Hinchcliffe and Pigot. Photo: IndyCar

First day of Indy 500 practice sees 32 of 33 drivers turn some laps

Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Monday’s first day of 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil practice was still busy, but down significantly in lap count this year compared to last year.

Admittedly, conditions were warmer today and with teams on different stages of programs, it was always going to be unfair to expect the first day to be as busy as it was last year.

Last year, there were 498 laps turned among 10 drivers in the Rookie Orientation Program/refresher program, followed by 1,474 laps in the full first practice among all 33 drivers later in the day, and a total of 1,972 laps.

This year that number dwindled a bit, to 195 laps among 13 drivers in the ROP/refresher and 1,306 among 32 drivers in the first full practice, for a total of 1,501 laps, 471 fewer than last year.

The two busiest drivers in the first official practice were Americans Charlie Kimball and JR Hildebrand, two members who are inextricably linked from the 2011 rookie class, with 75 and 74 laps completed apiece.

Meanwhile at the bottom of the charts, Zach Veach, Jack Harvey and Gabby Chaves – Veach and Chaves are close friends, regular IndyCar two-seater drivers and recent Indy Lights race winners and graduates – turned in only 23, 14 and 6 laps on the day.

Harvey completed the first phase of his ROP before his incident at Turn 2 took him out of action for the rest of the day. Veach also completed his first phase near the end of the day, as he only ran three laps in the ROP portion and 23 this afternoon as the team was putting together its third chassis.

Photo: IndyCar

For Marco Andretti, who also led last year’s first day of practice, the goal today was to get the car as dialed in from a race setup standpoint as possible.

Andretti has had a number of extra race teammates at Indianapolis over the years. Extra drivers in recent years, prior to this year, include NBCSN IndyCar analyst Townsend Bell (2016), Simona de Silvestro and the late Justin Wilson (2015), NASCAR champion Kurt Busch (2014), then-Indy Lights driver Carlos Munoz (2013) and fellow Indy Lights graduates Sebastian Saavedra and Ana Beatriz (2012) since the introduction of the Dallara DW12 chassis.

This year, Andretti is assisting with Fernando Alonso’s high-profile addition under the McLaren Honda Andretti banner, and Harvey joined up as well in the Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport car.

“I don’t know if I get them up to speed, but honestly, the way that they do is I just focus on my program and try to pioneer the way if we’re able to do that setup-wise, and then every day they get out on the track, they can put a more and more comfortable setup on. That’s my goal,” Marco Andretti said.

“That means I’m doing a good job, too. Probably just setup wise, I think just trying to get the most comfortable car possible.”

Sage Karam’s No. 24 Chevrolet. Photo: Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

Other notes from the field today:

  • Ed Carpenter was the top Chevrolet behind Andretti and Scott Dixon’s pair of Hondas, third place at 224.969 mph.
  • Per Trackside Online, the top-10 no-tow speeds were all Hondas, led by Tony Kanaan at 223.554 mph. Bell led the no-tow speeds this day last year, at 223.940 mph. Seven of the top-10 no-tow speeds last year were Hondas.
  • Alexander Rossi was 13th in his first day of practice as defending Indianapolis 500 champion, albeit only fourth of the six Andretti Autosport Hondas (Andretti was first, Ryan Hunter-Reay fifth, Takuma Sato 10th).
  • Mikhail Aleshin was ninth and James Hinchcliffe 25th on a slightly odd day for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports; Jay Howard was 23rd in the team’s third car, after making 64 laps.
  • Graham Rahal sustained an engine issue in his No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, with Honda officials still diagnosing the extent of the issue. “Obviously, to lose an engine is frustrating but I know the Honda guys are pushing these things as hard as they can. I would have liked to be a little better but we are struggling a little bit in traffic but its early days and we can’t panic. She’s in one piece, we going to change the engine and fire it up tomorrow,” Rahal said.
  • Team Penske appears to have not shown its full hand. Will Power was seventh with Juan Pablo Montoya 12th, Simon Pagenaud 16th, Josef Newgarden 24th and Helio Castroneves 26th. Castroneves premiered his new white and gold Shell Fuel Rewards livery, to considerably less fanfare than other special Indianapolis liveries in recent years.
  • Having their first official days in an IndyCar for 2017: Oriol Servia (11th), Sage Karam (14th), Sebastian Saavedra (21st), Pippa Mann (27th) and Jack Harvey (31st). Other one-off entries Alonso, Jay Howard, Juan Pablo Montoya, Zach Veach and Gabby Chaves have tested or raced at least once thus far in 2017, and Buddy Lazier’s team seems set to hit the track mid-week as he was here, the car was here, but was being assembled.
  • Our NBCSports.com blogger for the month, Sage Karam, seemed very pleased with his first day back. The No. 24 DRR Mecum Auctions Chevrolet was locked into a conservative setup but even so, Karam was fourth among the 14 Chevrolets in 14th place today, at a best speed of 223.398 mph. Said the 22-year-old who is still the youngest driver in the field in his fourth Indy 500, “I just wanted to get in the car. I was really nervous this morning and had a lot of emotions going through me. Once you go through one practice run, all the emotions go away and it feels good to go flat (on the throttle) around here again.” Team owner Dennis Reinbold added, “It was a good solid day. We had a good balance in the car where Sage liked it. We got in some situations with traffic and the car responded. We didn’t get as many laps as we would have liked, but we made gains. We were a little conservative today, and we plan to be more aggressive tomorrow. We got through a lot on our checklist today.”
  • Juncos Racing made its debut in rather fine form, with Sebastian Saavedra ending 21st after 39 laps and Spencer Pigot ending 29th after 36 laps, giving the team 75 solid laps of running in its first day in IndyCar. More is here from the team release. There were another 23 done in the ROP program earlier, for a total of 98 laps.
  • Juncos’ busy first day was put in contrast as the McLaren Honda Andretti entry ran a combined 55 laps, the Michael Shank Racing with Andretti entry ran a combined 29 laps, and the Harding Racing entry ran just 6.

Additional Monday posts from Indianapolis are below:

Tuesday practice runs from noon to 6 p.m. ET.

INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after Friday’s two practices at Road America

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Here’s what IndyCar drivers had to say – courtesy of IndyCar Media Relations – after Friday’s two practice sessions at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I think we are relatively pleased. The car has been easy to work with, which is great. It is nice when you don’t have to change too much. We’ve been trying things to make sure we understand sort of both ends of the car and where it can go if we adjust either end of it. Seems quick right out of the box. We haven’t had to do too much with it. The Chevy package is working really well, which I felt like it would be strong at this kind of track. We’ve been working hard with that group to make sure our power down and everything else is great. So far, so good with the Verizon car. We have a solid start; we just have to maintain it throughout the weekend.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “Pretty productive day. Obviously, we tested here last week, which I think helped us roll off with a solid car. For Practice 2, we decided to go in a little different direction with our setup, just to try and cover our bases, so we have a lot of data to look over tonight. We have pretty good pace on the blacks (primary Firestone tires) and were into the top five, but when we put the reds (alternate Firestone tires) on, we just didn’t find the grip that we normally do; we’ll look into that. This Arrow Electronics SPM team’s got a way of turning things around and being strong in qualifying, so hopefully, we can do that and get the job done tomorrow.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “I think it was a pretty decent Friday. The Lucas Oil car feels good and we’re making good progress. We were top five in both sessions, but it’s only Friday, so we still have to work hard and keep our heads down. Initial signs are pretty positive for, hopefully, a good weekend.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I think we started a little bit slow for some reason and had some work to do after the first practice session here at Road America. We know our way around here though, and after some changes tonight, I hope we can have the PNC Bank car pointed in the right direction, and closer to the top time the other manufacturer set.”

ED JONES (No. 10 First Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I’m obviously not thrilled with the results today with the First Data Honda, but we know Scott (Dixon) had a great car here last year and won the race, so there is good data to look at tonight. We have some work to do for sure, but I’m confident in our team that we can find what we were missing today in practice and be ready for qualifying tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “We definitely changed the setup a bit, then went back. I think the track had really low grip at the beginning of every session, then got better. Kind of a little bit hard to pick what to do. But obviously, Josef (Newgarden) is really quick, so got plenty of data to look at. We’ll just keep working away at it.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 GEHL Honda): “It was a good finish to the day for the GEHL team. We pushed hard and made some changes between the sessions and I think we went the right direction. This morning we had some mishaps, and unfortunately, it lost us the session, but we had a good recovery. We’ll try to keep improving the car a little bit and see what we can do in qualifying.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team Sealmaster Honda): “(I’m) pretty happy. I think, obviously, we didn’t test, a couple of guys did. Felt a little bit off this morning. We’re pretty confident because it was just mostly understeer in the car. Just pretty happy with the day. Our guys did a good job. The Firestone red (alternate) tires are definitely giving a huge amount of grip in comparison to the prime. But for us, it really wasn’t much of a balance change, so that was nice. Could definitely get a pretty decent run. Consistency was quite good, as well. Looking forward to the rest of the weekend.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “It’s awesome driving an Indy car here. I love the Road America track and I’m excited to be back here. We had a tough second session today in our Paysafe car, but we made big improvements from our first practice, which is really encouraging. What Sebastien (Bourdais) has seems to be working really well, so we’ll look at that and also at what I need to work on to improve. With that and some steady improvements, we should be looking good for tomorrow.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “It is quite difficult to learn the circuit, relative to others that I have driven on. For example, St. Pete, it just felt a little bit easier to pick up the smaller parts. I feel quite comfortable in the car now, but it took a bit longer to get there in this morning’s session. It’s a longer circuit and requires a lot of confidence with the high speed and blind corners; when it’s only 45 minutes, you end up eating into your track time. I felt quite good in this afternoon’s session and we have a better idea of what direction we want to go in. A little bit annoying we haven’t quite jumped on it straight away, still a bit of progress to be made. Looking forward to having a good night’s sleep. I always find that when you are able to chill out, think about it, and sleep well it makes the second day much nicer. We all know where we need to go with the car and should be quicker tomorrow.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet): “It was a pretty difficult day for us. We are kind of struggling to zero in on the balance and the setup that we want. We know what we need the car to do, we just have to try and find a way of getting it there. We are going to try and find some things overnight, then get the Direct Supply car handling a bit better and get more speed out of it tomorrow.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “We’ve made big improvement this weekend. It is obviously another very important weekend with Menards on the car. This is John’s (Menard) country here. I am eager to do very well, and the whole No. 22 team is using the momentum we gained at Texas. It feels like a really good weekend so far. I think we have more in the car; I didn’t extract all the best out of during practice. But, it felt really good. Chevy is giving us a lot of power around here which is always useful on those long straightaways. Now we are just going to have to put it all together in qualifying tomorrow.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “Obviously, that wasn’t the day we wanted for the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet. We’re struggling for balance and grip-a little bit of both. But we’ve got some good ideas, good data to look through and some concepts to think about. We’ll make solid, reasonable, intelligent changes for tomorrow. Hopefully, we can pick a good direction out of that and be ready for qualifying.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “Overall, it was a pretty good day for us in the Relay car. We know, confidently, that we have a car good enough to be in the top 10, maybe in the top six. We’re fighting a bit of an issue throughout the second session, but we know what that is, so we’ll fix it and get the speed we need tomorrow. I haven’t felt this confident in an Indy car yet – but I said that at Detroit and I said that at Texas. I really just feel like we are coming into our own and this is going to be our best weekend yet.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “Today wasn’t the best Friday that we’ve had. I think we are stepping through changes and making small improvements, but we didn’t find the big improvement that we need, which is disappointing. Fortunately, we have another session tomorrow and three teammate cars to try and put our heads together and come up with a solution. Right now, we need a pretty big step in performance to be fighting for pole.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We made some progress with the DHL car today, we need to make another step tomorrow. We didn’t really have a clear lap, but if we had, I think we would have been around P4 or P5 and we can work from there. We’ll put our heads down tonight, check in with the teammates and see where we are at tomorrow. We have one more session before qualifying and we’ll put it to good use.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “It was a good day, a productive one. We wanted to improve a little more than we did in the second session, but overall, we tried a few things and we learned a few good things and a few not so good. I think we can continue improving for tomorrow.”

ALFONSO CELIS JR. (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “Today was going pretty well until the last practice. The day started off well for us. I was happy with the balance and I am still happy with the balance. We worked on some changes and I was happy with the direction we were going in. The second practice was going pretty good up until my incident. It is really unfortunate we have now lost this track time, but we will work hard and bounce back for tomorrow.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “It was a challenging day at the office here at Road America for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet. This is one of my favorite tracks – I know I can pedal a car around here pretty well. We were fighting for top six last year, so I’m trying to just drive the same, obviously, with less downforce. We’ve got an underlying balance issue – whether it’s new tires or old tires, it’s really just wherever we are, we’ve got the same issue that we just can’t seem to iron out. It’s slightly frustrating for a new team with the lack of testing we’ve been able to do, so we’ve got limited time to try and sort it. We’ll work it out tonight and if we can make some significant progress toward the end of FP3, I’m sure we can have a fairly decent qualifying.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Road America is a great track and a lot of fun. Today was a bit challenging, as we are just working through our plan, but we found a big chunk of time between Practice 1 and Practice 2 today. That is very encouraging as we get ready for Practice 3 tomorrow. There are some things we are going to try out and that will hopefully take us to the next step to doing a great job in qualifying and then the race.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “I was definitely happier with the car this morning. We kind of went in a different direction for the afternoon session and lost the car. We definitely have a clear direction on where we need to go and we’ll put that to use to go forward tomorrow with the U.S. Concrete car.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski