INDIANAPOLIS – The first day of official practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil is underway.
Here are notes gathered from the track and paddock (Gasoline Alley) so far.
Fernando Alonso arrived in Indianapolis last night straight from Spain for the Spanish Grand Prix, where he was greeted by fans at the Indianapolis airport. In his first run through the paddock this morning, dozens of fans at least stood outside his garage, awaiting the chance for his autograph. Alonso has been signing; here’s a photo from Trackside Online at close range, and here’s one from me from further range. Besides Alonso, McLaren’s Zak Brown and Eric Boullier have also made it to Indianapolis. Once the first on-track action began, his pit was more populated than anyone else’s. It’s only the first day of practice and so far, what I’ve seen of Alonso, the people here have a pretty good idea of who he is and will work to mob him at every opportunity.
Rookie Orientation Program and refresher testing is underway, which is what Alonso completed on May 3. Drivers have to go through 10 laps of 205-210 mph, then 15 laps of 210-215 mph, then 15 laps at 215 mph-plus to complete the ROP. The three other rookies participating are Ed Jones, Zach Veach and Jack Harvey. Drivers eligible to participate in the refresher program include Oriol Servia, Sebastian Saavedra, Sage Karam, Pippa Mann and Jay Howard. Servia, Karam and Mann were in last year’s ‘500 while it’s been since 2015 (Saavedra) and 2011 (Howard) for the other two. At the start of the session, temperatures were 77 degrees ambient and 106 on track.
Jack Harvey’s start to his day in the No. 50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda has gotten off to a slow start with clutch issues. The car has sponsorship from SiriusXM, AutoNation and Gap Guard among other longtime Shank partners.
Jay Howard told NBC Sports he was happy to shake the cobwebs off at his first IndyCar running in six years at the Gateway test. As of 12:40 p.m., he had also completed his first phase of his refresher test.
Sebastien Bourdais’ No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda for Dale Coyne Racing is now its planned oval chassis, starting today. The team rebuilt the road course chassis for the INDYCAR Grand Prix this weekend, and that chassis is the team’s lone backup car for all three entrants.
Buddy Lazier and some members of his Lazier Racing Partners team are here, though as of the first practice time, there was no signage listed above their garage in Gasoline Alley and no sign of the car as yet. It would be a surprise to see Lazier on track today.
Bell Racing has 18 of the 33 helmets entered in this year’s field. Full season drivers are Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Conor Daly, Carlos Munoz, Marco Andretti, Sebastien Bourdais, Spencer Pigot, Ed Carpenter, Graham Rahal and Ed Jones. Indianapolis additions are Pippa Mann, Jack Harvey, Gabby Chaves, Zach Veach, Fernando Alonso, Sage Karam, Buddy Lazier and Sebastian Saavedra.
It was not the first time it has been done, but a rider winning in his Motocross debut is rare as the results show Jett Lawrence swept the motos at Fox Raceway in Pala, California and took the early points lead.
Lawrence became the 16th rider to win in his Motocross debut and was the 10th rider to do so in the season opener, At 19, he wasn’t the youngest to perform the feat; Rick Johnson was 17 in 1982 when he won the lidlifter at Hangtown, the site of next week’s race, but Lawrence’s inaugural win bodes well. The last time a rider performed this feat, Dylan Ferrandis went on to win the 2021 Motocross championship as a rookie in 2021.
Ferrandis did not sweep the motos that season while Lawrence’s performance on Saturday was perfect. He paced both practice sessions, earned the holeshot in each race and finished first in both motos after leading every lap to score maximum points. Lawrence started the weekend needing 85 points to climb into 20th in the combined SuperMotocross standings for the 450 class. Earning 50 with his perfect Motocross results at Fox Raceway, he is nearly 60 percent of the way to his goal.
Chase Sexton was second across the board. He qualified in the second position and finished 2-2 in his motos. In the first race, he was a relatively distant runner-up behind Lawrence, crossing the finish line a little more than 10 seconds ahead. He got a great start in Moto 2 and pushed Lawrence for the entire race, never getting further back than three seconds. He tried to pressure Lawrence into making a mistake, but both riders hardly put a wheel wrong and they finished within a second of one another.
Returning from a concussion suffered in the Houston Supercross race earlier this season and exacerbated at Daytona, Ferrandis finished third in both motos to take third overall. His most important task at hand this week was to avoid trouble and start the Motocross season healthy at Fox Raceway so he can begin to accumulate strong results and move up in SuperMotocross points.
Ferrandis entered this round 25th in the standings and left Pala in 19th. With that position, he has an automatic invitation to the feature starting grid in the SuperMotocross World Championship as long as he does not fall back.
Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb both ended the race with 34 points, but Plessinger had the tiebreaker with a better finish in the second race. Notably, both riders sustained injury sometime during the season, but Plessinger had an advantage by coming back a week sooner in Salt Lak City for the Supercross finale. He finished second in that race.
Webb was cleared late in the week by doctors after being on concussion protocol from a vicious strike to his helmet in a Nashville Supercross heat race late in the season. He made a beeline to the track to run the Motocross opener. After missing last year’s outdoor season, he wanted to make certain that did not happen again. He still has a solid opportunity to catch Sexton for the No. 1 overall seed in the SuperMotocross standings., but he will need to make up 78 points.
For the first time in history, Pro Motocross results from Fox Raceway show brothers as winners on the same day.
Battling a rib injury suffered practicing earlier in the week, Hunter Lawrence got a poor start to Moto 1 and had to overcome his 10th-place standing at the end of Lap 1. He methodically worked his way toward the front but might have settled for a position off the podium if not for heavy traffic in the closing laps. Lawrence was able to get through the field quicker than Justin Cooper and Jo Shimoda to finish third.
Lawrence’s second moto was much stronger. He earned the holeshot and led all 15 laps of the race to win by a more than eight seconds.
Haiden Deegan didn’t feel any pressure heading into this round. No one expected much in his third Motocross National and he would have been happy with anything in the top five. At least that’s what he said in the post-race news conference. Deegan said similar things after finishing fourth in his first Supercross race this season. In a stacked field of 40 riders at Fox Raceway, “Danger Boy” finished sixth in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2 for the second-place finish overall.
RJ Hampshire had an eventful weekend. He dominated Moto 1 and won by a healthy margin, making a statement about how he will race now that Jett Lawrence is no longer in the field. He was a victim of mayhem in Turn 2 of Moto 2, which forced him to the ground. Another crash on an uphill portion of the track later that same lap put him in 39th. Hampshire salvaged as many points as he could and finished 11th in the second race to stand on the final box of the podium.
Tom Vialle came within a lap of scoring his first career podium. He had the position based on a tiebreaker over Justin Cooper and Maximus Vohland until Hampshire passed two riders on the final lap and earned one point more than that threesome. Instead, Vialle settled for his first podium in an individual moto with a 7-3 in the two races. More accustomed to this style of racing, Vialle will be a factor in the coming rounds.
Cooper finished with a 5-4 in the two motos to sweep the top five and take fourth-place overall. Cooper started five rounds in the 450 class in Supercross this season and none on a 250, so he is starting with zero points in the SuperMotocross seeding, but with runs like this it won’t take long to make up the 89 he needs to climb to 20th.
One of the best performances of the weekend was put in by Vohland. He finished second in Moto 1 and had to withstand pressure from Lawrence in the closing lap. A poor start of 16th in the second race forced him to play catchup and he could only climb to ninth at the checkers.