the others have more local addresses.
Thursday was a test day for the Mazda Road to Indy Series, the three support races this weekend. Their sessions were run under cool, heavily-overcast skies. The track was wet from the Wednesday late night rain, but it dried quickly.
Friday’s schedule called for practice and qualifying for all four groups and races for the three support groups.
Mega delay in posting due to WiFi problems. So sorry. Universal Frustration.