The weather warmed up nicely Friday afternoon, to nearly 80 F for the afternoon practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series, with wind ramping up to 6mph. Nothing like the gales and gusts experienced yesterday.
Alexander Rossi/No.26 NAPA Auto Parts Andretti Autosport Honda was fastest overall at 103.342 mph/1:08.5567. This wasn’t faster than the morning’s top time of 1:08.41122. In the combined overall times for the day, Rossi and one other driver were the only ones who were faster in the afternoon. Rossi said “It was good to be P1 in Practice 2, it’s where you want to end the day on Friday. To have two team cars 1-2 is pretty awesome. We have a lot of motivation after last year to come back and really be strong here this year. We have a lot of work ahead of us still, and hopefully we can continue that over the next two days. Our main focus right now is trying to win Long Beach and get redemption on last year.”
Second through fifth were Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Joseph Newgarde/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda and Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
The top Rookie was again Zach Veach/No.26 One Thousand And One Andretti Autosport Honda, in thirteenth position. “Overall, I think it was a good first day here. Phoenix went better than St. Pete and so far, this weekend has been going better than Phoenix. So just one step at a time. I think we definitely have the speed to transfer tomorrow to the fast 12, and maybe even a chance to get to our first Firestone Fast 6. I have a little bit of learning to do tonight, but I’m excited to show what we can do tomorrow.”
Other leaders in the afternoon session were Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet-twice, Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, Gaby Chaves/No.88 Harding Group Chevrolet, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, James Hinchcliffe/No.4 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda, Power, Newgarden, and Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. RHR held the time much of the session, before Rossi topped him.
Power said “With the sessions being so short at 45 minutes, it’s important to use the time well. Long Beach is a real driver’s track. Accuracy is needed. The walls are right there. It is a cool track.”
Dixon and RHR were the fastest two drivers for the day. Overall, the top five were Dixon, RHR, Rossi, Pagenaud and Hinchcliffe.
Dixon said “The cars are so fun to drive though. The track is really awesome without the added downforce too. The braking zones are a bit bigger and the power down is impressive especially out of the hairpin corner. I think come around Lap 20, drivers are going to be screaming for new tires around here. It’s great to be back here overall, though. Great cars, great atmosphere and being out there pounding around the Long Beach city streets.”
Regarding qualifying on a track rubbered up after the two-hour IMSA race on different tires, Dixon said “It’s always tough, but it will be the same for everyone. So it’s always tough to figure out. I think the ambient conditions probably play a little bit more havoc, but you’re right, it could be totally different, especially after a two-hour race. That’s a lot of Continental and Michelin rubber that’s going on. I know even driving the Ford GT, the Continental tire, the rubber messes a lot with the Michelin.”
Hunter-Reay said, regarding being bolder with less downforce, “Bold, probably not. You’re not able to get away with quite as much. The car is more on top of the racetrack, moving around. You’re constantly catching it. You can feel it’s lighter in the brake zones, especially when you’re coming off modulating out of the brake pedal coming into the corner, you can feel you just have a little bit less of an elbow to lean on through the corner. It’s just a bit more lively. It’s fun, we love it. It just takes a bit of an offset kind of in your approach, and like Scott mentioned, it’s the same for everybody, so it’s a good thing.”
Declining to give away his tire strategy going forward, Dixon said his Preferred Tires were all blacks.” RHR agreed.
RHR said “I think everybody was a bit surprised the red wasn’t faster today, so there’s some questions, I think, hanging over everyone’s heads now about what the potential there is and where the long-term life is with that tire.”
Watching the on-board video from Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Team SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda, one gains a whole new appreciation for how bumpy is the ride.
There were several stalls and stumble, for the most part no harm-no foul, including but not limited to: Pagenaud, Dixon, Rookie Zachery Clamon de Melo/No.19 The Paysafe Car Dale Coyne Racing Honda, Kaiser, and a couple of cars so fast to recover they weren’t identified.
Someone in a blue car grazed the concrete wall but kept on going. Charlie Kimble/No.23 Tresibe Carlin Chevrolet kissed the front straight concrete wall and continued. It was more like a hen peck.
Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda was the first to really hit the wall. He brought out the Red and Checkered Flag with 12 seconds to go when he hit in Turn One. He came in too hot and slid rear first into the wall, bounced around and hit the front on the same wall. He said “We made good progress today. It was a productive day until the end of the session.”
Newgarden was eating lunch and was late to the mandatory weigh-in after the first IndyCar practice. His punishment was to be parked for the last ten minutes of the second practice.
All 24 drivers were weighed after the first practice session – that session chosen as it’s the least busy for the IndyCar tech team. The weights are averaged, and when the average weight is determined, each driver either is allowed to find ways to delete weight from the car to compensate, or add weight to the car to compensate up to the average weight. Last year Graham Rahal was the ‘heaviest’ of the full-time drivers. This year at this weekend, the specific details are not yet known. But, no matter what is the magic number, Rookie Zach Veach will have to add weight to his car.
Thirty-two HMSA Historic Trans-Am cars are entered for their Challenge race. One of the drivers is John Hildebrand, father of IndyCar driver, JR Hildebrand, and JR is here crewing for his Dad. The Hildebrand 1964 Pontiac GTO is Number 66 – same as JR’s 2018 Indy 500 car. Historic Trans Am cars are required to have a documented history, be prepared to the period specifications, liveried in the manner they raced, and have actually raced in the Trans-Am Series 1966-1972. That is the cutoff date, according to Series Director, Chris van de Griff, as SCCA changed the rules after that and the current Trans Am Series is nothing like the original.
In the Friday afternoon Trans Am session, Chad Raynal/No.64 1969 Chevrolet Camaro was fastest. Second fastest was Karman Cusak/No.22 1968 Ford Mustang. Jimmy Hague/No.16 1970 Ford Boss 302 Mustang was third fastest. Twenty-seven cars were on course.
Robbie Gordon/No.7 was fastest in the midday practice session for his Super Stadium Truck Series. His fastest time was 1:45.6727 including the ramps and jumps. He was followed by Series points leader, Matthew Brabham/No.83, Jeff Hoffman/No.47, Gavin Harlien/No.55 and Blade Hildebrand/No.68. There are 14 Trucks in all.
Another IndyCar driver was announced Friday for this year’s Indianapolis 500 race – James Davison of Australia. He will drive No.33 Chevrolet for Foyt Racing-Byrd’s Racing, Hollinger Motorsport and Belardi Auto Racing. Try saying that fast, even once. Last year Davison filled in for the injured Sebastien Bourdais – on short notice. This year Davison is tickled that he will be having his first full two-week program. It was seeing Davison fill in for Bourdais that first brought Davison to the attention of the Byrd Brothers. Hollinger Motorsport supported Davison in last year’s Indy 500. Davison was running fifth when involved in a multi-car pileup.
For the first time in awhile, there will be more than 33 entries for the 2018 Indy 500. Also running the race is Conor Daly, who will run the No.17 Air Force Honda for Dale Coyne Racing and Thom Burns, who partnered with Buddy Lazier last year. Daly acknowledged that it is a low-budget program so there will be no SIM testing. He is re-viewing his previous race videos and has kept up with his race workout training.
A refresher Indy 500 session will be held on 30 April 2018 at the Brickyard.
Saturday’s IndyCar schedule calls for a morning practice and mid-afternoon qualifying.