The first practice day for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 is in the books. Despite losing a couple of hours for a quick rain shower, there was plenty of action on the track. When I was headed to IMS early this morning, I assumed we would get an hour or two in before the rain came, ending the day. Fortunately, the weather wasn’t quite as bad as predicted, and the teams and drivers got plenty of track time today.
Chip Ganassi’s team led the way, taking the top three spots on the speed chart on Monday. Sage Karam led the way, with a lap of 225.802 mph. Behind him were the 2008 winner, Scott Dixon and 2013 winner, Tony Kanaan. Marco Andretti had the fourth fastest time, leading the way for Honda. They were the only four drivers to cross the 225 mph barrier on Monday.
While Karam was happy with today’s results, he knows what the “month” is all about. “We have a lot of work to do,” he said. “The car’s not anywhere near where we want it to be for race day or qualifying. I’ve got a great team. They worked really hard. They are making it a lot easier on us drivers by being as prepared as they are. We are picking this new aero kit apart and we’re figuring it out every time we go out.”
There were 30 drivers that turned a total of 1,094 laps around the historic speedway. Josef Newgarden put in the most laps, with 83 for CFH Racing, who had all three drivers in the top ten. Team Penske on the other hand, didn’t have much activity aside from Simon Pagenaud’s 31 laps. Will Power, Helio Castroneves, and Juan Montoya all combined for just five total laps on Monday.
One thing that caught my eye in the garage area this morning was a shiny piece of gold down in the SPM area. It was part of the new livery design for James Hinchcliffe’s car, which debuted today. Similar to the Dragon Racing cars of a few years ago (Bourdais and Saavedra), the wrap is very shiny, which makes the whole car pop. The black and gold Honda machine looks great, and more importantly, it looks fast.
The four drivers we did not see on track today were Jack Hawksworth, Alex Tagliani, Buddy Lazier, and the TBA driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne entry, which should be announced soon. The weather forecast for the next few days looks great. Cooler temperatures and no threat of rain is sure to give teams and drivers ample time to figure out the aero settings for the cars, both for qualifying and race trim.
Practice tomorrow begins at Noon, and runs until 6 PM.
Here are some highlights from today’s practice session, courtesy of IndyCar.
Stefano Coletti: “I have been waiting for three months to get on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval. I didn’t get to do the first ROP (Rookie Orientation Program) because I was stuck in Europe because of my visa. I finally got to go out on track and I am very happy. It is very fast. I’m also happy because I got through the first two phases of my rookie test. I still have one more phase to go, which I can now do with the other drivers on track. I am very excited to be at Indy. It is my first time on an oval and I want to thank all the guys at KV Racing for helping me. I also want to thank Arie Luyendyk. He took me around the track this morning and gave me some tips which really helped today.”
James Hinchcliffe: “The first day of practice was pretty solid. Obviously, we didn’t get running when we’d hoped at the beginning there with the weather, but once we did get out, the car felt pretty solid. We made a really big step even just from the test. We weren’t super happy after the test and now, for the first day, I’d say we have a really good car that we can work with. The pace looks decent in traffic and it’s a really good starting point. I’m really proud of all the Arrow Electronics guys and just looking forward to getting the rest of the week underway to fine-tune this beast.”
JR Hildebrand: “I feel pretty good. During the day I felt like we made a lot of progress. I wasn’t super happy with the feel of the car right at the beginning but we got dialed in a pretty fair amount as we went through the day here. All three of us are working towards the same thing and we’re definitely reaping the benefits of working together closely so far. All in all it was a great day. The Chevy felt strong. We don’t really know how that all pans out until later in the week but I feel good about our first day’s work for sure.”
Sage Karam: “It’s only the first day, so it’s not about how fast you are today. It’s about how fast you are on Sunday in two weeks. It definitely feels good though. It’s the first time I’ve ever been P1 at the Speedway so, you know, it’s a good feeling. We have a lot of work to do. The car’s not anywhere near where we want it to be for race day or qualifying. I’ve got a great team. They worked really hard. They are making it a lot easier on us drivers by being as prepared as they are. We are picking this new aero kit apart and we’re figuring it out every time we go out.”
Scott Dixon: “Today was an opportunity for Team Target to really shake down the car and see what we need to work on and where we are. We had a couple of items from the oval test we wanted to work on today with dampers and new additions to the car, so we were able to work through those and get some good data.”
Tony Kanaan: “I really like the new May format we have with the GP opening up the month of May, but I’ve got to say it felt really good to be back out on the oval with all of my focus going towards the 500. The weather didn’t cooperate with us early on, but we were able to get some time on-track to shake down the cars. The No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet felt good out there today and I think it’s a great way for the team to start practice for the Indianapolis 500.”
Takuma Sato: “Refreshing day because now we are going the proper way around IMS, two days ago we were going opposite. It’s nice to be back in a speedway car. It feels very fast. Today our program was straightforward; we just needed to get the engine mileaged out which took about 40 laps. Since it was such a gusty day, we did a minimum test program but it was very successful and I feel very positive about the car. Tonight the boys will install the second generation spec engine for tomorrow and hopefully the wind has calmed down by then.”
Graham Rahal: “We made some gains over last year, but we’re still struggling with the consistency of the grip level. On our own, it’s pretty good but then when we get in traffic its good for a little bit but then it seems to slide the longer we go so we’ve got to be a little cautious. We turned a lot of laps out there in the Steak ‘n Shake car and I got behind (Scott) Dixon on old tires and we were doing 221s, which I don’t think is too bad. When we’re behind one car, it’s OK. But when we’re behind two or three the car seems to struggle a little bit. We’ve got a lot of time left to dial the Steak ‘n Shake car in.”
Ed Carpenter: “It was a good day to get in a bunch of laps. We didn’t have a bad day, but I wouldn’t call it a good day either. Most of the things we learned were things we didn’t want to do. So to learn from that and come here today and re-attack it again with all three cars I thought we made some good improvements. I feel pretty good where we are after the first day and as much as anything we spent a lot of time running together, working together, and sharing the test lists so I feel pretty happy with what we accomplished today.”
Josef Newgarden: “It was an OK day. It was good to get some running in. Fortunately the weather let up and we were able to get a lot of good running with all three cars. I think we got through a lot of good stuff, the engineers seem pretty happy for today. We just need to have another five solid days and then see where we qualify. I think so far it’s looking pretty good, happy to be running with this whole CFH Racing team.”
Townsend Bell: “We really didn’t have any issues today as the crew did a great job preparing The Robert Graham Special for me. I want to thank Davey Hamilton for shaking down the car at the test. The driver (Bell) has a few kinks to work out here at Indy but it feels so good to come back to the Speedway. Compared to what I race in the sports cars, this feels like a rocket ship. Not much was different from last year for me except that the gusts of wind were coming across the front straightaway from the tunnels of the main grandstand. That did affect my car at times. In fact, I thought the car was broken at one time due to the wind bouncing the car around. It was an interesting experience but I’m glad I felt it today. Overall, it was a very good first day and I think we can improve on it. (On Al Unser Jr. as his spotter) It is an honor to have Al helping us this week. Whatever tidbit of information I can take from a legend like Al is a benefit at Indy. It’s great to have him help us this week.”
Justin Wilson: “It was a good day today – definitely pleased with how things went. The No. 25 Honda was working well and we tried a different setup today, so we’re happy with that and what we found. We’ll keep chipping away over the next couple of days and we’ll see what happens.”
Marco Andretti: “We got through a lot of test items on our list today. We needed to mileage out the engine and for only having one set of tires, I’m pretty pleased with where things progressed to for the Snapple team. But I think there’s still a lot of speed coming for the 27 Honda.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “We worked today to get to a certain point in mileage with the engine so we can get on to the next (Honda engine). You have to meet those markers for the rules of the Verizon IndyCar Series to move on to the next engine. It was really gusty today – the car is moving around a lot but we found some things that we like. I think the conditions being cool like this, everyone is pretty planted right now. Other than the wind gusts, we’re seeing some pretty good times and a decent start to the week for the DHL team.”
Simona de Silvestro: “Today was a pretty good day. We tried a few different things, so it was a good day, especially with it being a little bit shortened by the weather. We have some work for tomorrow, but I think we have a good direction. I hope we can fix those little issues we had today.”
Oriol Servia: “It was good to get back in the car but not as much fun as it should be because it was really windy and gusty. And it’s never fun when it’s like that but you’ve got to run because you never know if on race day it’s going to be as windy or worse. It was a good opportunity to try different things on the aero package to see which ones worked best in windy conditions and traffic. It didn’t feel great but I could see that everyone around me was feeling similar or worse. It was a good first day to get back in the ‘Month of May’ mood. Hopefully we don’t get much rain in the next week so we can keep running miles and learning.”
Conor Daly: “I think the wind made for a very sketchy afternoon. I’ve never driven in these kind of wind conditions, but the No. 43 Smithfield ‘Fueled by Bacon’ Special is running well so far. We had a few things on our test plan and we got through them so we just have to look at what we want to do for tomorrow.”
Pippa Mann: “Despite the fact that we had the car out there running here last week, this really was the true opening day for us and our team. It was the first time getting our timing stand up and running and we had to do an install check with our new Honda engine. It was great to get the car back on track, to get the telemetry up and running on our new stand, and gather some more data to work from. We only really did one run out there today. The Dale Coyne racing car supporting Susan G. Komen kept my hands a little busy on the one run we did, but I’m looking forward to getting back on track and checking out the changes we’ve come up with to address thattomorrow. We’re also hoping that now we’re getting this car onto the racetrack regularly throughout the week, it’s going to help us keep reminding people why we are running the car in these colors, and the campaign that goes with her to raise money.”
Below are some of my photos from Monday. (Special thanks to IndyCar and IMS)