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Cooler conditions lead to wild action in Monday’s Indy 500 practice

INDIANAPOLIS – The 33-car starting lineup that will compete in Sunday’s 103rdIndianapolis 500 returned to Indianapolis Motor Speedway for a wild and action-packed two-hour practice Monday.

It was a chance for the full field to practice with race setups, including different aerodynamic configurations with full fuel loads in contrast to the “trimmed out” aero settings during qualifications.

At the front, however, the results were the same as Sunday’s “Fast Nine” Shootout. Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud, the pole winner for the Indy 500, was the fastest on Monday with a lap at 228.441 mph in the No. 22 Chevrolet for Team Penske.

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“It was really good to be able to run with a lot of people on track,” Pagenaud said. “I thought at the end it was almost like a race. Everybody was on track. So that was entertaining. It was a good way to see how the car was reacting.

“The trick part is that it’s so cold that every car feels good today, I think. Obviously we have a good idea on where our car is at, but you want to see what the competition is like, as well, and that’s why you saw me running a lot behind people and cycle back to the back to try to understand who was strong and how they were driving their cars.

“I think we’ve got a really good balance so far. I think we still need to find a little more front grip alone and in traffic, and I think we’ll be in really good shape. Then the trick part is going to be to find the right level of downforce for the race. Obviously, like I said, with the temperature changing, that’s a very relevant point that is very important to work on with the engineers.”

The track temperature Monday was 89 and the ambient was 60 degrees with a light breeze. Race Day is expected to be in the high-80s, creating a far different grip level on the race track.

“I actually think the hotter conditions will induce more passing,” Team Penske President Tim Cindric told NBC Sports. “That’s because the tires will degrade faster, and you will have more comers and goers in the race.”

The track conditions on Monday allowed good grip for the 34 car/driver combinations that hit the track. The reason for the extra car/driver combo was veteran Tony Kanaan ran laps in both his No. 14 Chevrolet and teammate Matheus Leist’s No. 4 Chevrolet.

“It was busy,” Kanaan said. “For us, it was productive. I had to drive both cars because we wanted to make a change that was going to be too big to do it between one car only, so I jumped in his car to get a feel for it. We’ll try to make a decision. We have a week -- five days to decide until we get to Carb Day. A pretty cool day. I wish it was like that in the race, but it’s not going to happen, so everything is going to change again.”

Pagenaud ran 88 laps, the equivalent of three full-tank runs of fuel. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second at 228.273 mph followed by Honda driver James Hinchcliffe’s 227.994 mph. Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was fourth at 227.951 mph and 100thIndianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi rounded out the top-five at 227.660 mph.

There were 2,469 laps turned in the two-hour practice. Takuma Sato, the 101stIndy 500 winner, ran the most laps with 98 in a Honda.