Indianapolis Motor Speedway is open and the first practice for the May 27 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 is in the books.
Rain briefly interrupted the two-hour session, which ran from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET, but cars were back on track in short order once the surface dried and was inspected.
Team Penske dominated the first session with Simon Pagenaud, still searching for his first Indy 500 victory, having the fastest lap at 225.787 mph.
Helio Castroneves, hoping to earn his fourth career Indy 500 victory, which would tie him for most triumphs at the Brickyard with Al Unser, A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears, was second-fastest at 223.445 mph.
Josef Newgarden was third-fastest at 223.229 mph, followed by Marco Andretti in the fastest Honda (223.214 mph), Ed Carpenter (223.124 mph), INDYCAR Grand Prix winner Will Power (222.839 mph), Scott Dixon (222.734 mph), Carlos Munoz (222.584), Zach Veach (222.262) and J.R. Hildebrand (221.620).
A total of 25 of the 35 drivers entered in the 500 took to the track for the first session.
Then, from 1 to 3 p.m. ET, there was a two-hour session for Stefan Wilson, Pippa Mann, James Davison, Oriol Servia to undergo refresher sessions, and Zachary Claman Demelo – who earlier in the day was named to replace the injured Pietro Fittipaldi in the 500 – to complete his Rookie Orientation Program.
Claman Demelo was fastest of the group (220.852 mph), followed by Wilson (218.186 mph), Servia (217.209) and Davison (217.169). Mann did not come out on the track, but is expected to do so for the final practice of the day.
Rain is in the forecast for this afternoon, which could impact the third and final practice of the day, which is slated to run from 3 to 6 p.m. ET. In addition to veteran drivers, others expected to take to the track for the first time include Danica Patrick, Robert Wickens, Jay Howard, Sage Karam, Matheus Leist and Kyle Kaiser.
Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.
If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”
The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.
Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.
But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.
“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.
“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”
Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.
“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.
“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”
During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:
–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;
–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;
–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”
–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.
“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”