Today was the fourth day of practice for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 24. Simon Pagenaud had the fastest lap of the day, at 228.793 mph. Carlos Munoz was second quick, as they were the only two drivers to break the 228 mph barrier. Ganassi’s Sage Karam, Scott Dixon, and Tony Kanaan rounded out the top five on Thursday.
We have now officially had all 34 entrants on the track this month as the final driver, Buddy Lazier, made his debut late this afternoon in the No. 91 car. He put in ten laps, and the field as a whole combined for 1,995 total laps.
Unfortunately for the second day in a row, the day was marred by another heart-wrenching accident in Turn 1. This time, it was Josef Newgarden, as he spun and slammed the outside wall before becoming airborne. The car flipped on it’s top, and slid before coming to rest upside down. Thankfully, Newgarden was able to walk away. He was later cleared by the infield medical center. Video of the accident is below.
Shortly after this incident, Chevrolet advised all of their teams to refrain from using the new rear wheel guard aero pieces, which were on Newgarden and Helio Castroneves’ cars when they crashed and became airborne. I noticed on my stroll through the garage area early in the morning that a number of Chevy cars (Bourdais, Montoya, Power, Karam, Kanaan) were using them. The center line wickers on both cars, which were supposed to prevent the cars from getting in the air, are now optional for both manufacturers.
Today’s accident marks the fourth incident in the past three days. Simona de Silvestro, Helio Castroneves, Pippa Mann, and Newgarden were all able to walk away, which is certainly a testament to the safety and innovation with these cars, and the people working in the Verizon IndyCar Series. Teams are now beginning to work on qualifying setups, which makes the cars a little uneasy. Many drivers were driving teammates cars to get a perspective of how each is handling.
Takuma Sato ran his Honda without the rear winglets on the rear wheel guards, but there didn’t seem to be a significant gain by doing that. There is also rumor of another Chevrolet element for the back end of the car, which hasn’t been seen yet. Practice resumes tomorrow on “Fast Friday” which gives the cars an additional 10 kPa of engine turbocharger boost, which will equate to approximately 40 additional horsepower. Practice begins at Noon and runs until 6 PM. Qualifications are scheduled for Saturday, with the Pole being determined on Sunday.
Helio Castroneves: “Today was really good. It felt great to get back in the car for a full day. We decided to focus a bit more on qualifying with the Shell V-Power Nitro+ Chevrolet in the afternoon, after running in the race pace during the morning session. We feel very confident. Now, tomorrow is just going to be a focus on qualifying to be ready for Saturday. I have to say that my Shell guys did a great job in switching over to the backup car. There is no difference in the way the car felt or drove. It’s really amazing how they were able to put everything together. We are looking good for the weekend.”
JR Hildebrand: “My day was a little trying. We had a couple of issues that we ended up running with unknowingly for a bit of the day. It’s never a good thing, especially around this place. Fortunately I think we’ve got everything under control. Tomorrow will be pretty crucial for us to not only understand what we have with a speed perspective of the car, but still to continue to improve the car. So it was a good day generally for the team in that regard of knocking things off the program list to put ourselves in a good position going into qualifying and then the race next weekend. We still have a bit of work to do. As far as Josef, you never want to see anybody have that type of accident, let alone a teammate. Glad he’s OK and hopefully we can all take it in stride and move forward.”
Takuma Sato: “We continued exploration from yesterday in both qualifying trim and race setup. Both did qualifying simulation and running in traffic, too, and we made some progress which was good. We have some unfinished business, but we’re at a good level and hopefully we have a very productive day tomorrow for Fast Friday. I’m looking forward to the extra boost as INDYCAR allows the teams extra boost for qualifying, so we will see a significant increase in the speeds tomorrow.”
Graham Rahal: “Today was a really good day for us; we’ve really improved the Steak ‘n Shake car a lot in race trim. Most of our day was spent working on qualifying stuff. We figured out a couple of tricks there and I’m pretty comfortable with the car. Tomorrow we will work on qualifying trim all day. We will work on trying to improve the car, get some consistency and a little more speed, but I think the biggest thing is consistency at this point.”
Tristan Vautier: “It all came together last minute, but we have been talking about it for quite a while: that if James (Davison’s) deal would come through I would qualify the car. So it was not really a surprise for me, but more of a long wait to see that everything was confirmed. But it’s really cool. I was happy to get back in an Indy car – it’s been a year and a half now. The first two or three laps were kind of weird, but it came back pretty quickly, so really cool. It was cool to have Simon (Pagenaud) on the track with me for quite a while. It reminded me of the Schmidt (Peterson Motorsports) days so it was fun.”
Ed Carpenter: “I don’t know any more than what everyone saw at this point (regarding Newgarden’s crash). We haven’t gotten the data off of the car or been able to look at anything yet. He’s OK and that’s the important thing. Helio’s (Castroneves) crash looked a little different. I think Helio got loose a little earlier and chased it and Josef just lost it right in the middle. I’ve only seen one replay so I don’t really know at this point. Ultimately he spun around earlier in the corner than Helio did.”
Josef Newgarden: “It’s still early for me, I am still trying to gather my thoughts from it. I got around pretty quick in Turn 1, it definitely surprised me. I am just lucky that everything is good, the Dallara tub held up pretty well. I want to get back with my crew and see what the damage is and see what we can do going forward.”
Townsend Bell: “This is the first day that we tried some different aero bits with the Robert Graham Special. We are gathering as much information as we can at this point since we gain additional engine boost on Friday. We want to be a little ahead of the game for Fast Friday. It’s nice to get a head start today as you always seem to run out of time closer to qualifying. With the added boost, it seems to be a little more electric in the car due to more speed. It definitely increases the buzz factor for a driver.” (On expectations for qualifying): “I think around 233 (mph) for the pole. We currently don’t have a car for those numbers just yet. If we qualified Friday, we wouldn’t be ready for those kind of numbers. But we are moving in that direction and I’m pleased how the team is working through the process. Hopefully, on Saturday, we’ll have a car to go that speed.”
Justin Wilson: “I think today was a pretty good day for us, we learned a few things and that’s always good moving forward. We made some changes, got our balance better in traffic and I think it was a step forward for the No. 25 Honda. There is still a little bit more to find, but I think as a whole team we’ll keep creeping up on it and now we’re going to switch gears and get ready for qualifying.”
Carlos Munoz: “Another practice day, today we were really just focusing on pack racing and long runs with my teammates. The car feels really comfortable – I’m really happy. I feel that I’m competitive, more competitive than last year. Now for tomorrow, we’re going to focus on qualifying and see where we are speed-wise.”
Simona de Silvestro: “Today we ran mostly in traffic. We learned a lot. I have a little bit of work to do, and I’m looking forward to going back out there tomorrow and working on it. It seems like (teammate) Carlos (Muñoz) is pretty quick, so let’s see what he’s doing!”
Alex Tagliani: “It was really good to get to work with all the boys, you know, it’s kind of like breaking the ice, everybody starts to gel together. We ran a good amount of laps today; the car ran well, I was quite happy with the balance, so it’s nice. First real day at work, a couple of changes, we got the whole Al-Fe group really stimulated and now we’re back where we needed to be a couple of days ago, so we’re happy. The No. 48 Al-Fe Heat Treating Honda looks good on track, nothing to complain about, just a matter of continuing to do our own routine and get into sequence, getting everything correct, and getting in the mindset of the big race and what we need to do to have a good showing.”
Below are some of my photos from Thursday. (Special thanks to IndyCar and IMS)