By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
Expect the unexpected.
This year has seen a massive improvement from Honda as they have won five out of eight races and heading into a newly-reconfigured Texas Motor Speedway, the Verizon IndyCar Series had no idea what to expect into Saturday’s Rainguard Water Sealers 600.
Well, looking at the practice and qualifying recaps, it was a complete tossup until final practice.
In the first practice session, Honda had the top six times as Scott Dixon led Charlie Kimball, Alexander Rossi, Graham Rahal, Marco Andretti and Takuma Sato. Ed Carpenter and Will Power were the standard bearers for Chevrolet.
The more surprising thing was that less than eight tenths of a second covered the entire field. What unfortunately wasn’t surprising was seeing an A.J. Foyt Racing car at the bottom of the timesheet as Conor Daly was 22nd with teammate Carlos Munoz in 18th.
Qualifying was more of the same with Honda taking up the first eight positions on the grid as Kimball led Dixon, Rossi, Tony Kanaan, a surprising Tristan Vautier, Max Chilton, Mikhail Aleshin and Sato.
Vautier was drafted in by Dale Coyne Racing to replace a replacement. The team’s full time driver in that car, Sebastien Bourdais, had a massive incident in Indianapolis 500 qualifying that has sidelined him. The Frenchman’s replacement at Detroit, Esteban Gutierrez, was not cleared by INDYCAR to run at Texas because he had never tested on an oval before, prompting another Frenchman to join the team.
The 2012 Indy Lights champion’s fifth place effort was all the more remarkable in that his lap times were only three ten-thousandths of a second apart. Even more remarkable, Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 13th place effort was only two ten-thousandths of a second apart from lap to lap.
Power and Team Penske teammate Helio Castroneves were the fastest Chevrolets in qualifying in ninth and tenth.
The final practice session threw a wrench into what was expected to be an all-Honda dominated top five. Carpenter managed to set the fastest lap of the session at 224.682 mph while Dixon and Rossi followed in second and third respectively. Carpenter’s teammate J.R. Hildebrand was fourth ahead of Team Penske duo Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves.
Ed Jones and Vautier were seventh and eighth respectively for Dale Coyne Racing and what’s surprising is that the two drivers were only two ten-thousandths of a second apart on their fastest laps.
Kimball was only 13th fastest in final practice while Hildebrand showed the biggest improvement from qualifying to final practice after only qualifying 18th.
Live coverage begins tonight at 8:00 ET on NBCSN and at racecontrol.indycar.com.