INDIANAPOLIS – Two things were evident following completion of the third practice day for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge: Ed Carpenter Racing’s cars look solid and Fernando Alonso is in dire need of track time.
Ed Jones posted the fastest overall lap of 227.843 mph in Thursday’s practice cut short 90 minutes by thunderstorms and lightning. The driver of the No. 63 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet also had the best lap while running on his own, a lap of 225.274 mph as ECR’s drivers swept the top three spots in the “no-tow” lap category.
“It was a great day!” Jones said. “To be quickest in overall and no-tow is a goal. More importantly, I think we made more gains with the handling of the car. As the conditions have changed, we’ve been able to keep up. We just have to keep adapting to the track changes for tomorrow and for qualifying.”
Meanwhile, Alonso – returning to the Indianapolis 500 this year in search of a victory to complete the final leg of racing’s Triple Crown – never made it on the track Thursday as his McLaren Racing team spent the day preparing a backup car after the two-time Formula 1 champion crashed his primary No. 66 Chevrolet in practice the day before.
Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indianapolis 500 winner who now serves as sporting director at McLaren, said the team is not rushing to get the backup car ready, preparations that included an engine change when the powerplant in the primary car was found to be damaged in Wednesday’s incident.
“While we have a number of experienced individuals in the team, we are still relatively new as a crew,” de Ferran said. “Because of this and the fact that we have deep respect for Indianapolis, we are being careful and measured in our approach and want to ensure we’re sending the best possible car out on track.
“Not running today was a serious setback to our Indy 500 program, but all is not lost. We should have a full day of practice and preparations for qualifying tomorrow and our goal will be to have a nice, clean day.”
Jones, who finished third in the Indianapolis 500 two years ago as a rookie, is paired with team owner/driver Ed Carpenter and full-season driver Spencer Pigot in a three-car Indy 500 attack for the team. Carpenter was second (224.959 mph) on the no-tow list – designated as such because it comes without the aerodynamic tow from a car ahead on track by 10 seconds or less – while Pigot was third (224.857 mph).
The no-tow list provides a good representation of how cars may perform in Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying this weekend, when they’ll be on track alone for four-lap qualifications runs to determine the 33-car field.
“All things considered, I think all three drivers on the team feel pretty encouraged, and we are looking forward to the power turning up tomorrow in the Chevy engine and seeing what we can get out of the cars,” said team owner Carpenter, a three-time Indy 500 pole sitter who finished second in last year’s race.
Takuma Sato was second on the overall lap speed chart at 226.699 mph in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver was eighth on the no-tow chart at 224.428 mph.
“I’d say it was a very productive day despite a little issue in the car and the weather,” said Sato, winner of the 2017 Indy 500. “We’ve done a qualifying simulation and worked on the race setup. We found several positives and I’m pretty happy with that. We are quite satisfied with how today went.”
There was one single-car incident on Thursday. Rookie Patricio O’Ward lost control of the No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet and spun into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier. The 2018 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion was uninjured, but the car sustained heavy damage and he did not return on track.
Speeds are expected to increase in Friday’s practice – dubbed “Fast Friday” – when INDYCAR allows an extra 1,000 millibars of engine turbocharger boost that equates to about 50 additional horsepower. The practice streams live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. ET.
Qualifying is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday to set the 33-car field from the 36 entries. The first 30 spots will be locked in Saturday between 11 a.m. and 5:50 p.m. INDYCAR Pass streams the action from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., with NBCSN taking over coverage of the dramatic final hour.
Sunday qualifying features the Last Row Shootout to determine the final three qualifiers, followed by the Fast Nine Shootout to decide the prestigious Indy 500 pole sitter and starting order of the first three rows for the race. Second-day qualifying airs live on NBC from noon-3 p.m., with NBCSN picking up coverage from 3-6 p.m. that includes a practice for the 33 qualifiers in race-like conditions.
Coverage of the 103rd Indianapolis 500 begins at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 26 on NBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.