In a career full of success, winning the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge is one of the few boxes Josef Newgarden hasn’t checked. That could change this year, if the first day of the Indy 500 Open Test on Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is any indication.
Two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Newgarden was the fastest of 33 drivers on the 2.5-mile oval during the 8.5-hour test, turning a top lap of 227.686 mph in the No. 2 Shell Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden’s best finish in 11 previous “500” starts was third in 2016, but he will be one of the favorites next month to deliver Team Penske a 19th Indianapolis 500 victory, extending the team’s record.
Newgarden turned his top lap with about 50 minutes remaining in the afternoon practice, when cars circulated in hectic packs, simulating what will be seen on Race Day, Sunday, May 28.
“Really great day,” Newgarden said. “I wish it was Race Day today. But you can’t choose those. You have to show up on that day and be very good. I told the team that if it was Race Day, don’t touch it because it was very good. Sometimes you show up and the car is great. and sometimes you have to work on it. Today was one of those really good days. We got through our list, as well, and we learned a lot, which is always positive. Sometimes you can go around in circles at this place, but today as a team I felt like we were very efficient with our time. We split everything up and divided and conquered. Really, really happy for Team Penske today, and I feel good for next month with the Shell car.”
Testing is scheduled to continue for all drivers from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. ET Friday, with live streaming coverage on Peacock in the United States and INDYCAR LIVE internationally, and the INDYCAR Radio Network also broadcasting live. Live timing will be available at INDYCAR.com and the INDYCAR App powered by NTT DATA. The Turn 2 Viewing Mounds will be open for public viewing at IMS.
Indianapolis-area native Conor Daly jumped to second in the final minutes of the afternoon session Thursday with a lap of 227.466 in the No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet.
2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon was third overall at 226.788 mph in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, followed by last Sunday’s Long Beach winner Kyle Kirkwood at 226.727 in the No. 27 AutoNation Honda.
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato rounded out the top five at 226.265 in the No. 11 Honda, as the second Chip Ganassi Racing driver in the top five.
Teams wasted little time getting busy, as the forecast for the second day of testing Friday calls for possible inclement weather. The 33 drivers combined to turn 3,522 laps (8,805 miles) across the three sessions. That’s about 500 miles more than the distance from Indianapolis to Cape Town, South Africa.
The focus of most teams was trying the various combinations of new aerodynamic parts INDYCAR has allowed to be used this year in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” with the aim of creating even closer racing and more technical options for teams.
“This is the first time we get to see what we’re doing on computers actually makes sense on a racetrack, and we think it does,” Kirkwood said. “They’ve done a really good job. We’re able to race really close with everyone. The racing is a lot closer this year in this front pack than it was last year, which is cool to see.”
The task of sampling various aero parts and pieces was made trickier due to increasingly blustery winds as the afternoon progressed. The steady wind speed was about 10 mph by late afternoon, with gusts of 20 mph or higher.
There were no caution flags for contact, although rain sprinkles halted testing for 45 minutes in the early afternoon.
All five veterans and three rookies required to participate in refresher tests and the Rookie Orientation Program completed those sequences of laps successfully and are eligible for full participation in May. Veterans completing refreshers were Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Katherine Legge and Stefan Wilson. First-year Indy 500 drivers completing ROP were Augustin Canapino, Benjamin Pedersen and Sting Ray Robb.