There’s a pattern forming after two full days of practice for the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge: Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon are really fast.
Sato and Dixon were 1-2 on the speed chart Thursday for the second consecutive practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Two-time Indy 500 winner Sato led at 227.519 mph in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda, with six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2008 “500” winner Dixon second at 227.335 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
“We’re working on it,” Sato said. “The car’s not entirely happy in a big pack. Still there’s work to be done. The boys are doing such a meticulous job, with great engineering. I’m happy with the progress, step by step, and here we are. Hopefully we have more to come.”
Rookie David Malukas, Sato’s teammate at Dale Coyne Racing, was third at 226.869 in the No. 18 HMD Honda. 2011 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year JR Hildebrand clocked in fourth at 226.846 in the No. 11 Homes For Our Troops/AJ FOYT RACING Chevrolet.
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson continued his impressive preparation for his first start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” by ending up fifth at 226.409 in the No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Johnson was third fastest overall on opening day Tuesday. Practice was rained out Wednesday.
Weather may be top of mind for teams and drivers during practice from noon-6 p.m. Friday (live on Peacock Premium), as air temperatures in the mid- to high-80s and sustained winds of 15 to 25 mph will create tricky conditions on the 2.5-mile oval. Speeds also will climb on “Fast Friday” – the last full day of practice before PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying on Saturday and Sunday — because turbocharger boost levels are increased, adding an estimated 90 horsepower to the Chevrolet and Honda engines.
Teams will work on qualifying simulations Friday, trying to stay out of the aerodynamic tow that has produced the big speeds for the first two days of practice.
2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power was the fastest driver Thursday without a tow, reaching 224.325 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Rinus VeeKay and his team boss, Ed Carpenter, continued to show strength while running solo, ending up second and third on the no-tow list after they were 1-2 without aerodynamic help Tuesday. VeeKay produced a solo lap of 224.047 in the No. 21 Bitcoin Racing Team with BitNile Chevrolet, followed by Carpenter at 223.858 in the No. 33 Alzamend Neuro Chevrolet.
Thirty-three drivers combined to turn 3,114 incident-free laps under overcast skies. Johnson turned 153 laps, more than any other driver.
Fast Friday is next for the competitors in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, which means an additional turbocharged boost in preparation for the weekend’s Armed Forces Qualifying will increase speeds due to an estimated 90 extra horsepower. Even with speeds already approaching 228 mph, the drivers say the increase is impactful.
“Oh, yeah, it’s big – it’s a big, big change,” reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou said Thursday. “You get used to running at 220 mph on your own and suddenly you’re running 230. It only sounds like 10 mph, but it’s really big when you are going that fast. “It’s the way the car accelerates — it’s insane — and I think everybody is going to be mind-blown tomorrow.” The driver of the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing said he was surprised by the boost as a race rookie in 2020, and it surprised him last year. “And it’s going to surprise me tomorrow again,” he said.
Three-time “500” starter Colton Herta said it doesn’t take much of a jump in speed for the driver to feel the difference. “At speed, even 2 mph into a corner is a lot sketchier, and you can definitely feel it,” he said. “When you add whatever it is – 10 mph? – it’s quite a big difference.”
Takuma Sato had the fastest lap of Thursday’s six-hour practice, a speed of 227.519 mph. So, with the horsepower infusion, 235 mph is not out of the question. From a lap-time standpoint, the boost will create a gain of about 1.3 seconds in a 2.5-mile lap. Sato’s lap was 39.5572 seconds. Expect Friday to see several cars in the 38-second bracket.
The rookies know it’s something they must prepare for, and Romain Grosjean said he will lean on his teammates and his engineer, Olivier Boisson, for guidance, especially after dealing with understeer in Thursday’s practice. “Every small understeer becomes a bigger understeer, every small snap becomes a bigger snap, every small slide becomes a bigger slide,” he said. “Every problem becomes bigger. “I think we’re looking at higher temperatures (Friday), as well, and wind, which makes it even more tricky.”
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and “500” rookie Jimmie Johnson said he’s going to have to have “an interesting conversation with my right foot,” a big switch from how NASCAR drivers lift off the throttle approaching Turn 1 here.”