By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – The sounds of opening day can certainly bring smiles on everyone’s faces. After last year not having any fans in attendance, it sure felt like an Indianapolis 500 was genuinely upon us. Through the weather delays, chilly and windy conditions, and cars roaring around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Tuesday brought plenty of excitement.
Unlike the rest of the week, practice commenced at 10 a.m. ET with all four Team Penske entries hitting the 2.5-mile oval to set the first full lap. Perhaps it was a neat little photo op, symbolizing the start of another unique month ahead. Few cars would run shortly thereafter before the weather began to play a role throughout the day.
30 minutes in, the caution came out for moisture on the track. It was minimal delay and the session would resume less than 15 minutes later.
Max Chilton had a bizarre moment on the track when his air hose disconnected, forcing INDYCAR Race Control to throw the black flag. This was the British racer’s first Month of May appearance after being unable to compete in last Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix.
Moisture would kick in once again before reaching the top of the hour. Takuma Sato was quickest at that point, running his best speed of 220.007 mph. Sato would end up 20th overall when the two-hour window was over. As for no-tow, Marcus Ericsson’s 217.953 mph led the category.
Aside from one last brief moisture in the closing minutes, the session went drama free. Sato’s teammate Graham Rahal topped this portion of the session at 223.449 mph.
For no-tow, it was Ed Carpenter’s 218.760 mph being quickest. The three-time Indy 500 pole sitter was 22nd quickest overall out of the 29 who officially set times. Charlie Kimball, Dalton Kellett and Jack Harvey (engine change) were the only ones who didn’t ran a lap in the two-hour session.
ROP & Refreshers
Three drivers would partake in the Rookie Orientation & Refresher sessions. Those being JR Hildebrand, Stefan Wilson and RC Enerson, neither of whom had partaken in last month’s session. For Enerson’s Top Gun Racing, they arrived at IMS the day before as they can finally say they’re out to compete in IndyCar.
That session wouldn’t get going until 2:05 p.m. due to a series of track drying. In spite of the lengthy delay, the trio got their two hours worth of track time. It meant less track time for the rest of the field as the cutoff time was the traditional 6 p.m. ET.
There was a bit of a hairy moment with 66 minutes remaining. Enerson nearly had an introduction with the Turn 3 wall, but was able to stay away from it and soldiered on.
Several minutes later, lot of grease appeared at the back end of his No. 75 Chevrolet. It was a huge concern because it came from the half shaft seal and impacted his afternoon. Therefore, repairs had to be made at Gasoline Alley and ended the session with 27 laps and 212.982 mph being his peak.
Enerson was halfway done with Phase 2 until he ran over some debris in Turn 2. He had six laps left in his phase, requiring him to run 210-215 mph. After getting out of his car, Enerson spoke with his crew but there wasn’t really much concerns.
At the same time, a bit relieved to have pitted when the issue rose. Even if it meant their day was over.
“I wish I could’ve done more laps, but I really didn’t felt anything,” said Enerson. “We’ll have to get that issue fix and hope to get back out a little bit later.”
Barring any weather, Enerson can complete his ROP (Rookie Orientation Program) tomorrow at 11 a.m. ET. If that doesn’t work out, he’ll have to wait until the end of Wednesday to get approved for full-track action.
While one racer had a series of episodes, another one showed promise once allowed to go full speed. Hildebrand ended the session running 42 laps with a personal best speed of 218.298 mph. For Wilson, he ran the most laps at 45 with 215.882 mph being his top speed.
The series of moisture delays cut the three-hour open session down less than two hours. It was such a frenzy as drivers and crews were trying to make some passes and find what works performance wise. As the skies began getting dark, the anticipation level built up.
Conor Daly became the first man to hit the 225 mph club after going 225.287 mph within the first 40 minutes of the session. Daly ended up fifth quickest (225.640 mph) when the session wrapped up, but he topped one leaderboard. He led the trap speed at start/finish with an astonishing 239.400 mph, nearly two miles per hour quicker than Ryan Hunter-Reay.
While Daly had a hot rocket, Sebastien Bourdais’ ROKiT machine literally was hot on the back end, warranting a caution. Bourdais brought it to pit road as the AJ Foyt Racing crew extinguished the fire and it was game over.
Fortunately, it wasn’t an engine issue, so they’ll save themselves a tremendous burden. Either way, not what the four-time series champion needed to start his bid for that elusive Indy win.
“The engine was running fine and the turbo was as well. It’s probably a clamper,” said Bourdais. “Probably burnt a bunch of stuff, but I don’t think we’ll need (an engine change).”
Business really began picking up during happy hour as the trio of Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato hit the 226 club. Power led the way at 226.470 mph when practice came down to its final 20 minutes. The outcome will stay put with Power setting the official tone at Indianapolis. Carpenter led the no-tow parade at 219.163 mph with Scott Dixon (219.144 mph) and teammate Daly (219.024 mph) rounding out the top-three.
Thoughts from Will Power
What was the main driving force for Will Power this afternoon?
“Big tow. It was simple as that,” said Power during the post-practice conference. “I was trying to catch that train, but in-traffic I felt pretty good.
“You’re running with two or three cars in front felt more comfortable than I have for awhile. That was promising. Cool conditions can make everything feel pretty good. When the heat comes, it’ll certainly change everything and become harder to follow.”
For fans that want to see intense competition next Sunday, Power added that the additional downforce should bring a familiar style of racing.
“Adding that downforce will help the racing,” Power commented. “Have one of the old style of races where the front three are swapping positions constantly. You can follow so close now and it’s good for the fans. They needed that after last year’s race. Makes it much better in traffic and it feels pretty good.”