Indy Girds For Fast Friday

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 18 2012

Fast Friday is at hand in Indianapolis. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

A change in turbocharger boost pressure promises to increase speeds, engineering data and perhaps anxiety levels for IZOD IndyCar Series teams during Fast Friday practice today at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Setup data collected during six days/35 hours of practice this week for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27 largely will be shelved as teams prepare for Saturday’s Pole Day qualifications, featuring the top-nine shootout, beginning at noon (EDT). The annual Pole Day qualifying draw will be conducted at 6:15 p.m. Friday.

Sanctioning body INDYCAR approved an increase in the turbocharger boost level from 130 kPa (kilopascals) to 140 kPa for Fast Friday and this weekend’s time trials. The increase will add 40-to-50 horsepower to the 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 engines supplied by Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus, resulting in an increase of four-to-five mph per lap. Final race practice will be on Carb Day, Friday, May 25th. The boost level will be returned to 130 kPa for the 200-lap race.

Third-generation star Marco Andretti owns the fastest speed of the month after touring the 2.5-mile oval in 40.2367-seconds and 223.676 mph Wednesday in the No. 26 RC Cola Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by Andretti Autosport.

Scott Dixon, 2008 winner of the Indy 500, clocked Thursday’s fastest lap at 40.3428-seconds at 223.088 mph – second-fastest of month – in his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda. Rookie Josef Newgarden, quickest during three of the first five days of practice, was second on the speed chart at 40.1115-seconds/222.709 mph in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman/Dollar General Dallara/Honda.

“I think we’ve taken this week a little slower,” said Dixon, who qualified on-pole in 2008. “We didn’t

Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti practice at Indy. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

have the speed; these speeds are all big tows, so it doesn’t really matter much. For us, we’re just working on the race car and I think we’ve made big improvements on how it feels. For me, I feel happy because we made the car feel a lot nicer to drive, and especially in traffic it pulls up better, I think. Friday and Saturday are going to be totally different stories to see who’s got what out there by themselves, so that will be interesting.”

Second-generation driver Graham Rahal jumped to third late in the session with a month-best speed of 222.080 mph in the No. 38 Service Central Dallara/Honda. Meanwhile IndyCar championship points-leader Will Power of Team Penske was fourth at 221.932 mph in his No. 12 Verizon Dallara/Chevrolet. Justin Wilson was fifth at 221.715 mph in his No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Dallara/Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing.

Team engineers figure to spend a busier-than-normal day sorting through data generated by the increased turbo boost. Ben Bretzman, lead engineer on Simon Pagenaud’s No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Dallara/Honda, said he is relying on input from Honda and computer simulations to prepare for the increased horsepower.

“The biggest thing honestly will be gearing,” Bretzman said. “We’re going to go quite a bit faster, so we’re going to need to make sure we have the gears right. Unfortunately, we’re not going to have a lot of running on it. It’s up to simulations and what information Honda can give us on how fast they think we might go based on just general power. We have to gear the car correctly for that.”

Bretzman said the increase in horsepower definitely will affect car setup. “From a chassis standpoint, it’s a bit of an unknown,” Bretzman said. “It will get a little bit more load in the corner because you’ll be going faster, so you might need to adjust the platform. But in general, we’ll just need to make sure we are geared right.”

In preparation for qualifying on Saturday, the HP crew spent Thursday tearing down and rebuilding the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports car. Pagenaud did not participate in the six-hour practice. Teammate Townsend Bell did practice, posting a best lap of 41.1846-seconds at 218.528 mph in the No. 99 BraunAbility/Schmidt Pelfrey Motorsports Dallara/Honda.

“Well, we expect it to be faster (Friday), and we’ll be disappointed if it’s not,” said Bell, who was 24th on Thursday’s chart. “Other than that, I think the engineers have a reasonable projection on what to expect, and I’m optimistic that we’re sitting well-placed to handle it. The chance to go qualify as fast as you think the car can go at Indianapolis is what it’s all about. I don’t think we’ll be flirting with any track records just yet, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. Speed is what our sport is all about.”

Thirty-seven cars are at the Speedway, with 33 having passed technical inspection. Thirty-three drivers have been on-track to-date, turning 1,506 laps Thursday and 7,770 laps since Saturday. Michel Jourdain Jr., driver of the No. 30 Office Depot/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Dallara/Honda, turned 92 laps, most of any driver. Jourdain’s speed of 219.152 mph was 21st on the chart. There were three cautions for a total of 22 minutes.

Dragon Racing drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge logged their first laps with Chevrolet V-6 power after INDYCAR approved the team’s switch from the struggling Lotus program. Legge completed two phases of the three-part Rookie Orientation Program, which will allow her to practice in traffic on Fast Friday.

“It’s unbelievably satisfying (to get through two phases of ROP),” said Legge, driver of the No. 6 TrueCar-Dragon Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. “This morning, we had a small issue with the car but we were still able to complete the first phase. The team has done a great job. They are all really tired and they worked really hard to put the engine in and get all the bits on to get us out. So it’s thanks to them that we were able to do what we did today. And also Sebastien. He shook-down the car and made sure everything was fixed from this morning. I can go home now very happy.”

Bourdais, a four-time Champ Car World Series champion and Formula One veteran, was 25th quickest on Thursday’s chart with a week-long best speed of 214.715 mph.

“It’s great to be back, but if you had asked me that this morning, I would have had a different answer,” said Bourdais, driver of the No. 7 Dragon Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. “We had something that completely messed the car up and it made for the toughest car that I’ve ever driven. We struggled to run 209 and I wasn’t really comfortable at all. I’m just glad we found the reason and now we are good-to-go. The car is easy to drive and has a good balance. We can drive flat-out and not even think about it, which is what you want around here. Pretty happy with that.”

Bourdais said he will continue to lean on engineer Neil Fife as the team continues its engine transition.

“Neil has a lot of experience and the setup was spot-on,” Bourdais said. “Once we found the problem, the car was spot-on. By Lap 3 we were flat and I was happy with that. We still have a lot of downforce, but the balance was back and everything is all right. (Friday) will be a different deal with the increased boost level; I can’t say we feel ready for anything right now but we have a good baseline, and we won’t worry too much about qualifying setup. We’ll just do as much running as we can, get some data work on the car and traffic and go from there.”

Indianapolis 500 veteran Vitor Meira has been on foot patrol in Gasoline Alley the last two days in hope of landing a seat in this year’s race. A 10-time Indianapolis 500 starter, Meira finished second at IMS in 2005 and 2008.

“I’m trying to get back into a car. A good car,” said Meira, a native of Brazil who started 11th and finished 14th in last year’s Indy 500 driving the No. 14 ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing entry. “I respect this place too much to come here and just drive around. We’re trying to put together a program, even as late as it seems, but it has to be the right car so that it’s a bit less hectic. I’m waiting and we’ll see what happens.”

Rob Weissert of Indianapolis was the honorary starter Thursday. Weissert is attending the Indianapolis 500 for the 48th time. He is the grandson of Homer Cochran, who was instrumental in introducing Tony Hulman to Wilbur Shaw when Eddie Rickenbacker was selling the shuttered Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1945.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 18 2012
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