Kurt Busch back to work at Indy; four pass “500” rookie programs (VIDEO)

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Monday was a busy day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as NASCAR driver Kurt Busch continued his IndyCar education and four drivers were able to complete the Indianapolis 500 Rookie Orientation Program.

After completing his own ROP last week, Busch logged 114 laps this afternoon in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda and had his fastest go for 222.289 miles per hour. He also got in some pit stop practice with the Andretti crew:

Meanwhile, Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports), Jack Hawksworth (Bryan Herta Autosport), Carlos Huertas (Dale Coyne Racing), and Martin Plowman (A.J. Foyt Racing) all passed their ROPs, ensuring that they’ll be able to take part in “500” practice when it starts this coming Sunday.

Aleshin also cracked 100 laps on Monday, turning 105 on the 2.5-mile oval with a fast lap of 219.170 miles per hour in the No. 7 Honda.

“It was actually harder for me to go slower [in Phase 1 – 10 laps at 200-205 mph] because you had to lift and I don’t like to lift,” the Russian said. “This is so important and it’s all set now for working with the car in practice for the Indy 500.

“This will be the first oval race in my career and how awesome is it that it will be the Indy 500?”

Sage Karam, who announced a “500” sponsorship package this morning with country music label Big Machine and Comfort Revolution, posted the third-fastest time at 218.416 mph but had a mechanical problem develop on his No. 22 Chip Ganassi/Dreyer & Reinbold Chevy.

It kept the 19-year-old from completing the final phase of his ROP (15 laps at 210+ mph), but Karam indicated this afternoon that the matter was no big thing. On Sunday, he’ll get a chance to finish it off.

Hawksworth was fourth-quickest today at 217.936 mph in the No. 98 Honda and chalked up 52 laps. Carlos Huertas (No. 18 Honda) ran 77 laps and topped out at 217.916 mph, while Martin Plowman (No. 41 Honda) hit 217.085 mph in a 90-lap afternoon for him.

“For me, it was massively important to get in the car and dust off the cobwebs and get my feet on the floor,” said Plowman, who is also racing in Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road course.

“It’s been more than three years since I’ve driven a car in anger on an oval. Even though I’ve driven pace cars and two-seaters on ovals, it’s not the same. It was nice to remember all the experiences I had in Indy Lights and get a solid confident base in the car.”

Also getting in some work on the oval today was Marco Andretti. The Andretti camp confirmed on Twitter that he was testing aerodynamic components for IndyCar.

Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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