INDIANAPOLIS – Helio Castroneves has led the final one-hour practice session ahead of the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, in the No. 3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet, but it’s a Honda that made the bigger news during the extended session.
Another Honda engine issue – at least the eighth this month between the INDYCAR Grand Prix, practice and qualifying – now struck James Hinchcliffe during the final 20 minutes of the session in the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.
Heading into Turn 3, Hinchcliffe’s gold and black car took on a distinctly white hue by contrast, as smoke billowed out the back of the car. It littered the track between Turns 3 and 4.
Yet as Hinchcliffe, the 2016 race polesitter explained to NBCSN’s Katie Hargitt, the timing was as good as it could have been considering had it happened later it would have been in the race itself.
“I felt what the engineers would call a suboptimal rapid negative acceleration heading into Turn 3,” Hinchcliffe told NBCSN. “We’ve had some issues across the Honda camp. It’s less than ideal.
“I felt bad going into 3. I hope we weren’t leaking too badly. I’m happy it didn’t happen 20 minutes later, that would have been Lap 5 of the race. We’ll get an engine, we’ll put it in. But that was by far the best we’ve felt on the 5 car all month. Let’s put this thing to bed. The car feels really good in traffic.”
Hinchcliffe will start 17th on Sunday. He ended his truncated practice in 14th.
Behind another gold car – the gold-and-white No. 3 car of Castronves – Takuma Sato and Tony Kanaan completed the top three, with Scott Dixon and Fernando Alonso completing the top five.
Speeds are below.
Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)
And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.
After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.
In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.
Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.
“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.
“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.
“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”
Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.
“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”
Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.