Full-field Indianapolis 500 practice yields some interesting possibilities for race day
INDIANAPOLIS – Team Penske driver and 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power said he never has raced closer behind another car at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
That is why he expects Sunday’s 107th Indianapolis 500 to be tighter and closer than ever.
“Oh, it’s going to be easy to pass, not in the pack but at the front, because you’ve added downforce,” Power told NBC Sports after Monday’s two-hour practice. “You actually haven’t added much drag. The cars are about the same speed because they’re very efficient, aero bits or strakes and some floor stuff, so it’s not big draggy wicker on the wing or anything. It’s the closest I’ve ever been able to run to a car at this place without an issue.
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“I think, yeah, the front three will race pretty hard. It would be ridiculous to have enough downforce for everyone to pass, but the one thing there is, is there’s tire deg, so I think that will create good racing in the pack.”
Power was the fastest driver in Monday’s two-hour, full-field practice session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the best lap of the day, 229.222 mph around the 2.5-mile oval. The driver of the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet ran 88 laps.
Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was second at 229.184 mph in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. He is the 2008 Indianapolis 500 winner.
Dixon ran a total of 67 laps.
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato was third at 228.382 mph in the No. 11 Deloitte Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. He lapped the track 58 times. His teammate, 2023 Indy 500 pole-sitter and 2021 IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou, was fourth at 227.392 mph. He ran 53 laps.
Arrow McLaren Racing driver and 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan rounded out the top five at 227.094 mph in the No. 66 Chevrolet.
Christian Lundgaard of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ran 90 laps, the most of any driver on Monday. He was 17th fastest in race trim.
PRACTICE SPEEDS: Monday’s session l Combined
The full field completed 2,005 laps in the two-hour session that was halted for about 20 minutes after Katherine Legge and Stefan Wilson had the first crash of this year’s Indianapolis 500 preliminaries.
Wilson was taken to IU Health Methodist Hospital and ruled out of the race with a fractured vertebrae. Legge was treated and released from the IU Health Infield Hospital at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Power used Monday’s test session as a simulation of Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 to see what his Team Penske Chevrolet is capable of doing in the race.
“We learned a lot, actually,” he said. “We’ve been having vibration problems. I think we got somewhat on top of that, ran at the front, ran in the middle, ran in the back. I think the car is pretty good.
“I think we’re in a good spot, really good spot.
“I think Chevy has a bit of an advantage on the power, as well. I feel like we have good horsepower, and I think we’re in good shape. A lot of people who are extremely good, a lot of teams.
“It’s almost going to be a day of no mistakes in the pits and just keeping out of trouble on track to give yourself a shot at the end.
“The package I have, you can run on the gearbox.”
Power starts 12th in Sunday’s 107th Indy 500 and is the only Team Penske driver that made Sunday’s “Fast 12” in qualifications. Teammates Scott McLaughlin starts 14th and Josef Newgarden 17th.
Power is the only driver at Team Penske that has won the Indy 500.
Because Power is starting 12th, he positioned himself in that position during Monday’s runs to see how the car will handle being that far back in the opening laps of the race.
“You try to be about 12 cars back, knowing where you’re starting, hoping that you maintain or maybe go forward a bit,” Power explained. “You just sit behind a car leading to kind of see where you can run and where the air is, so you spend a few laps behind someone.
“Just finding where the wake is good and bad.”
With 30 of the 33 cars in the starting lineup all over 230 miles per hour in qualifications, the boost level drops back to the normal settings from qualification weekend. But Power expects the actual race pace to be extremely tight, especially with the changed IndyCar has made to the aerodynamic package for this year’s race.
The cars now have more lower downforce and more drag, which allows the cars to run closer together and potentially make passing a car in front easier.
“You’ve got to be on your toes always,” Power said. “You can never relax. It’s so fast. It’s so easy to get a push-off, so easy to sort of clip a wall. Someone has a mistake in front of you, it’s just a fast place. It’s really -- everything happens extremely quick.
“It’s actually a really good package. That’s why no one has really crashed, which means it’ll be a very fierce race. I think it’ll be very tight. Maybe there’s more accidents in the race.
“IndyCar, they want to switch and back, no one leading; that’s what it is. It’s going to be a good battle.
“I think it makes for better racing. It needed some deg. Yeah, a good hot day, I think it’ll be a good race. Colder day would be pretty tight.”
Marco Andretti starts his 18th Indianapolis 500 in 24th position. He was seventh in Monday’s final practice session and explained the dramatic difference between the way his car felt in qualifications and in the race setup.
“Well, qualifying is mostly just speed and how fast your car is going to go,” Andretti said. “The race is running in traffic. It’s a different beast.
“My car goes when it’s behind other cars, but when nobody is there to tow me in qualifying, we’re slow. It’s comfortable and we can run a lot of throttle in race situations.
“Yeah, I guess if I had to pick, I’d rather have a race car than a qualifying car. However, it’s become more of a track position race in the past five years.
“I think we’re pretty good, actually. Third year in a row with no track position, but I think if it’s able to materialize with strategy and stuff like that, I think we have a car to stay there.
“Yeah, it’s pretty tough to pass three or four back. I’m sure there’s been a theme. I’m not sure what is actually causing that, but I think to be honest, the new aero rules just allow that snake to be even closer, so when you get the runs on people, you pop into clean air and drag, and the car you’re trying to pass has a 20-car draft, so he beats you to the corner. So, it makes it very tough to pass.
“I think adding the downforce made that snake on the straightaway that you see even closer.
“It makes it pretty difficult to make hay, but it is 500 miles, and we’ve seen this race end up crazy. We’re ready to fight. We have a car to fight.”
There is no track activity for the next three days. The next time the Indy cars are on track is the last time they hit the Speedway before Sunday’s race. That is the final two-hour practice session on Carb Day.
“I hate Carb Day, man,” Andretti said. “I think it’s fun for the fans. That’s about it. Carb Day you always seem to just question everything, all the work you’ve done for months.
“I like to use it as like a reaffirmation of being decent. I don’t like really chasing the track. I don’t like changing things on Carb Day because I don’t know, you always end up chasing your tail.”