The lap times just kept dropping as different Indianapolis 500 drivers surged to the top at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, toppling Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Avaya Team Penske Chevrolet, who had been on top for hours with a lap of 227.478 mph. In the end it was Carlos Munoz who prevailed in No.26 AndrettiTV.com Honda at 230.121 mph – the only driver in the 30’s. He was also the top Honda driver.
All drivers were fastest in Wednesday’s session, of the three days so far the first week.
Pagenaud ended up in seventh place.
Munoz said “Really, we were not looking for a tow, we just made a change and said, ‘OK let’s go in the group and see if we can just cop a tow and feel the car in traffic a little bit.’ I went back to the pack and it’s practice, so whoever gets the best tow is the one who is going to finish first. The positive thing is that I feel really comfortable with the car, the car feels OK. In traffic and by my own, I feel fast. We have to continue working, we have still two days of testing so we have to try some stuff. I focused on running in traffic. It’s still too early to know which one is better, Chevrolet or Honda. Tomorrow we’ll see a lot more pack racing.”
Townsend Bell/No.24 Robert Graham Special Chevrolet moved up the charts after coming back from the garage at the end. His time was 228.969 mph, good for second place.
Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet came back out for Happy Hour and took third place with 228.172 mph.
Newcomer today, James Davison/No.19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, jumped to third from out of nowhere, also in the 28’s – one of only three drivers that quick. His lap was 228.043 mph. The young Aussie completed his Refresher Program in short order, and was running seventh overall at the time it was announced.
Regarding the possibility that someone else may have to qualify the No.19 Honda Saturday while Davison is racing in Canada – Derrick Walker, IndyCar President, Competition & Operations, said that IndyCar must approve any backup driver change. There has been no official request from the Dale Coyne team, but “We’ve heard rumors for the past two weeks.” If Davison’s car is qualified by another driver, Davison will have to start at the back of the pack for the race.
Sage Karam/No.8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Chevrolet fell to fifth after a brief stint as the fastest driver. He turned a lap of 227.882 mph on Lap 80. Karam had been fastest on Monday. He said “Good day today! Making strides on the race setup. Feeling more and more comfortable every lap.”
Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet had briefly been the fastest driver at 227.525 mph close to the start of Happy Hour, before he was passed by Ganassi teammate, Karam, and the others.
Eighth overall was last week’s road course race winner, Will Power/No.1 Verizon Team Penske.
Ninth for the day, after running second most of the afternoon, was Marco Andretti/No.27 Snapple Honda. He was trying different directions from Tuesday’s setups. Tuesday he ran the No.26 AndrettiTV.com Honda of teammate Carlos Munoz, as the two are about the same size. Andretti wanted to try Munoz’s seat belt attachments and negative camber – both points different than that which Andretti had been running. Andretti ended up not using the Munoz setups, but something clicked, as he turned a 227.320 mph on Lap 28 of 86, which held him onto second place for a long time
Tenth was James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrows/Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Honda, who knocked out Townsend Bell/No.24 Robert Graham Special Chevrolet – a position Bell had held for a long time. So Bell came back out and jumped to second.
Gabby Chaves/No.98 Bowers & Wilkinson Honda was the top Rookie, in twelfth place.
Bell said “Ours is a single car program-only event of the year, so far. We’re focusing on the fundamentals. It’s probably not as bad if we were off in our setups, but we had Davey Hamilton setting up the car in the open oval test (May 3) while I was at Laguna racing in IMSA. ‘He said I got to the first 220. The rest is up to you.’
“It was a little easier to drive in the wind yesterday than in previous years. Chevy has done just an incredible job with all the aero data. It’s never easy but it’s been easier because it’s predictable.
“IndyCar attracts the best drivers in the world. I think it’s cool that IndyCar has a lot of flavor.
“Our little one-car team is good. I think it starts with people – we have a strong solid core group of people. Dennis (Reinbold) attracted quality people. That helps us keep up with the other big teams. We all want to do well for Dennis. Half the battle in a one-off race is finding the right people. Chase Helmond is our team manager and is very well prepared.”
As a TV commentator, Bell said he watches the races with a different lens. He spent time Wednesday reviewing the video of Helio Castroneves’ accident. “Now I watch as an analyst and definitely pick up things. Never stop learning. Helio’s accident didn’t cause us to make any changes. We were good with the wind, different today than yesterday.”
Wednesday was a disastrous day for two cars, but very good for the two drivers who experienced horrific accidents and walked away – cleared to drive. Not the same could be said for their cars.
As reported earlier, there was the Castroneves accident early in the afternoon, and much later there a solo car accident with Pippa Mann/No.63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. She hit the walls hard and brought out the sixth caution of the day. She was running fourteenth at the time, and had just recently come back out on course after being in the garage. Mann hit all four corners of her bright pink car, coming out of Turn Four. She spun and hit the inside wall nose first, and then slid hard drivers side into the attenuator at the end of Pit In wall. This spun her several times around the track where she backed into the outside wall and stopped. The wheel tethers did their job.
Mann was helped out of the car, taken to the IU Health Emergency Medical Center, checked, released and cleared to drive by Dr. Geoffrey Billows, Indianapolis Motor Speedway medical director. The car is another story.
After the accident, Mann said “Guys in front of me in the big pack checked up and I saw them check up. I got on the brakes, but unfortunately I just got in the gray and made a mistake. When you’re not in a race car week in and week out, sometimes you make mistakes. It’s a real shame for my guys. The car was running great and now they have to go fix a race car. We were having a good day and we had a good race car. I’m really sorry that the guys have to go and fix it. The joke inside (the medical center) was I got away with a couple of bruises, but I think my crew chief will have a few more for me when I get back to the garage after that one.”
Everyone pitted for the duration of that yellow flag, during the cleanup – which took less time than would have been thought, considering the mess. The green flag flew again, with 40+ minutes to run.
Less than an hour into the afternoon session, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Chevrolet spun and hit the outside wall, flipped airborne end over end in the air before landing on all wheels. He got out and was taken to medical center, where he was checked, released and cleared to drive.
Castroneves went out late in Happy Hour, in the backup car. He ran fifteenth with a lap of 226.670 mph. He said after the accident that “The car was really good and I am very blessed. Unfortunately I still do not understand what happened. I got loose in Turn One and spun out. The good news is the impact wasn’t very strong and the landing was smooth as well. In all aspects, I have to say I was very lucky there was no big shunt. The accident was most impressive, but the good news is I am feeling very good. This just set us back one day since it is Wednesday. The good news is we still have Thursday and Friday before qualifying. I’m counting on my guys, my boys, to put the car back together and go back to work.”
Team owner, Roger Penske said right after the crash – “It looks like the car got backwards, air got underneath it and the car flipped. He’s just resting in there. Not an issue. No broken bones. Nothing. He’s alert. In fact, I talked to him right after he hit the ground. He’ll be fine.” Regarding the car getting airborne, Penske said “We’re playing with new areas from the aerodynamic standpoint, and of course, going backwards at that speed, you don’t know what kind of lift it had. But obviously, it got airborne which we were surprised (about). We’ll take a good look at it.”
Penske said “We wouldn’t run that car. We’ll run a backup car.”
Regarding the IndyCar penalty assessed to Castroneves earlier in the day, Penske said “We were surprised that we got a penalty, quite honestly. We weren’t notified of anything during the race that was going to be a review. We’ve got 48 hours to review it and see what we’re going to do.”
During the six-hour Wednesday practice session, there were eight cautions for 1 hour 27+ minutes. The last one was caused by Takuma Sato/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Honda who had a mechanical problem requiring a tow. He was twenty-second at the time, at 226.955 mph. Ultimately, he was in twenty-third place.
Thirty-four times were clocked by thirty-three drivers. This time Sebastien Bourdais was doing the double duty – in his car, and also shaking down the car of his new teammate for the race, Bryan Clauson/No.88 Jonathan Byrd’s/Cancer Treatment Centers of America Chevrolet. In his own car, Bourdais was twenty-eighth overall for the day. In Clauson’s car, Bourdais was thirty-second. Clauson was thirty-first.
Thursday’s schedule calls for another six-hour practice session starting at noon ET.