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‘Magic” Speed Takes A Beating At Indianapolis

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 16 2015
Simon Pagenaud topped the speed charts on Fast Friday at Indy.

Simon Pagenaud topped the speed charts on Fast Friday at Indy.

Led by Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, six drivers cranked-out laps in excess of the magic 230 mph barrier during “Fast Friday” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a prelude to qualifying for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Pagenaud’s lap of 230.698 mph – fastest of the Month of May – was posted during the final half-hour of Friday’s six-hour practice around the 2.5-mile IMS oval. Speeds have been up in practice this week from a year ago primarily because of new aerodynamic bodywork kits developed by Verizon IndyCar Series manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda. Also, sanctioning body INDYCAR granted additional engine turbocharger boost to the manufacturers Friday through this weekend that will yield approximately 40 added horsepower and faster speeds.

Pagenaud, who is in his first season with Team Penske, emerged with Thursday’s top speed of 228.793 mph in his No. 22 Avaya Team Penske Chevrolet and raised his own bar Friday.

“The conditions were difficult,” said Pagenaud, who earned $10,000 and the F.E. Harding Fastest Lap Award for topping the “Fast Friday” chart. “The conditions were finally hot and there are a lot of differences in how the body kits react depending on the weather. For Team Penske, the biggest thing is we worked really well as a team to get different versions of aero levels for tomorrow and understanding that, so we can look at that information tonight and decide very precisely what we need.”

Chip Ganassi Racing teammates and former Indy 500 champions Scott Dixon (230.655 mph) and Tony Kanaan (230.457 mph) also went over 230 for the first time this week.

“I was happy with the speed in the Target car but I think there’s more in it,” said Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 pole/race-winner and driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. “We have to look over everything tonight and look at where we can make improvements. Qualifying here at Indy is always a challenge and you never know what the weather will throw at you.”

Kanaan, the 2005 Indy 500 pole-winner and 2013 race champion, also was pleased with the final full practice. “We were able to get quite a few laps in and really work on how we want to approach tomorrow,” said Kanaan, driver of the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. “The weather was a little difficult to work through, but it’s better to know you’re fast in difficult weather just in case we run into it Saturday or Sunday. We’ve had a really solid week and I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to be fast this weekend.”

Meanwhile, Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti paced the Honda contingent in fourth overall at 230.312 mph. Also eclipsing 230 were Team Penske’s Will Power (230.206 mph) and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Sage Karam (230.166 mph).

“It was very slippery,” said Karam, driver of the No. 8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Chevrolet. “In qualifying trim in general, the cars are very sketchy. Every lap I was out there, I felt like I was going to crash. Tomorrow’s going to be the longest five laps (one warmup lap at-speed and four qualifying laps) of my life. The car is really, really fast, but it’s on-edge. We have a good shot at the Fast Nine, which is the goal. I think it will come down to the most fearless driver winning the pole.”

Pagenaud later drew the 52nd overall spot (23rd among primary cars) during the blind qualifying draw, with Dixon fourth (third among primary cars) and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Power 26th overall (14th among primary cars).

“I don’t feel like I’m the favorite,” Pagenaud said. “I feel like I have a great race car and the whole Team Penske is doing a great job. The car is amazing and really fast. There’s so many outside factors that will come into play. The decision that we make with the aero level may be too low or too high for the temperature. It’s going to be really tough for the engineers. I hope my engineer (Ben Bretzman) still has some hair at the end of the day.”

Carlos Huertas, driver of the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, drew the first qualifying spot in the blind draw. Ryan Hunter-Reay, reigning Indy 500 champion and driver of the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, was second. Backup cars were included in the draw, though some teams don’t have them and most don’t plan to use them.

A year ago, only team-owner/driver Ed Carpenter crested 230 mph on “Fast Friday.” Carpenter went on to record his second consecutive Indy 500 pole, and now has a shot at history. Eleven drivers have won back-to-back Indy 500 poles but none has won three in a row. Carpenter is well-aware of the possible record book entry.

“That’s what everyone has been asking me all week: ‘Are you going to win a third pole?’ ^” said Carpenter, driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka CFH Chevrolet. “I don’t know. If it happens, it happens.

“With today being the first sunny day with warmer track temperatures, it really threw things for a loop and slowed things down. Everyone was running with much more downforce and we’re not running anywhere close to last year’s downforce. The way today went, I’ll be thrilled if we make it into the Fast Nine. The thing we’ve got to figure out is how to make the fourth lap still be good.”

While many of Friday’s fastest laps were set with aid of an aerodynamic tow from leading cars cutting through the air, Dixon, Power and Karam posted “no-tow” laps that still topped 230. All 34 cars entered in this year’s Indy 500 took to the track; only one will not make the traditional 33-car field.

Pole position cannot be won on Saturday, but drivers must be among the nine fastest in order to run in the “Fast Nine Shootout” for P1 on Sunday. Qualifying is scheduled to run from 11 a.m.-5:50 p.m. on Saturday. Two hours of practice are scheduled for Saturday morning, leading into a qualifying session that will set the provisional 33-car field via the traditional four-lap/10-mile time trial. ABC will televise Saturday’s session live between 2 and 4 p.m. (EDT). The four-lap qualifying record of 236.986 mph was set by two-time Indy 500 champion Arie Luyendyk in 1996.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 16 2015
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