Team Penske’s Chevrolets took the top three spots at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the first day of practice for the 2014 Indianapolis 500 race. It was Powerful Will/No.12 at 40.345/223.057mph on top, followed by teammates JUAN PABLO MONTOYA and HELIO CASTRONEVES.
Twenty-four drivers turned 731 laps, with Montoya turning the most – 83 and Power-82. Two drivers only ran three full laps – ED CARPENTER/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, and ORIOL SERVIA/No.16 RLL Racing Honda. In each case those two drivers were in their respective cars for the first time this month.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN/No.67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda turned but four laps. He said “It was a short day for us. We did a couple of laps, got our install done, so that’s always good to get the car out on the first day and check everything over. We found some gremlins already so we are hoping to get the bad luck out of the way and be in full force tomorrow trying to work on our setup.”
Some of the teams have a different car for the Indy 500 than from Saturday’s road course race. DERRICK WALKER, IndyCar President of Competition, said “The bigger teams that have more cars have dedicated oval cars. they put a lot more effort into that. Some teams have to use the same car; they have to put the oval suspensions and the oval wings on. They like to clean up and make the body work fit nicely and appear clean and slick.”
In Carpenter’s case, it was the first time since the winter break oval tests. His last oval race was in October 2013 at Auto Club Speedway in sunny California, when he finished second behind pole sitter Power. Carpenter made a decision during the off-season, for his one-car team to run a full 2014 season, with two drivers – himself for the ovals, and MIKE CONWAY of England to run the road and street courses. It was an inspired plan, as Conway had already declared his desire not to run oval courses any more, and Carpenter’s experience and strong suit is mainly on ovals.
KURT BUSCH/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda will be a busy driver this month, being the first driver in awhile Doing The Double – racing the Indianapolis 500 race and then flying off to Charlotte to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Coca-Cola 600 race. Unlike previous drivers, such as TONY STEWART, ROBBY GORDON and JOHN ANDRETTI, Busch has no IndyCar or open wheel experience. He’s had a test with Andretti, but he is admittedly a student this time around. Busch acquitted himself well enough his first day, after less than two hours on track. He finished midpack, twelfth of 24 drivers. His best time was 40.8437/220.352 mph/354.62217 kph.
At the end of the day, certain drivers are brought into the Chris Economaki Media Center for interviews. Power, as fastest driver, had problems maneuvering his way onto the raised dais, and stumbled. The moderator quipped “that it was an audition for Riverdance and he wasn’t doing so well,” and Power fired back – “I’m big in tap dance.”
Apart from the speed, Power said “It felt great to be on top and the car felt really good today. I got quite a few laps to get the mileage up. It’s only practice and the first day. It was weird waking up the day after a race and getting back into the car on a different style of track. It’s a different discipline.” Power’s Indy 500 car is not the same as the one he drove in Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
“It’s time to have a good finish here – and that means a win. It’s the first oval course of the season, and it’s a slightly different tire, which affects the balance.
“Actually we did a bit of race work here today, anticipating the rain, because when you get to the end of the week, you’re thinking about qualifying, which pays big points, and the race pays massive points – double. Honestly, I think it’s way too many, but that’s what it is right now.”
Saturday qualifying also pays more points – “It’s a big deal. There’s not a big spread in the points. So, generally, the guys who are in the championship are in good teams and up front in qualifying.”
ED CARPENTER said he “was glad to be back in the car. I don’t know what I’m doing on the timing stand all the time, just trying to stay out of the way, and I probably talk more than I should. I think I’m a better asset to them in the car than on the timing stand. So, I’m happy to get sweaty again.”
It was a thrash for Ed’s team to get Conway’s road course set-up car ready for Carpenter to drive on the oval – they’re using the same car. Carpenter’s team is running a second car for the Indy 500 – for JR HILDEBRAND. JR’s team was busy with his speedway car. leaving Carpenter’s team to work on the conversion. Carpenter said “I think everybody in the garage jumped in and got us back out.”
This year, Carpenter intends to focus on the race. Last year he won the pole but finished tenth. “We’re more focused on getting the right amount of race running each day and running in enough different types of conditions, and not necessarily maybe worrying about qualifying quite as much.”
KURT BUSCH said “It was fun to play in traffic. It’s is a challenge to come into a foreign area of motor sport with a Gold Medal (2004 Sprint Cup Championship) so to speak. It’s not like I’m putting my career or my credentials on the line to prove anything. It’s a unique opportunity to race with Andretti, to have him there and talking with Mario this morning. This is a moment to check off something on the bucket list, but also to challenge myself to see where I can end up in this open-wheel rank at one of the most difficult races in the world. It’s very fun in motorsports to be able to bounce back and forth and drive different cars, but at a certain point, you have to keep the focus to a minimum, and maybe that time has passed for me. Maybe with my fender world I grew up in, I don’t need to go fenderless. I’ve seen a lot of Motocross guys recently, and they say ‘with age you get a cage’.”
Tuesday will be more of the same, but with weather?