Photo: Colin J. Mayr/ASP, Inc.

O’Ward Tops Third Indy 500 Practice as Ericsson, Lundqvist Find Trouble

By Kirby Arnold, Special Contributor

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — Practice for the Indianapolis 500 was a mix of qualifying simulations, race setups and, of course, rain on Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

Pato O’Ward drove his Arrow McLaren Chevrolet to the fastest speed of the day at 228.861 mph, with Wednesday’s fast runner Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske second at 227.316 on the 2.5-mile track. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was third at 226.828. 

After two days of rain and little track time since practice began Tuesday, teams put in their heaviest workload of the week, many making simulated qualifying runs while others stayed in race setups. 

O’Ward and McLaughlin drove their best laps in traffic with the help of an aerodynamic tow, while Colton Herta of Andretti Global posted the fastest no-tow speed of 224.182. Teammate Kyle Kirkwood ran second on the no-tow list at 223.387. 

And then it rained. Again. 

Light rain fell with about an hour remaining in practice, wiping out what usually is a hectic time with cars running race setups in packs. The track was yellow for about 30 minutes before re-opening, with only a few cars making simulated qualifying runs before rain fell again just before the 6 o’clock. 

Cars will have extra turbo boost Friday in preparation for weekend qualifying, although the forecast for rain could limit much-needed time to set up for 100 extra horsepower that’s expected to increase lap speeds by about 10 mph. 

“We’re going to need to get a few runs in with the boost,” O’Ward said. “You saw guys today get super consistent four-lap runs. But (with extra boost) you’ll feel it. The car goes to a different dimension with the boost. It’s a very different car.” 

The Andretti cars ran qualifying sims early, with Herta and Kirkwood 1-2, Marco Andretti seventh and Marcus Ericsson eighth before a late-afternoon crash. 

Herta also was fourth on the overall speed chart at 226.828 and Andretti sixth at 226.554. 

Ericsson’s car wound up in pieces after a hard crash exiting Turn 4. He spun into the outside wall and nosed into the inside barrier before piling sideways into the attenuator that protects the end of the pit road wall on the main straight. 

Earlier, Linus Lundqvist of Chip Ganassi Racing crashed into the outside wall exiting Turn 2, slid down backstraight and kissed the inside wall. His earlier lap of 226.261 was seventh fastest of the day. 

Neither driver was hurt but both cars sustained heavy damage that could impact their preparation for this weekend’s qualifying. They the rest of practice and, if Friday is limited by rain, will thrash to get back to speed before qualifying. The Ganassi crew was repairing Lundqvist’s car while Ericsson will switch to a backup car. 

NASCAR star Kyle Larson, attempting “the double” by driving the Indy 500 and Coca Cola 600 on May 26, got a late start Thursday because of a morning engine change and drove only 29 laps in his Arrow McLaren Chevy. His best speed was 222.805, 25th fastest of the day. 

In the who-might-be-in-trouble department with 34 entries for the 33-car race, Sting Ray Robb of A.J. Foyt Racing ran only 14 laps and was slowest at 219.990. Nolan Siegel, a rookie with Dale Coyne Racing, was 33rd at 220.904 on the 71st of 72 laps he ran Thursday.  

Who’s a true candidate for the pole starting position and who’s in jeopardy of missing the race could become clearer Friday if rain doesn’t limit the session. O’Ward believes a few simulated runs are all he will need to be ready for qualifying. 

“I think everybody would like at least two outings,” he said. “The biggest thing (with extra boost) is there’s so much more speed that you’re carrying through the corner. That wall comes fast. Really fast.” 

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