INDYCAR Photo by Joe Skibinski
INDYCAR Photo

Takuma Sato paces Indianapolis 500 Open Test at IMS

1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS – There were 30 cars that hit the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway hoping for a full day of testing for the 103rdIndianapolis 500. And then, the typical, fickle Indiana Springtime weather interfered.

Instead of hours of practice, the NTT IndyCar Series veterans got 105 minutes of track time and the rookies and other drivers that need to take refresher test just 86 minutes of track time.

The winner of the 101stIndianapolis 500 in 2017, Takuma Sato, turned the best lap of the day at 226.993 mph in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, with Ed Carpenter just behind at 226.414 in the No. 20 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet. Those speeds were logged during a session open to 20 veteran drivers who have raced this season.

“The program was interrupted and stopped a few times,” Sato said of the rain that halted action twice and eventually put an end to the day with a third shower. “Having said that, today is meant to shake down the car, just check all the functions OK, feel it out. From that point of view, I think it was a very smooth day.”

Carpenter is a three-time Indy 500 pole winner, most recently last year when he finished second to Will Power of Team Penske in the 102ndIndianapolis 500.

“It was a little odd, but all in all, it was good,” Carpenter said. “We got a decent amount of stuff done, not everything we wanted to do – just with the pauses and intermissions. At the end of the day, I think we ran more than what I thought we were going to the first time it started raining. It kind of sets us up for a decent starting place for when we come back for the full week of practice.

“It’s still good to get that physical gratification and confidence back that things are looking all right.”

IndyCar rookies and other drivers that do not compete full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series hit the track for the later session that began at 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time. Colton Herta was among the four first-timers who completed all three phases of the rookie orientation, turning the best lap of the session and fourth-best of the day at 226.108 mph in the No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda.

“It was pretty cool,” said Herta, who became the youngest winner in Indy car history a month ago at Circuit of The Americas and won the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race last year on the IMS oval. “The first few laps were the same speed as an Indy Lights car, so it wasn’t too impressive. But once they kind of let me run at 215-plus on the third stage, it was pretty awesome.

“Definitely a dream of mine for a long time to be able to run an Indy car here. Even though it’s just testing, it’s still really sentimental.”

Rain interrupted the open test just 11 minutes into the day. Following a four-hour delay, veterans received about 95 minutes of track time until a light rain returned. Following an hour delay, the rookies and veteran refresher drivers had about 90 minutes until the moisture made an appearance once more and ended the day about 7:30 p.m. ET.

Among those drivers who had limited track time because of the weather was two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso of Spain. This will be Alonso’s second Indy 500 attempt for McLaren. He was Indy 500 Rookie of the Year in 2017.

Alonso completed his first phase of the refresher and his top speed out of 29 laps was 218.690 miles per hour in the No. 66 McLaren Chevrolet.

“This requires a complete reset on your driving style and your mindset,” Alonso said. Being ready to turn left for two weeks and to be brave on some occasions because it’s all about that.

“I had the test in Texas two weeks ago, so that more or less prepare yourself to oval racing again. Couple of good sessions on the simulator, as well, in Charlotte. It was not too difficult today because of all that preparation. So, yeah, I should be okay.”

The next race on the NTT IndyCar Series schedule is the IndyCar Grand Prix on May 11 on the IMS Road Course. Opening Day of practice for the 103rdIndianapolis 500 is May 14 with qualifications set for May 18-19. Carb Day is May 24 and the 103rdIndy 500 is May 26.

Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

Leave a comment

Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter