Action Is Speeding Up In Practice At Indianapolis

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 13 2014

Ryan Hunter-Reay kicked up the pace at Indianapolis on Monday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay raised the speed ante by nearly 2 mph Monday during the second day of practice for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500, as Honda V6 power replaced Chevrolet’s twin-turbo at the top of the speed chart.

Hunter-Reay’s fast lap of 39.9955-seconds around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval translated to 225.025 mph. With tow, that was a full 1.968 mph faster than Will Power’s hottest lap of 40.3485-seconds/223.057 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet during Opening Day practice on Sunday.

“We got a lot of work done today, a lot for what we need for the race weekend,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and driver of the No. 28 DHL Dallara/Honda. “It’s nice leading practice. It’s a nice little consolation prize. I wish it paid! I was out there pushing like it was paying.”

Marco Andretti, RHR’s teammate, set the standard early during the six-hour session with a lap at 224.037 mph in the No. 25 Snapple Dallara/Honda before Hunter-Reay recorded his fast lap with a tow in the final 15 minutes. For the second consecutive day, all five Andretti Autosport drivers entered for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 25 took turns touring the oval in packs with a purpose.

“It was fun with my teammates,” said Hunter-Reay, who logged 113 laps. “That’s the great thing about Andretti Autosport _ we have five quick cars and we can all run together, just getting a feel for downforce levels and race (simulation); really, race-simulation running. We got through a lot of work, and it’s only Monday.”

Ambient temperature was 78 degrees when practice opened under mostly cloudy skies. Track temperature was 97 degrees, according to Firestone engineers. Drivers and teams made use of every minute of track time, recording more than three times as many laps as Opening Day.

Five of 30 drivers participating topped 100 laps _ half the race distance _ including reigning Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan with a session-high 131 laps. Drivers turned 2,296 laps Monday and 3,027 for the two days. There were 10 cautions for a total of 1 hour, 37 minutes and 31 seconds Monday.

Of the 33 official car/driver entries, only the cars for rookie Sebastian Saavedra _ which was involved in a crash at the start of Saturday’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis at IMS _ James Davison and 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier have yet to record a practice lap.

“We got to get going a little bit today,” said Andretti, who completed 88 laps in the No. 25 Snapple Dallara/Honda. “We only did like a shakedown run and a pretty conservative (engine) map Sunday. Things are feeling pretty good, but as Ryan said it’s still very early. We could have a fantastic car tomorrow, roll that same car and it’s totally different, so we’re prepared for that. Hopefully we can just keep up with the track and make the right moves at the right time.”

Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves (223.635 mph) was third on the chart after running 96 laps in his No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Platinum Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by Team Penske.

“I feel that the weather is the biggest contribution here,” said Castroneves, who presented team-owner Roger Penske his record 15th and most recent Indy 500 victory in 2009. “Sounds like tomorrow and Wednesday and even Thursday possible rains. So yeah, exactly that’s why you want to take a chance with the hot weather conditions for the race. Plus we’re going to put more pressure on the turbo so the speed is going to go up.

“Right now I’m very happy with our car. It’s not only pretty, it’s looking good. I think everybody is getting draft so that they understand what their car is doing in traffic. But at this point, the name of the game is the same for everyone. We’re just trying to put some mileage, especially on the engine and go for it.”

Justin Wilson (223.611 mph) was fourth in the No. 19 Dallara/Honda and 2000 Indy 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya (223.395 mph) was fifth in the No. 2 Verizon Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by Team Penske.

Kanaan, meanwhile was 11th on the speed chart in the silver No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. “We definitely put a full day in with the Target car _ well over 100 laps around Indy,” Kanaan said. “Lots and lots of running out there. Today is only the first day of testing the primary car for the race, so we went through a laundry list of items we’ve been wanting to run. Overall it was a good day of learning for us.”

Russian-born Mikhail Aleshin was the fastest rookie and seventh overall at 223.120 mph, with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular and Indy 500 rookie Kurt Busch ninth on the chart at 222.770 mph after completing 95 laps. Busch will attempt to complete “The Double” on May 25 beginning with the Indy 500 and finishing his day in the 600-mile stock car event at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“Today felt amazing out on track,” said Aleshin, driver of the No. 7 SPM Racing Dallara/Honda. “We had a little bit of rain throughout the day, but we got a lot of laps in. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has prepared a very fast car. We plan on using the car’s potential to try a few different things on set-up, but we’re off to a great start.

“I’ve only been on the oval for two days at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but I can already tell that this is a very tricky place. There are so many different things you need to learn. When you think everything looks good and you get comfortable, that’s when you could get in trouble. Above all, this track demands respect.”

Meanwhile, SPM’s Jacques Villeneuve _ the 1995 Indy 500 and CART champion _ continued to acquaint himself with the No. 5 Dallara/Honda in his return to the Speedway.

“I’m quite happy with how much the team has improved the feeling of the car from Sunday,” said Villeneuve, who completed 70 laps with a top speed of 221.101 mph. “We didn’t get to run in the big group of cars at the very end of the day, but I did get to run with my teammates a bit. Ticking off laps on this track by yourself is one thing, but it’s a whole different animal when you’re out there racing others. Tomorrow we’ll concentrate more on running with the pack.”

Villeneuve’s Indy 500 record is short but solid. The Canadian started fourth and finished second as Indy 500 Rookie of the Year in 1994. Villeneuve started fifth and won the Indy 500 in 1995 before heading off to a successful Formula One career highlighted by the World Driving Championship in 1997 for Sir Frank Williams.

Practice is scheduled to resume Tuesday from noon to 6 p.m. (ET). Time trials will begin Saturday at 11 a.m. and conclude Sunday with Fast 9 Qualifying beginning at 2 p.m. ABC -TV will air live coverage of qualifying from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and from 1 to 3 p.m. on Sunday.

Iconic car-builder A.J. Watson, a four-time Indianapolis 500-winning chief mechanic whose name is synonymous with the front-engine Roadster, died Monday morning at his home.

Watson, who turned 90 on May 8, recorded four Indy 500 wins as chief mechanic _ with Bob Sweikert (1955), Pat Flaherty (1956) and Rodger Ward (1959 and 1962). Watson also celebrated six Months of May as the winning car constructor _ 1956, 1959 and 1962 as well as 1960 with Jim Rathmann, 1963 with Parnelli Jones and 1964 with A. J. Foyt Jr.

“I was very good friends with A.J. Watson and his wife Joyce,” said Foyt, first four-time winner of the Indy 500 and current IndyCar Series team-owner. “He picked me up to drive his Sprint Car years back. We worked right there at his house, took the 220 Offy and built the Chevrolet. He was a pioneer. He came out against Kurtis and built the Watson Roadster and I was lucky enough to win with it.

“In his day right here at the Indy 500, there was nobody that was going to beat the three W’s _ Watson, Wilke and Ward. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. I’m just glad I was able to go see him on his 90th birthday. We did talk about old times. He had a picture of me and him with his Sprint Car on the wall and I teased him: ‘A.J. were we ever that young?’ He said, ‘It’s hard to believe, isn’t it?’^”

Foyt drove and won with Watson-designed and built front-engine Roadsters throughout the 1960s. Eleven of his career 67 victories were scored in either Watson or Watson/Trevis Roadsters, including his first two Indy 500s (1961 and 1964). Foyt also drove Watson’s Sprint Car in 1960, winning the U.S. Auto Club Eastern Division title that year. Foyt continued to drive Watson’s Sprint Car off and on through 1968, winning his final race for Watson at Ascot Park in Gardena, Calif., in 1967.

“A.J. Watson was one of the most innovative and successful mechanics and car-builders in the 105-year history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” said Doug Boles, IMS president. “The Watson Roadster that was so prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s remains one of the most iconic racing cars ever constructed.

“The thoughts and prayers of the entire Indianapolis Motor Speedway organization are with the Watson family and the many friends and fans of A.J. Watson, who will always remember him for his passion for racing and his friendly and approachable personality.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 13 2014
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