Cooler conditions lead to wild action in Monday’s Indy 500 practice

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INDIANAPOLIS – The 33-car starting lineup that will compete in Sunday’s 103rdIndianapolis 500 returned to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a wild and action-packed two-hour practice Monday.

It was a chance for the full field to practice with race setups, including different aerodynamic configurations with full fuel loads in contrast to the “trimmed out” aero settings during qualifications.

At the front, however, the results were the same as Sunday’s “Fast Nine” Shootout. Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud, the pole winner for the Indy 500, was the fastest on Monday with a lap at 228.441 mph in the No. 22 Chevrolet for Team Penske.

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“It was really good to be able to run with a lot of people on track,” Pagenaud said. “I thought at the end it was almost like a race. Everybody was on track. So that was entertaining. It was a good way to see how the car was reacting.

“The trick part is that it’s so cold that every car feels good today, I think. Obviously we have a good idea on where our car is at, but you want to see what the competition is like, as well, and that’s why you saw me running a lot behind people and cycle back to the back to try to understand who was strong and how they were driving their cars.

“I think we’ve got a really good balance so far. I think we still need to find a little more front grip alone and in traffic, and I think we’ll be in really good shape. Then the trick part is going to be to find the right level of downforce for the race. Obviously, like I said, with the temperature changing, that’s a very relevant point that is very important to work on with the engineers.”

The track temperature Monday was 89 and the ambient was 60 degrees with a light breeze. Race Day is expected to be in the high-80s, creating a far different grip level on the race track.

“I actually think the hotter conditions will induce more passing,” Team Penske President Tim Cindric told NBC Sports. “That’s because the tires will degrade faster, and you will have more comers and goers in the race.”

The track conditions on Monday allowed good grip for the 34 car/driver combinations that hit the track. The reason for the extra car/driver combo was veteran Tony Kanaan ran laps in both his No. 14 Chevrolet and teammate Matheus Leist’s No. 4 Chevrolet.

“It was busy,” Kanaan said. “For us, it was productive. I had to drive both cars because we wanted to make a change that was going to be too big to do it between one car only, so I jumped in his car to get a feel for it. We’ll try to make a decision. We have a week — five days to decide until we get to Carb Day. A pretty cool day. I wish it was like that in the race, but it’s not going to happen, so everything is going to change again.”

Pagenaud ran 88 laps, the equivalent of three full-tank runs of fuel. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second at 228.273 mph followed by Honda driver James Hinchcliffe’s 227.994 mph. Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was fourth at 227.951 mph and 100thIndianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi rounded out the top-five at 227.660 mph.

There were 2,469 laps turned in the two-hour practice. Takuma Sato, the 101stIndy 500 winner, ran the most laps with 98 in a Honda.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”