Two practices are in the books from Indianapolis, and Chevrolet is on top.
Chevrolet continues to dominate road/street course racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series, as evidenced by today’s pair of practices for Saturday’s Angie’s List GP of Indianapolis. This second Indy car race on the 2.439-mile road/oval course inside Indianapolis Motor Speedway starts the month of May, which culminates with the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 on the 2.5-mile oval May 24.
It was a gorgeous day at the track with just a bit of overcast and the customary changing winds. Temps went well into the 80s but the humidity wasn’t high at all - in other words, pretty darn perfect weather for racing.
In the first practice, Chevrolet cars held the first five spots with Sebastien Bourdais (1:10.9378 seconds, the only driver under 1:11) leading Will Power, Scott Dixon, Sebastian Saavedra and Simon Pagenaud. In the afternoon it was Dixon (1:10.6971), Power, point leader Juan Pablo Montoya, Bourdais, Helio Castroneves as the top five, with Pagenaud sixth - all in the 10’s - and Graham Rahal in the first Honda car seventh in the field of 25 this afternoon. On the day, Takuma Sato, who was the fastest Honda in the earlier session clocked the eighth best time of the day; Rahal was ninth. For those watching at home, Francesco Dracone was the slowest driver of the bunch, more than two seconds behind Dixon.
Indy is Indy, no matter the oval or road course
Dixon remarked that the day was “a lot of fun when you’re at Indianapolis, road course or oval” but that it could be frustrating to piece a lap together. “We’re trying to explore our limits and the track is a little bit slipperier this year. I thought we’d be quicker but the track didn’t grip up” this afternoon. We roll off the truck (at each track), it seems, make a bunch of changes and go back to where we started,” he said. “Today we’ve been looking for balance and aerodynamic levels; we made a lot of changes and went back to where we started.”
This was a very safe practice day for the Indy cars with only a couple of stoppages during a two hour session and one lasting an hour and 40 minutes. The sole morning stoppage came for Saavedra who stopped in the first turn’s runoff; in the afternoon Power spun at the 10th turn when the session was just 23 minutes old and there was an incident in the first turn an hour into the session with contact between Montoya and Stefano Coletti. In every instance all cars resumed practice.
European style road course
Power likely spoke for the full field when he said, “Whenever you get to Indianapolis, you realize this is one of the nicest places we come. it’s smooth and it’s like a European-style track. I like it and it’s a lot of fun - very technical. From my side, we struggled there a little bit at the end with the setup. Maybe we went in the wrong direction? But there’s still another practice session to work it out so we’ll have a good look at all the data overnight and see what we can come up with.”
Pagenaud, by virtue of his victory here last year in the inaugural GP of Indianapolis, received a special gift from Doug Poles, president of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He proudly displayed his diamond ring (which fit perfectly) to Dixon, Power and Graham Rahal, who were at the press conference. The last time any INDYCAR driver won the inaugural and second race came at Long Beach in 1984 and 1985, when Mario Andretti sealed both victories.
For his part, Graham Rahal was pleased to represent Honda in the press conference. He said the action “got pretty toasty at the end, second practice, but the same for everybody. The track probably lost a little bit of grip with the heat like that. More and more rubber is going to lay down and you do get spoiled by how smooth this place is.”
Standing starts a thing of the past
The quartet did discuss the fact that this year there are no standing starts in the IndyCar Series as there were last year. While the fans love it, the drivers did not and the series decided to drop that type of start for road/street courses. They were probably influenced by last year’s pile-up at this race when pole man Saavedra stalled and got hammered.
Always the joker Power said of the rolling start, “Well, if it’s Helio (making his 300th start here this weekend), he’ll have a half a straight lead. Everybody else, it will be a normal rolling start, I think.” Rahal looked at “the history, it’s not standing starts. To me, why mess with tradition?” Dixon doesn’t think the difference between standing and rolling starts matters but Pagenaud likes “diversity, so I wouldn’t mind a standing start. I thought it was pretty fun. I like the excitement when the red light comes on and off.”
It’s a moot point anyway, but one that was fun for them to discuss. With different weather patterns predicted for the next couple of days, what occurred today may not even matter. As with last year, qualifying will likely be held under damp or wet conditions as rain and possible thunderstorms are being predicted. But the weather gods have been wrong before, haven’t they?