The day we have waited for since Memorial Day of last year is finally here. Opening Day at IMS for the 96th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing kicks off what is sure to be a very busy week for the IndyCar Series at the world’s greatest race course.
I arrived early in the morning, and making my way around the garage area, I noticed Dragon Racing was nowhere to be found. Their garages look bare, not even a sign. Also, as you would expect, Panther and DRR are neighbors.
It was easy to notice when the 10:00 hour hit, because the crowd began to grow immensely. By 11:00 the garages were flooded with people, and the engines were being fired up. The tech line began to get longer, as many cars were headed to pit lane around 11:30.
The first cars on pit lane were the three Penske machines. All three drivers hit the track the second the green flag was waived for practice. They all did one installation lap (three wide across the bricks) and headed back to the garage. I noticed that Will Power seemed rather relaxed in the new car. His crew was talking about him being the “man to beat” but Will responded with “I haven’t even won a 500 yet, or even a Championship, I haven’t even done a bloody thing on an oval.”
Within the first hour, Josef Newgarden put down the fastest lap of the day, just over 219 mph. That time stood until the final hour of practice, when he became the first to break the 220 mph barrier. His 220.250 lap was followed closely by Panther’s JR Hildebrand who put down a 219.693 lap.
I noticed that many of the fans were discussing how hard it was to read the numbers on the rear wheel guards. This was something I pointed out during the April 4 test here at IMS, although only a few of them had numbers at the time.
Tony Kanaan was coaching most of the day, spending his afternoon in Rubens’ ear. Tony took his own (T) car out for 20 laps, recording his best lap at 217.741 mph. All three KV Racing cars looked fairly good on Saturday. As we feared, things didn’t look good for Lotus, as Simona de Silvestro and Jean Alesi were the two slowest cars on track. Alesi’s best time was only 209.188 while Silvestro clocked her best lap at just 200.203 mph.
There wasn’t much action for the Andretti stable, with Marco Andretti shaking down Saavedra’s car, then his own. Mike Conway struggled to find speed as AJ Foyt’s team fought with software issues throughout most of the day. Last year’s Pole winner Alex Tagliani finally got his first taste of the track around 5:20 pm. His Bryan Herta Autosport machine looked much quicker with that new Honda engine.
The entire practice session saw warm temperatures, in the mid to upper 70’s. The sun was out in full force until around 3 pm when the clouds moved in. There is a slight chance for rain tomorrow, but there should be plenty of action on the track. For updates throughout every practice session this year, be sure to follow @IndyCarChad on Twitter.
Over 600 laps were turned by 27 cars on Saturday. Of today’s top four drivers, they have a combined one start in the Indianapolis 500 mile race.