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Jay Howard fastest on hectic Thursday of Indy 500 practice

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INDIANAPOLIS – The third Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda entered into this year’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil is more known for its supporting partner, in Tony Stewart and his foundation’s Team One Cure program.

However, the driver wheeling said No. 77 car was the surprise story of the day on a frenetic Thursday of action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway: Jay Howard.

The 36-year-old Englishman, who’s spent six years out since his last Verizon IndyCar Series starts in 2011 and now runs F4 and go-kart teams, got a monster tow in the first 30 minutes of six hours of running to lead the timesheets with what is the fastest lap of the month thus far at 226.744 mph.

Of note, Howard was 24th on the no-tow rankings at 219.756 mph.

Stewart was in attendance on the day along with a couple notable others in the SPM pit, including past Chili Bowl winner Rico Abreu.

Howard ended ahead of two Andretti Autosport cars in Ryan Hunter-Reay (225.826 mph) in the No. 28 DHL Honda and Marco Andretti (225.709 mph) in the No. 27 Snapple Honda car.

One of their teammates, Takuma Sato in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda, topped the no-tow charts at 224.734 mph, and that ranked him ninth in the field.

More than 2,000 laps (2,362) were turned in what was the busiest day of the week by far, with action coming hot and heavy in the opening two hours and the last two hours.

What was meant to be a bunch of qualifying simulations, however, turned into a mock race in the last hour of the day.

Between drivers from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Andretti Autosport, Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and A.J. Foyt Enterprises, upwards of a dozen cars were exchanging positions around the 2.5-mile oval.

It was a frenetic amount of action as drivers slotted in-and-out of running, all gauging where and when to make their moves for position. Temperatures started in the low-80s today and ticked up to the mid-80s, with track temperatures in the mid-110s to low-120s, so it made for good race condition simulations.

Several drivers topped the 100-lap mark on the day. Helio Castroneves, Will Power and James Hinchcliffe were over 100 laps banked while others such as Fernando Alonso, Charlie Kimball and Jack Harvey were in the 90-lap completed mark.

Alonso’s day in the No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry saw him provide a number of highlights, both with his running in traffic and his lines set in single-car running. On the whole, he ended fourth at 225.619 mph for his best lap yet, while his no-tow speed was no slouch either – it was 223.687 mph.

Josef Newgarden’s day ended early with a crash in the first couple hours of running. He was checked, released and cleared to drive but the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was not as fortunate. After the accident, Newgarden was done for the day.

Another driver whose day was cut short was Sebastien Bourdais with another Honda engine issue in the back of his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. The Frenchman had a similar issue during the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the weekend, and coupled with Graham Rahal’s failure earlier this week, it’s been a week where reliability has been a talking point just as much as outright speed.

The 33rd and final driver set to enter this year’s race, Buddy Lazier, made it out for installation laps in his renumbered No. 44 Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet, following a build during the week of his car by the small, family-run, Vail, Col.-based team.

The boost is set to be increased for Friday’s scheduled Fast Friday running from noon until 6 p.m., however weather may intervene and limit or halt running altogether.

Speeds are below.


MRTI: Herta standing tall, riding wave of momentum in Indy Lights

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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It would be hard to top the month of May that Colton Herta is coming off of.

The 18-year-old, now in his second year competing in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, enjoyed a sweep of the three Indy Lights races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning both events on the IMS Road Course – charging through the field to do so (he fell back as far as sixth and fourth between Race 1 and Race 2) – and outdueling Andretti Autosport stablemates Pato O’Ward and Dalton Kellett to win a frantic Freedom 100.

In short, it was a near perfect month for the young Herta.

“It’s super special to win in Indy and to get do the triple there at a place that’s so nostalgic, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Herta told NBC Sports about his Indy success.

And all three were thrilling drives in which Herta spent the entire time battling with rivals – Santi Urrutia on the IMS Road Course, and the aforementioned O’Ward and Kellett, and Urrutia as well, in the Freedom 100.

Colton Herta edged Pato O’Ward to win the Freedom 100. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

Herta is no stranger to winning – he won twice in 2017 (Race 2 at St. Petersburg and Race 2 at Barber Motorsports Park) – both times in dominant fashion.

As he explained, it isn’t necessarily more challenging to dominate a race versus battling rivals the entire way, but different mindsets are required to survive each.

“It’s a different skill set,” he asserted. “Obviously when you start up front, there’s a lot more pressure to perform, so it’s more about managing the gap to the guys behind. Whereas you’re not as nervous when you’re in the back of the pack, because you can’t go any further back. So there’s less nerves going into the race. And it’s more about attacking the whole time and taking a little more risk.”

In discussing his Indy victories more, Herta detailed that outdueling opponents in intense duels – like the ones at Indy – comes down to thoroughly analyzing one’s opponents and making aggressive, yet smart passes.

“You can see what the guys are doing ahead of you, and obviously if you follow them for a lap or two you can see where they’re struggling and you can make up ground on them,” he explained. “And that’s the biggest thing: going for an overtake that you can make – especially when you’re in the running for a championship fight like this – going for an overtake that you know you can make without taking a massive risk, and kind of seeing the tendencies of the car in front of you and where they’re struggling and when you’re making up time.”

Herta’s run of recent success comes as more evidence of a driver who appears to be more polished than he was last year. While blisteringly fast – Herta captured seven poles in 2017 – there were also a number of errors that kept him from making a more serious championship challenge.

Though Herta began 2018 with a somewhat ominous crash in Race 2 at St. Pete, the rest of his season has been much cleaner. He finished third in Race 1 at St. Pete and second and third at Barber Motorsports Park before his run of victories at IMS.

Still, despite the appearance of a more polished driver, Herta explained that his approach is no different than it was in 2017.

“Not much has changed,” he asserted. “The mindset obviously is still the same because, especially with a (seven car field), you need to win races and you need to win quite a few of them to win the championship. (Staying out of trouble is about) just kind of settling in and knowing that a second or third place, or even a fourth or fifth place, isn’t terrible to take every now and then.”

And because the field in Indy Lights is small this year – only seven cars are entered at Road America – Herta revealed that maintaining a hard-charging style and going for race wins is paramount, in that the small fields make it harder to gap competitors in the title hunt.

“It’s hard to create a gap. On a bad day, you’re still going to be closer (to the guys ahead of you). Like Pato O’Ward in Indy (on the road course) had an awful weekend and finished in the back in both races (fourth and seventh), but I’m only at a (six point) lead. It’s tough to get ahead, so you want to minimize mistakes. It’s tough to make a gap, but it’s also tough to fall behind.”

As such, Herta is most certainly focused on bringing home an Indy Lights crown in 2018, which would propel him into the Verizon IndyCar Series, but he isn’t putting undue pressure on himself to force it to happen.

“In the second year, you have to get it done, and it’s tough to move up to IndyCars without that $1 million scholarship. So yeah, it’s important, but there’s no need to put more pressure on myself for how it is. I just got to keep doing what I’m doing, keep my head down, and if we can replicate what happened in May more and more, we should be in IndyCar next year,” he detailed.

And a potential move to IndyCar is certainly on the minds of Herta and Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, even if the Indy Lights title ends up in the hands of someone else.

“We are thinking about it for sure, and we have some sponsors already committed on this year that I think we could bring up into IndyCar,” Herta revealed. “But, if we win the Indy Lights championship, we’re going to race (IndyCar), whether it’s the four races that we’re given or whatever it may be.”

Herta will look to improve upon his results from last year at Road America, when he finished 12th in Race 1 and third in Race 2.

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