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Practice Week 1 - Lead up to the Indy 500

So here it is, finally, the lead up to the 101st running of the Indianapolis 500. The woeful strains of "is it May Yet?!" quelled. All eyes on the big prize. Two big prizes actually: Taking the pole position for the big race, along with the points and bragging rights that come with it; and drinking the milk, kissing the bricks, and hugging the Borg Warner Trophy in Victory Circle. Oh, and some guy named Alonso is running the race this year too...

Here’s how the Lead Up to Qualifying weekend went down.



DAY 1:

The four rookies in the field (Fernando Alonso, Jack Harvey, Ed Jones and Zach Veach) took part in the Rookie Orientation Program (ROP) (10 laps between 205mph and 210mph, 15 laps between 210mph and 215mph, and 15 laps quicker than 215mph.)

Though Alonso had already passed his ROP during a much ballyhooed private test on May 3rd, he was still given the opportunity to hit the track with three fresh sets of Firestone Racing Tires.

Dale Coyne Racing rookie Jones was the first and only of the rookie to complete all three phases of ROP during the two hour session. Not as lucky, Jack Harvey, who was fighting mechanical issues, including a clutch issue, and was only able to complete phase one of his ROP.

Zack Veach was only able to complete three laps during the two hour session.

The “one off’s” were also allowed on track during the first two hours of opening day practice for their refresher tests. (10 laps between 210mph and 215mph and 15 laps quicker than 215mph) Those taking part included Oriol Servia (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), Sebastian Saavedra (Juncos Racing), Sage Karam (Dreyer and Reinbold Racing), Pippa Mann (Dale Coyne Racing) and Jay Howard (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports).

“Wall” of Fame:
Rookie Jack Harvey took “first yellow of the month” honours, making contact with the Turn 2 SAFER barrier. Harvey had just exited pit lane and was on the warm-up lane when his car abruptly shot right making contact with the right front and rear.
Harvey was working on his ROP, with only one lap left in the second phase.

“It’s been a pretty challenging day for what was meant to be an easy process. We had some issues this morning, but we had managed to work through them,” explained Harvey. “To have that happen, and I don’t know what did happen apart from I went to turn in and it went straight. I was coming out of the pits. I wasn’t even going fast. I was probably not even going 100 mph. So bizarre. We had just done a long run and had pitted because there was a yellow flag and then had that. A random. Hopefully it’s the last time we come to the medical center.”

The only entered driver not to turn a lap on day one, 500 stalwart Buddy Lazier.

http://www.openwheelworld.net/us/races/759/RO1/1/Rookie_test_1
http://www.openwheelworld.net/us/races/759/FP1/1/Free_practice_1

DAY 2:

Jack Harvey and Zack Veach were able complete their respective laps for the ROP program and are both officially approved to compete in the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Happy Hour sees teams begin to work together in traffic situations, including the 6 car Andretti squad who take “rookie” Alonso through the paces.

“It felt OK, it felt as I expected. Obviously, here it’s very important to keep close to the car in front of you, to take the benefit from the next straight. It was useful. I’m on the best team for that; we are six cars and we were running together,” explained Alonso when asked about running in traffic. “My teammates were amazing (in) helping me. I knew they were taking care of me in some moments of the run, so that was good and yeah, first time for me. (I was) learning every lap here and there, you know, when I follow them, learning what they do, how they attack the next corner or the next lap, how they prepare the overtaking, so, it was very useful and a very productive day.”

“Wall” of Fame:
Aleshin had a close call, “kissing” the wall coming out of Turn 2, but he was able to continue on, no harm, no foul, No Yellow.

http://www.openwheelworld.net/us/races/759/FP2/1/Free_practice_2

DAY 3:

The track went green at noon, but there was very little action for the first three hours. With steady winds of 20mph and gusts up to 35mph, the majority of teams and drivers opted to wait it out in the garages in the hope that the winds would die down. They did not really, and when all was said and done, only 14 of the 33 entries did any substantial runs, most teams erring on the side of caution.

http://www.openwheelworld.net/us/races/759/FP3/1/Free_practice_3

DAY 4:
The last day of running with normal boost, prior to the super charged “Fast Friday”

“Wall” of Fame:
Just over an hour into practice, Josef Newgarden was the second driver of the month to make significant contact with the SAFER barrier, this time at the exit of Turn 1.

Newgarden was in a group of cars trying to make his way into the pits when he lost control at the apex of Turn 1, spinning 180 degrees before making hard contact on the right side of the car. His car would continue down the track making a second hit at the entrance to Turn 2, before coming to a stop mid-turn.

Though the car suffered significant damage, Newgarden was able to get out of the car under his own power.

“I haven’t had a chance to look at, it just seemed to get away from me when I was trying to get in and keep out of the way of the guys behind me,” explained Newgarden. “I had just got called into the pits, and I didn’t want to check up for they guys behind me, and cause a problem, but it just seemed to get away from me, but until I get a chance to look at it, I’m not 100% sure what caused it. We were having a really good day. We had a good run up until that, so again I’m not sure what went on."

http://www.openwheelworld.net/us/races/759/FP4/1/Free_practice_4

FAST FRIDAY:

With very inclement weather looming, the first 14 minutes of “Fast Friday” were just that: fast and furious! Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves (Chevy) was the first to crack the 230 miles per hour, but he wouldn’t be the last as each of the 33 cars took to the track with their added qualifying boost.

He was soon knocked off 2017 Indy 500 media darling Fernando Alonso (Honda) who ran a speedy 231.080 mph, the quickest he has run all month, but not without a bit of “woah” kicking up some dust as he came within inches of the wall on one of his laps.

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay (Honda) upped the ante with a 231.132 mph run, but the celebration didn’t last long with Sebastien Bourdais (Honda) obliterating that time with a 233.116 mph lap.

This is how it would remain for the bulk of the day as the skies opened causing a 2-hour, 36-minute delay.

“Wall” of Fame:
“Fast Friday” resumed at 4:05 pm, but barely a half hour in, the action was halted when Spencer Pigot brought out the 3rd significant incident yellow flag, making heavy, near head-on contact in the Turn 2 wall. Pigot climbed out of the car and was taken to the Infield Care Center where he was checked, released, and cleared to drive.

“I’m not really sure yet, I went into Turn 2 like I had been and before I knew it I was backwards,” Pigot said. “We haven’t had any trouble there yet so I’m pretty surprised it happened. We were trying to get a little more speed out of it this afternoon so hopefully Sebastian Saavedra can go out and try it.”


With only 20 minutes left in the session, Zack Veach became the the second driver of the day, and fourth of the month to find the SAFER Barrier, making hard contact at the exit of Turn 1. Again, thankfully, Veach was able to get out of the car under his own power.

“I’m not exactly sure what happened,” said Veach after bering checked, and released from the IU Health Medical Center. “We were a little nervous the run before, and we took some front wing out. My warm-up laps felt fine. I got to the middle of (Turn) One and it just turned unexpectedly. I’ve never had a car turn that quickly before on me. I want to go back an see what happened because at this point I’m not exactly sure. Entry felt fine, the middle of the corner felt fine, and then at exit something happened and I lost the car. I don’t know if it was my own doing, or if something let go. I hate it for these guys (the A.J. Foyt Racing crew) because we had been making a lot of progress.”

When all was said and done, it was Sebastien Bourdais taking home the giant $10,000 bonus cheque for having the fastest lap on “Fast Friday.”, and subsequently enters into qualification weekend as the fastest driver at the Speedway this month.

http://www.openwheelworld.net/us/races/759/FP5/1/Free_practice_5

'What They're Saying' following Fast Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “The weather definitely wasn’t a welcome sight for us. After losing a good chunk of yesterday, we could’ve used all of the track time would could get today. There’s nothing we can do about it. It was good to get the hum by Verizon Chevrolet back out there today. Everybody did a great job in getting everything fixed. It’s unfortunate that they had to do that. We’re excited about getting out there tomorrow and we’ll see how it goes.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet): “I’ve been coming here for a long time and handling the weather is part of the mix. We tried to anticipate what was going to happen the rest of the day and tomorrow morning to formulate our plan. The Shell Fuel Rewards Chevy felt good today. It would’ve been great to get a full day in, but none of us can control that. We did as much as we could do.”

CONOR DALY (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We tried a lot today, honestly. There was more power so we have to try to get ready for qualifying trim out. I haven’t been entirely comfortable all day today, but at least we worked through a lot. And that’s good. We worked through a lot of changes, tried a lot of things, but we have to do a little bit more tomorrow to see how we can gain more speed.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 8 Gallagher Honda): “A shorter day for sure, but not too bad for the Gallagher team. Our first run doing a qualifying simulation earlier today wasn’t bad, but we struggled a bit as we tried to go faster. The conditions were tricky and we tried to get in as much as we could knowing that weather was coming our way fast. Our qualifying simulations after the track dried were OK, but we still need to do some fine-tuning to get where we want to be.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I think most of this week, preparation is all for race setup and you’re typically at the [1.3 bar] boost, which is the lower boost and the speeds are four to five miles per hour slower, I think, than race situation. I think Fast Friday today is significant. I think it’s definitely a big step for the drivers, for the teams, for everybody and even for a fan to see how fast they go through the corners leading up to Saturday and Sunday. So it’s a significant jump. Overall today, after the rain I was happy with the car and with the speeds we laid down.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Honda): “It was unfortunate that we lost more track time today with the weather, but I think we made a lot of progress in our limited time on track with the No. 10 NTT Data Honda. I’m feeling pretty good about where we are with the car heading into qualifying after our sim runs this afternoon and I think I have a really good race car as well. I’m looking forward to tomorrow – hopefully the rain will hold off to let us get a clean day of qualifying.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 11 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “I’m not really sure what happened. I entered Turn 2. It had not been an issue for us all week. Before I knew it, I was backwards. We’ll have to go back and look and see what happened. I’m fine. The cars are really safe and it wasn’t that bad a hit. I don’t think the actual chassis is damaged, so we’ll go put some new parts on it and get back out tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I would’ve liked to have gotten more time on the track today, but the weather kind of got in the way. That’s part of racing and everyone has to deal with it. It just wasn’t us that lost the time. The Verizon Chevrolet team has been spot on all through our time in Indy. We’re definitely looking for good things tomorrow.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “The day was cut off a little bit with the rain. Our first two trims the car was OK – we missed a little bit of speed, but the sensation of the car wasn’t bad. Then in the afternoon we wanted to change the car completely just to try something different to gain speed but it didn’t work. So we’ll see tomorrow – I think tomorrow we’ll just go through the day the best we can without overstepping and try to have a good car for Monday for practice.”

SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 17 AFS Chevrolet): “First of all, I’m very appreciative of the amazing job the whole team did from yesterday to today. We got an amazing amount of speed without any tows, which is exactly what we’re looking for this weekend. Today still was not the day we wanted, still very draggy and we don’t know where that’s coming from. Tonight is going to be another one of those brain nights with the engineers to get more speed from the No. 17 AFS /Juncos Racing car, but we’re getting there. I’m very focused on continuing the good path that we’ve been on so far.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): “There’s never a bad day when you’re at the front. Definitely happy with the way things turned out. Obviously, we had a bit of another issue yesterday. That was pretty pleasing. The car felt good. We tried a couple of things and finished the session really happy with the speed and the car balance. Hopefully it stays that way. It’s a tricky place. When you get any sense of consistency through different conditions – sunny, shade, different track temps, humidity, wind – it always gives you confidence. You never know what’s going to come at you the next day. I think tomorrow’s going to be another example of that, so Sunday might be pretty tricky, as well. We’ll just hopefully be able to deal with those conditions very well and make it happen when it matters because this is obviously awesome. I can’t thank Dale (Coyne, team owner) and Craig (Hampson, engineer) and Olivier (Boisson, engineer) and all the mechanics and everybody. Craig was the first one to tell me, 'Yeah, let’s do it when it matters on Saturday and Sunday.’ It’s pretty exciting just to be in the mix knowing that we seemingly have a chance to do well in qualifying. Every other time I’ve been there, I’ve never been in contention to really be any kind of factor, and that’s just boring. When you’re in that position where you know there’s going to be something you can do to actually play at the front, then hopefully it happens, because it’s a heck of a lot more fun.”

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “At the end of the day, I’m happy we even got to run today and get some time on the boost since it could have been a wash. I wish I could say I feel more confident going into qualifying, but we’ve got our work cut out for us. It’s going to be really hard to make the Fast Nine right now, but we will keep doing what we can do on our end to make the best of it. The longer I ran today, the more focused I am on race running for the next day of practice to make sure the car is the best it can be just because qualifying is going to be a struggle right now.”

JR HILDEBRAND (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet): “I feel like we made good changes for where we are and have dialed ourselves into a window. It seems like the Hondas are pretty fast right now, so it’s hard to know how everything will stack up. We can only control what we can control. I feel like we’ve gotten pretty close to understanding what our optimal window is. The weather conditions lately haven’t helped for qualifying this weekend because it all comes down to the track conditions when it’s go time. Tomorrow, we will just have to see where and how we can get the best speeds to make something out of our week.”

JUAN PABLO MONTOYA (No. 22 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet): “A little interruption by the rain today, but we got some stuff done today with the Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevy. We didn’t do a lot of laps but we accomplished enough. We’ll see what the weather does tomorrow. If the schedule starts getting shuffled around, then we need to be ready to go when we can. Hopefully, it won’t affect us that much. I like where the car is, but we’ll find out for sure tomorrow.”

SAGE KARAM (No. 24 DRR Mecum Auctions Chevrolet): “Right now, we’re just trying to figure out our qualifying car. I really like my car in race trim. I think we can pass really anybody in that. We’ve been struggling a little with the qualifying speed. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you qualify, it’s where you finish the race. I think it’s going to be another year coming from the back. We obviously want to qualify in the top 10, but we’ll see if we can do that. I’m feeling good, though. It’s going to be a good May. Good things are going to happen for me, the DRR boys and Mecum. I’m really excited.”



TAKUMA SATO (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): “It was quite good day. Very productive, I must admit. Working quite seamlessly. We share most of the data together. Obviously, oval speed is sometimes a little artificial. Some people get tow. But it was obviously good to see we all up there. Especially non-tow lap, which is a true speed. I’m pretty happy. It looks like I’m eighth quickest in no-tow laps, I take it, concerning the conditions today. Where we are in terms of the car setup, I’m feeling better, actually enjoying the working all together with Andretti Autosport. Definitely this is the best situation or environment compared to past few years of my experience in Indy 500 this close to qualifying. This is a good preparation. It’s nicely all coming together.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “Fast Friday was definitely fast. We had a good run today – found somethings that worked and found some things that didn’t. It was definitely one of the most on-edge couple of days this whole year. It’s nice to be done with the day and we’re looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully the weather cooperates and we can put this No. 28 DHL Honda at the front.”

FERNANDO ALONSO (No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda): (About if he felt faster speeds on Fast Friday) “Not really. I think at the end of the day when you’re driving the car you don’t realize if you are six or seven miles (per hour) faster; you always want an extra mile to be able to go faster. Today was obviously a little bit stressful with the rain coming and we tried to fit as many laps as possible in the (early afternoon). Yes, we managed to fit another two (qualifying-simulation) runs late in the day. We’re quite happy. It was another day of learning those extra speeds and hopefully tomorrow we have a good (qualifying run).”

ZACH VEACH (No. 40 Indy Women in Tech Championship Chevrolet): “Overall, I’m extremely disappointed that we had the accident so close to qualifying. We’d been making such progress all day for this to happen, I feel badly for the entire crew and A.J., of course. Still trying to figure out what happened. At this point I’m thinking maybe it was a gust of wind. The entry to the middle of the corner felt perfectly fine like the runs before and then extremely late in the corner, the car just turned really suddenly. So we need to have a good look at everything to see exactly what was the cause, but with where it happened and particularly how things were feeling then, it caught me out by surprise. I had no idea this was going to be the outcome when I turned into that corner because things felt quite well by that point. So we need to look over everything. I hate it for these guys because they’re going to have a long night and everyone’s been working so hard, and we were finally getting ahead of everything so for this to happen, I’m just extremely disappointed.”

BUDDY LAZIER (No. 44 Lazier Racing-Stalk It-Tivoli Lodge Chevrolet): “We started the day welcoming Jeff Teague’s family and the Factory at D1 Sports as a new sponsor, which is a huge boost to our program this year. To me, in Indiana, what more could you ask for because you have basketball and Indy car racing all in one story, and to me that’s as Indiana as it gets. We’re working on the race car, these guys have done a great job, Mitch Davis…all these guys. They built the car really since Monday and I think we are going to be able to go quicker pretty easily. The speed was coming just as we expected as we were trimming off. We are just trying to be smart and go about it very methodically and actually I think we caught up a bunch. For one day, I thought that was a pretty good day, especially when it rained out on top of it all. We are just one or two steps away from a good qualifying run for the No. 44 Chevrolet.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda): “It’s been a pretty typical day for us for how the week has played out. The Michael Shank Racing guys did a great job today and the track ended up drying so we could get back out there. Today, we started to get into some qualifying trims and I actually think our non-tow time was pretty comparable and competitive. I think we are right in the ballpark of where we wanted to be and what we thought we could be. We’ve been ending all the days well, we just need to make sure we have a problem-free day (tomorrow) so we can keep building and working on everything.”

PIPPA MANN (No. 63 Susan G. Komen Honda): “It was good to get out there this morning and have a really positive start to Fast Friday. We have had a couple of issues this week, so to go out there this morning and run a 230 in our first run was really kind of cool. I believe that was the first time that’s happened for a female athlete here at (the) Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Sadly, it was done with a tow, and I don’t think we stand a huge chance of repeating that tomorrow in qualifying. We’re just working on our qualifying car. We still have a little bit of work to do and some decision-making tonight, and then we cross our fingers for tomorrow and hope we can have a good day.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Tresiba Honda): “During this last practice when you’re focused on qualifying, the car is definitely on edge. It gets light on downforce; the car moves around a lot. It can be interesting when the weather conditions change, but we found some speed in the car this afternoon after the rain came through. I’m happier with the car after the first couple of runs late this afternoon, so I think we were able to make some progress during the rain delay. Really, it will just come down to getting four really good laps out of the No. 83 Tresiba Honda tomorrow. The Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing guys will do everything they can to be sure it’s prepared. We’ll have all the speed secrets we can think of for the car, so we’ll see what we’ve got for 10 miles in qualifying.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet): “It was definitely a day of up and down, well more like down and up. We missed a crucial first two hours of practice this morning. We just couldn’t get the No. 88 Harding Racing car ready in time with the changes we made overnight, but we got out at the end and we got a lot of work done. I think we ended up in a spot where we can really take the next step and be right up where we feel we can perform.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda): “We used the rain delay to our advantage and found some speed in the NAPA car. I feel like we may be 95 percent of the way there, so we just need to really make sure we get everything right tomorrow with there being a very good shot that it will just be one run due to weather. So, we have to really do our homework overnight and make sure all the pieces are put together, because we have a car to be at the front.”

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Written 05-21-2017, 06:22 pm
Updated 05-21-2017, 06:26 pm
Written by M. Beer
Photography IMS

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