Andretti Cars Setting The Pace At Indianapolis

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 15 2013

James Hinchcliffe was atop the speed charts at Indy this week. (INDYCAR/LAT USA file photo)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Ambient temperatures that inched into the 80s Tuesday were a welcomed respite for IZOD IndyCar Series teams testing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But the results at the top of the time sheet remained the same as Andretti Autosport continued to dominate preparations for the 97th Indianapolis 500 on May 26.

Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe posted the top speed of Day 4 at 224.210 mph (40.1410-seconds), but did so in Marco Andretti’s No. 25 RC Cola Dallara/Chevrolet as the teammates swapped cars and notes.

A two-time race-winner this season, Hinchcliffe logged 26 laps in No. 25 entry, while Andretti recorded 22 laps in Hinchcliffe’s No. 27 GoDaddy.com Dallara/Chevy.

“I guess we’re good at playing ‘tow wars.’ It is what it is,” Hinchcliffe said. “Every day you get guys going out there and getting a little bit of (a tow). “So, now I’m a little nervous because Marco’s angry not only did I like rock the big tow – which he is famous for – I did it in his car. Marco ‘Towdretti’ is a little upset with me right now. No, obviously it’s going to be up there, but at the end of the day those numbers don’t mean a lot right now. It’s about the work you do on the race car and making sure that you’re going to be good not over one lap, but over 200 in a couple of weeks.”

Back in his own car, Andretti was third-quick overall at 40.2558-seconds/223.570 mph. A day earlier, he posted the top speed at 225.100 mph. “I’m quite pleased with how things are going for us so far,” said Andretti, allaying Hinchcliffe’s fears. “Working with the car in the heat of the day can be challenging, but we made a lot of progress to get where we are. Everyone is getting faster out there, so I have to stay on my toes to stay ahead of the curve. We’ll look at different setups with the car and hopefully find more speed by race day.”

JR Hildebrand was second-fast in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Dallara/Chevy at 40.2411- seconds/223.652 mph – second consecutive day he’s been in the top-five under divergent weather/track conditions. Track temperature at the start of practice at noon Tuesday was 99 degrees, according to Firestone Racing engineers.

“With the qualifying situation and the added boost for Friday and Saturday, you see a lot of ‘race running’ these first few days,” Hildebrand said. “Besides trying to make the No. 4 National Guard car better and head into Thursday and Friday with some idea of what’s going to happen when you qualify, we spent the entire day running around in some form of traffic. We weren’t trying to put big laps up. We’re trying to understand how the car works behind one car, two cars, three cars, four cars, different speed of cars.

“It was nice at the end of the day to join the Andretti tow battle that was going on. You want to figure out how your car is going to work with other cars that you might be able to race with. That’s where the speed comes from, and that’s where the focus is going to be today and tomorrow.”

Also among the top-five again was three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves, who posted a best lap of 40.2584-seconds/223.556 mph in the No. 3 Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske Dallara/Chevy. Reigning IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay was fifth at 40.2987-seconds/223.332 in the No. 1 DHL Dallara/Chevy for team-owner Michael Andretti.

Saturday’s Pole Day qualifications will lock-in the first 24 positions in the traditional 33-car field.

Conor Daly completed Phase 3 of the Rookie Orientation Program during the final minutes of practice Monday. He had finished the first two required phases Monday morning. Daly missed ROP on Saturday and Sunday because he was competing in GP3 races in Barcelona, Spain.

“Today was good. We upped our personal-best speed,” said Daly, driver of the No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Dallara/Honda fielded by A.J. Foyt Racing. “We also made some setup changes so that I could feel what it did to the car. At the end, I got to run with Bia (Ana Beatriz) and feel what that was like to run close to a car. Slowly but surely gaining experience.”

All four rookies assigned to cars this month – Daly, AJ Allmendinger of Team Penske, Carlos Munoz of Andretti Autosport and reigning Firestone Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports – have completed ROP. Kurt Busch, the 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, also completed ROP on Thursday, May 9.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammates James Jakes, Michel Jourdain Jr. and Graham Rahal spent Tuesday logging laps in their backup Honda-powered Dallaras _ and purposely at the back end of the speed chart.

Jakes was 29th fastest at 219.191 mph in his No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts entry, with Jourdain Jr. 32nd at 217.118 mph in his No. 17 Office Depot car. Rahal, meanwhile, posted a top speed of 216.633 mph that was 33rd. But Jakes and Rahal will move into their primary cars for Wednesday’s six-hour practice.

“Everything went to plan today,” said Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Midas/Big O Tires entry. “Our focus was just to mileage this engine out and move on. I’m proud of the guys at Honda that we made it there without issue. We’re focused on tomorrow now to see what we get. We’re going to shake down the new car with a new engine in it. It might be a whole different beast.”

Thirty-two drivers were on-track Tuesday. The lone driver not running was 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier, who has not turned any laps this month in his No. 91 entry. A total of 42 cars are at the Speedway, with 41 passing technical inspection. The 32 drivers turned 2,226 laps Tuesday and 5,235 laps this month. E.J. Viso recorded 134 laps Tuesday, most of any driver. There were five caution periods for a total of 43 minutes.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 15 2013
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