Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet is building on his IndyCar Grand Prix momentum to grab the top spot seconds away from the Checkered Flag for the first practice of this year’s NTT IndyCar Series road race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Looking to make it a third consecutive GP victory, he’s off to a good start at 1:09.2890. Second fastest was Spencer Pigot/No.21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Third through fifth were Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Top Rookie Felix Rosenquist/No.10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and Josef Newgarden/No.2 Fitzgerald Team Penske Chevrolet. All but Newgarden took turns leading the pack. Also on top, for the longest time, was the 2018 Indianapolis 500 winner, Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, who finished ninth.
Left to right: Spencer Pigot; Felix Rosenqvist; and Josef Newgarden. Photos by Pablo Matamoros
All 24 entries were on track, with double-digit laps turned – between 15 and 23 laps. There are five Rookies, ten Chevrolets and 14 Hondas.
The weather was 51 degrees F, overcast, breezy and cold. But the track was dry after the aftermath of Thursday night’s rain storm. Not so the grass which was soggy. Rosenquist made it to the grass, but was able to get out alright. Helio Castroneves/No.3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet spun and stalled in Turn Three. Otherwise, the session was drama-free.
The powers that be for the IndyCar Grand Prix met the media Friday morning to talk about the two events at the track and all that goes with in Indianapolis: IMS President, Doug Boles; IndyCar President Jay Frye; Hulman Motorsports Senior Vice President, Allison Melangton, and IndyCar Vice President Stephen Starks. This year’s GP is the sixth annual road race, which runs clockwise on the Brickyard 2.439-mile, 14-turn course.
Frye said “We’ve had four different winners for the first four races, so we feel like we’re off to a really good start. One of the things we’ve worked hard on is a car count. For our first race we had 12 teams and 24 counts. So, a byproduct of that is here at the 500 we’ve got 36 cars.” He was asked about additional engine suppliers, and said “There’s nothing imminent to be announced, but we’re encouraged by the conversations we’re having.We’re encouraged by what they’re telling us. A lot of it is just timing. We’re confident that something is going to happen sooner than later.”
Boles was optimistic about this year’s GP turnout,and even more so about the Indy 500, saying “In terms of our attendance, things are trending up for tomorrow’s IndyCar Grand Prix. The numbers will be up this year. That says a lot about people getting used to this race being the kickoff for the month of May. It brings us more media attention, and it puts us on television two weeks out from the Indy 500, which is another opportunity to promote the Indianapolis 500 in this market. For us it it was never about cannibalizing. I think it was always about a way to elevate. And it’s a very easy weekend to get introduced to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.” And at the end of racing, when the track is cold, there is Track Invasion, when the fans can walk the track and stand on the Yard of Bricks.
“The Indy 500 is going to be up again, I think, for 2019. I think you attribute that to the excitement of the NTT IndyCar Series and the product that they put on a display in the Indy 500 has been some of the best racing in our 103 years. We have somebody that comes from every state in the United States, and almost 30 plus countries from around the world.”
Regarding the dire weather forecast for Saturday, i.e. rain, Boles said “The beauty of it is that it’s on a road course. Unless there’s electrical, we’ll run Saturday in the rain. Some of the most spectacular racing in the world is an IndyCar on wet pavement, the rooster tails, you really see the talent of the drivers, and when you think about the rain, they’re going slower, it’s unbelievable how fast they are in the rain. It’s frightening how fast they are in the rain. Right now the forecast is for maybe a little bit of rain. And just let me remind everybody, it is Indiana, and I know we say that a lot. Until tomorrow abut 2:30, I won’t start worrying too much about the weather because I think we’ll be able to get this in. We have a full team helping us monitor the weather five days out, really going forward, and then minute by minute as events are going on. Weather should not deter you from coming to the track.”
For the GP weekend, Firestone tires supplies five sets of rains per entry, along with seven Primary sets and four Alternate sets. The alternates are only available at road or street courses. They’re higher grip but less durable than the Primarys.
Starts spoke about the new network partner. “NBC has just been a tremendous media partner already. NBC ran Indianapolis teasers and spots in the NFL playoff rounds, and it continued at The Derby. It goes well with the cross-integration that NBC has promised and delivered on. It continued through the NHL playoffs. Race-to-race promotion has been great.”
IndyCar has a second practice session, prior to qualifying.