Indy 500 Opening Day

Today marked the beginning of the “Month of May” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was Opening Day as practice began in preparation for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500. It was also labeled as a test day, as teams and drivers were getting used to the new Superspeedway aero kits, made by Chevrolet and Honda.

I arrived around 7:30 this morning, and noticed a few things while walking around the garage area. I got a glimpse of Conor Daly’s ride, the third car for SPM. The powder blue is a fantastic look, and the red and white trim really makes it pop. I also got a nice look at Townsend Bell’s car, which is gorgeous. The best part about that car is the wheels, which are wrapped.

This was the first time I was able to see the Chevrolet Superspeedway aero kit in person. The front wing is larger, and has some unique features. The rear is much different than Honda’s, and even the on-board cameras are mounted differently, because of the rear wing design. When I came across Dale Coyne’s area, I noticed the only ‘500’ car was Pippa Mann’s No. 63. The two full-time cars were both in the garage, but they were the Grand Prix cars.

Practice began at 9:30, and for the sixth straight year, it was a Penske car that hit the track first. There was a lot of action early, and speeds were already surprisingly high. The Rookie Orientation/Refresher took place after that, in which a number of drivers took to the course, including Davey Hamilton. He turned some laps in Townsend Bell’s car, who was unable to be there due to a racing conflict.

Click here to see the combined results from Opening Day Practice

The second half of the day was filled with action. It was evident that the new aero kits were greatly increasing speeds. By the end of the day, there were 21 drivers that surpassed last year’s fastest Opening Day lap. There were a total of 1,845 laps turned by 27 drivers, and there were no incidents during the day.

Juan Montoya had the fastest lap of the day, at 226.772 mph. By comparison, the fastest lap on Opening Day last year was 223.057 mph, by Will Power. Montoya won the Indy 500 in 2000, and is currently leading the championship heading into next week’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Montoya’s teammate and 3-time winner, Helio Castroneves was second fastest. Marco Andretti was third, and was the only Honda in the top five, as Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud were just behind him on Sunday. Takuma Sato, Simona de Silvestro, Ed Carpenter, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Sage Karam completed the top ten.

There were a handful of drivers on hand for today’s practice session, but weren’t in the car for whatever reason. I ran into Alex Tagliani on pit lane, but he said things still weren’t finalized with AJ Foyt’s third car. Speaking of AJ, he was back at the track today, months after having heart surgery. Luca Filippi and JR Hildebrand were both there, talking things over with CFH Racing. Sebastian Saavedra was also present, as he’ll be in Ganassi’s car next week. The drivers for the two full-time Coyne cars for the ‘500’ are still TBA, but speculation is that James Davison and Katherine Legge could have those seats locked up soon.

The track will be closed until Thursday, when practice will begin for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. The race on the 2.439 mile, 14-turn road course takes place on Saturday, May 9. The race will start at 3:30 PM ET on ABC. Qualifications will take place on Friday.

Driver Quotes

Juan Montoya: “It’s OK. (Having the fastest lap) is good for Verizon and for Chevy and for everybody that is paying attention. But I think the time sheet, as always, is irrelevant until you get to the race or until you get to qualifying. Everybody is posting times in the draft and it’s a matter of who is doing the best in the draft. I’ll tell you, the Hondas are looking strong – I think they were doing a lot of race work at the end, so we’ll see.” … (On switching from today’s oval test to the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis road course): “It’s going to be a little bit of work for the team this week to switch the cars over, but it is what it is, and it’s the same for everybody. This is a pretty cool road course and the race last year was pretty amazing. With the long straights and the draft, it’s pretty exciting and it should bring really good racing.”

Marco Andretti: “It’s interesting. I think there are definitely still some gremlins to work out. We have an overwhelming laundry list of changes to try. Luckily we have a lot of time to work with it, but we’re going to need some time. I don’t really want to go into a lot of detail, but there are a lot of things to work out still. I’m not thoroughly pleased with my car now. The good thing about that is we’re still in the hunt speed-wise.” … “I enjoy the road course. It’s tougher on the (team) because for me, you can wake me up and I’ll drive whatever and wherever. But I enjoy this layout with the long straightaways, we’re going to see a lot of different downforce levels and a lot of games being played. From that standpoint, it’s fun. We’re trying to find the ultimate lap time, do you want to trim, do you not? And it’s going to be the same for everybody.”

Graham Rahal: “It was a good first day testing the aero kit. We also had to mileage out an engine, which we successfully did, but we have a little work to do with the handling of the Steak ‘n Shake car. It’s better than last year, but we’re not where we need to be. It’s the first on-track day of the month, which is good, so there is a lot of time ahead of us. The team is a little split up right now over the two cars, but once we get a full staff in here it will be a lot easier.”

Justin Wilson: “The day started off really good, but as soon as it got a little hotter it got a little difficult and we started to slide around quite a bit. All in all I’m quite pleased with the first day, there is still a lot to work on and lots to try and understand with the new aero kits and the new downforce levels. We’re not sure what is a typical baseline for running race run trim or qualifying trim, so we’re just working it all out.”

Simona de Silvestro: “Today was a pretty good first day. … I think our speed was OK. For me, it was a really good day just being with the team and learning a little bit on the oval. I think we’re all pretty happy with the test day, and for sure we have some work to do, but I think we’ll be OK. I’m just happy to be back in the car here in Indy.”

Oriol Servia: “I enjoy driving here almost every time. It felt really good, I felt at home immediately and it helped that I was with the team I drove with last year. Everything felt like it was only yesterday that I drove an Indy car here instead of a year ago. The team did a great, great job. It already felt better than last year. We just went through a lot of changes and gathered data. We have a whole week now to look at the data and basically understand the new aero package. We have wind tunnel figures, which is good, but it’s not the same as being on track so both cars tried different things to gather as much data as possible. Graham (Rahal) and I did a lot of laps today, but this week the engineers have a lot of work ahead of them to go through. I’m feeling pretty good. It’s quite amazing to see how different the two aero packages are and yet are still so close in speed.”

Pippa Mann: “First off, it was just absolutely fantastic to finally be back in an Indy car after almost a year sitting out on the sidelines. It’s great to be reunited and continue the strong relationship with my team at Dale Coyne Racing. I’m pretty happy with our performance on day one since we were able to get over 223 miles per hour. We have some work to do next week to help polish out everything, especially the driver. We certainly knocked the rust off today and I am really looking forward to getting in the car on a more consistent basis come next week. It was also great to get the INDIEGOGO logos on the pink Indy car and out on track today for people to see because our partnership with INDIEGOGO is so important to help us raise money in the fight to end breast cancer forever.”

Gabby Chaves: “This was a very special day for me to be out there in an Indy car and to work with the new aero kits. The car felt great, very comfortable. I can leave today with a very positive feeling and I’m very happy with the teamwork. This is the first time I have gone over 200 miles per hour. It’s very different. I thought it would be closer to what it was like in an Indy Lights car. When you’re running 30 miles per hour faster than you have ever gone before, everything comes at you a lot quicker. That was the first thing I noticed, how quickly I am completing laps. We managed some pretty good results, top three in the trap times. We kept finding more speed all day. Now we can focus on trying to build a strong consistent race car.”

Below are some of my photos from Sunday. (Special thanks to IndyCar and IMS)

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