Under a sunny Hoosier sky and in front of a healthy Carb Day crowd at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, defending Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan topped the final practice for Sunday’s 98th Running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
The Brazilian threw down a lap of 227.838 mph in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet to lead the session, which is usually treated more as a dress rehearsal than anything else.
However, with rain washing out a noticeable amount of track time this month at IMS, some teams were looking to make last-minute progress on their race set-up, too.
Kanaan’s teammate and 2008 ‘500’ winner Scott Dixon was close behind with a lap at 227.773 mph in the No. 9 TCGR Chevy. He will start 11th (middle, Row 4) on Sunday’s grid, while Kanaan will start 16th (inside, Row 6).
“We feel good about [the race],” said Kanaan, who is looking to become the first repeat ‘500’ winner since Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002). “I think we worked pretty hard together to make up for our Saturday qualifying.
“We have great people back in the engineering office at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and I think we already showed that a little bit on Monday after qualifying and now today.”
Also breaking the 227-mph mark on Carb Day was NBCSN’s own Townsend Bell in the No. 6 KV Racing Technology Chevy. His best lap of 227.221 mph was third-fastest in the hour-long session.
Three-time ‘500’ winner Helio Castroneves of Team Penske was fourth at 226.187 mph, and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ Mikhail Aleshin was fifth-fastest (226.045) to lead the rookies.
Kurt Busch, in his final IndyCar tuneup before he embarks on the Indy 500/Coca-Cola 600 ‘Double’ this Sunday, was 15th-quickest at 224.684 mph in his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda.
“This morning, I was a bit anxious to get back in the car and see how I was going to feel,” Busch said. “There’s a lot to be said about guys when they hit the wall, they lose their confidence a little bit.
“I didn’t lose my confidence, I just needed to make sure that I didn’t over-adjust the car when I got back in traffic…I need to do a better job reading the traffic and that will help our Sunday.”
The sole incident of the session took place with half an hour to go when ‘500’ rookie Sage Karam got loose on the high line and brushed the Turn 4 wall before getting his No. 22 Dreyer & Reinbold-Kingdom Racing Chevrolet under control.
The 19-year-old returned to the pits with minimal outside rear damage to the car, but the team opted to end their practice early. Karam logged 19 laps, with a fast lap of 222.329 mph.
1,441 laps were turned overall in the session, and rookie Carlos Huertas ran the most individually with 65.
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.