Practice Action Slows Down At Windy Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 18 2017

Ed Carpenter logged the fastest lap at windy Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Any way the wind blows really does matter to drivers hot-lapping at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Strong, gusting winds limited Wednesday’s third day of practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500, as a number of competitors persevered to log fact-finding laps.

Verizon IndyCar Series team-owner/driver Ed Carpenter posted the fastest lap of the combined 408 turned by 21 drivers around the 2.5-mile IMS oval during a six-hour session hampered by wind gusts reaching 40 mph. Driver of the No. 20 Chevrolet, Carpenter recorded a hot lap of 40.3779-seconds/222.894 mph at the beginning of the day’s final hour unassisted by an aerodynamic tow from a car in front.

“I thought it was important to run on a day like today just because it is a challenge,” said Carpenter, a two-time Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter looking to make his 14th start in the race scheduled for May 28. “The wind was very, very gusty and variable. And to me, if you can go out and get comfortable in conditions like that, I think it bodes well for the race car and how comfortable you can be.

“And you never know, it could be this windy on Race Day.”

Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport recorded the fastest speed during Monday’s opening practice, lapping in 39.7636-seconds/226.338 mph in the No. 27 Honda. That remains the fastest lap of the week. Thirty-two cars turned 1,306 laps around the Speedway Monday. It marked the second straight year that Andretti, grandson of 1969 Indy 500 champion Mario Andretti, has been fastest on the first day of Indy 500 practice.

Will Power and Helio Castroneves of team-owner Roger Penske’s juggernaut stood 1-2 at the close of Tuesday’s six-hour session. Power, winner of Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road-course, topped the time sheet with a mid-afternoon lap of 40.0613-seconds/224.656 mph on the 47th of his 71 total laps. All four of Team Penske’s drivers, including reigning series champion Simon Pagenaud and newcomer Josef Newgarden, sat-out practice on Wednesday.

Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner and four-time Series champion, clocked

Scott Dixon dives into Turn 1 during practice at Indy on Wednesday.

the second-fastest lap on Wednesday at 222.599 mph in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. All four CGR cars turned laps before calling it a day with two hours remaining in practice.

“We tried to get through some big-ticket items and we weren’t real happy with the car (Tuesday) across the board with all four cars,” said Dixon, who logged 47 laps. “We’ve been struggling. We had some ideas we needed to try and today felt a lot better. A good improvement.”

JR Hildebrand, Carpenter’s teammate in the No. 21 Chevrolet, was third- fastest with a lap of 220.553 mph. Hildebrand was the busiest driver of the day, completing 54 laps, with Carpenter turning the second-most (52).

“I felt pretty good about the amount of work we were able to get done today,” Hildebrand said. “When we got going initially, we felt it was a little suspect how good of a read we could get on changes since the wind is blowing hard. I’m encouraged by our ability to go out and feel changes despite gusty winds. It was nice to go out there with not too many other people and just run through our own program.”

Heralded Indy 500 rookie Fernando Alonso, the two-time Formula One World Driving Champion from McLaren Honda F1, was the only Andretti Autosport driver of six entered to turn a lap at-speed. The 35-year-old Spaniard completed 39 laps with a best speed of 219.533 mph that ranked fourth on the chart.

“It was tricky,” said Alonso, alluding to the windy conditions. “Very little running for the

Fernando Alonso took advantage of high winds at Indy Wednesday to gain some experience.

big guys, but for me any condition is a good lesson. Today was about that, a lesson about how to drive with strong winds and how to set up the car corner-to-corner.

“Everything was according to plan. The team, I think, used those runs also to test something on the back (end), the engine, for tuning, and something like that, so I think it was a productive day as well.”

Two more days of practice remain before qualifications Saturday and Sunday to determine the 33-car field. Practice is scheduled to run from noon-6 p.m. (ET) Thursday and Friday and streams live at RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

Qualifying on Saturday will be available from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on the WatchESPN app and airs from 4-6 p.m. on ABC. Sunday’s qualifying, which determines the Verizon P1 Award pole winner and sets the grid, is available from 2:30-4 p.m. on WatchESPN and from 4-6 p.m. on ABC.

The 101st running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” airs live at 11 a.m. (ET) May 28 on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Dixon addressed the media during the end-of-day presser. An edited transcript follows:  

MODERATOR: The gusty conditions, that’s got to be a tricky situation. How was it for you?

SCOTT DIXON: “I actually expected it to be worse. I think once you got running, obviously the car has more downforce in it and you kind of try some bigger items. You can’t feel the subtle stuff but there are definitely some gusts that can catch you out, especially in Turn 2 with the wind coming from behind. Nothing too crazy for us.

“We didn’t really trim out or anything and the speed today was actually faster than what I did with a pretty massive tow (Tuesday). Hopefully we’re heading in the right direction. Ambient conditions, outside of the wind are little more favorable today. But the next few days, it looks like the wind is going to die down and that will make definitely make it easier to drive.”

QUESTION: You have to be prepared for any weather condition, whether it’s for qualifications or the race. Is that why you see more veteran drivers come out and try it while some of the younger drivers really aren’t ready for gusty wind yet?

SCOTT DIXON: “I think with us it was a question of whether we can learn something. That was really the decision if we could learn something we’d keep running and we had some bigger items that you could feel in any conditions, so we had to get through them. We had to do a few scans and that’s why we ran. To be honest, it wasn’t that bad out there.”

QUESTION: JR Hildebrand and Ed Carpenter have been pretty quick in their Chevrolet-powered cars. Are you already sizing-up your progress against the rival manufacturer?

SCOTT DIXON: “It’s still a bit early yet. I think on both sides with both manufacturers there’s a lot to come. Fast Friday is an indication where you start to see no tows and people that you may be fighting for for the Fast Nine or for a different position. For us, the main goal is to get the car comfortable first and see for what position we’re fighting at the time and see if we quickly need to re-invent the wheel. Hopefully, we’re in the right position and we can chase for the pole. Last year was a big disappointment where we just didn’t have the speed. Hopefully, this year is different.”

QUESTION: All three of your teammates are in the top-10 right now despite less than ideal conditions. What does that say about the team?

SCOTT DIXON: “That’s hard to say. It looks like only 14 or 15 have put in laps. Newgarden and down haven’t really run. It is what it is. If you had a car where you could learn something today, it adds to what you can use later in the week and on Race Day. To be honest, it doesn’t mean anything.”

QUESTION: Can you talk about how you manage your (Firestone) tires and the miles on your engine and what you can do in a day? In terms of the way it used to be, it was unlimited even about 10 years ago.

SCOTT DIXON: “I think your tires are really the limit. I don’t think the engine miles really play into it. I don’t know how the cycle is going for each manufacturer. Chevy might come Friday and I’m not even sure on the Honda side what we’re doing, if we’re running this engine through qualifying, then everyone gets a fresh engine for the race.

“Tire management is the biggest deal because you don’t want too many short runs. You get plenty of those with qualifying. That’s why they added that additional Monday (practice next week), so you can use all those five-six lap run tires for longer race runs. Actually the first three days, on our side, we haven’t run that many laps. I think we’re only on set No. 5 or something. We have lots more to go. Once you start getting into qual sims, you really start peeling into tires.”

QUESTION: Chip Ganassi switched from Chevy to Honda during the offseason. After the season’s first five races, what do you feel is the biggest difference. Is it behind a car or by yourself? Is it a huge difference?

SCOTT DIXON: “The biggest difference is probably the road course/short oval. Short oval is probably the biggest disadvantage right now. I think Honda and HPD have been doing a fantastic job. They’ve made big gains and this is one of the strongest starts to a season that I’ve had. I think we should have won a couple of other of races, too. Our speed is there, this should be where we get to our sweet spot on the superspeedway. We’ve run a little bit in traffic. I think yesterday we had a little bigger fish to fry. I think the (aero) kit is decent and as we’ve seen in the recent past the Andretti cars have been very strong, so it’s definitely achievable. And from the numbers, it looks like it’s the preferred kit at least for the superspeedways.”

QUESTION: How do you amp yourself up for a day like today?

SCOTT DIXON: “We still did a lot of laps. We did some pit stop towards the end. We did just under 50 laps but at least 30 were running. You don’t need to amp-up too much with conditions like this. It takes care of itself pretty quickly. I think it’s trying to get more tools that you can use later in the week when you start to trim and the car doesn’t feel as good. So if it’s windy or warm on Race Day, the stuff we did today should help.”

QUESTION: At what point do you look at a driver like Alonso as a threat?

SCOTT DIXON: “Right out of the gate.  Obviously, he’s very accomplished. We’ve seen many rookies win here in the first go and he’s with one hell of a team. I think he’s got a fantastic shot. He’s obviously doing well already and once we get down to the nitty-gritty, I think qualifying, he’s not going to have any issue with getting the car on the limit and finding where he’s comfortable. I’m sure he’ll have great speed. The race depends on how strategy feeds out and then the last 20-30 laps, the race definitely changes speed a fair bit and people aren’t as nice to you coming to the end. I think he’s got a great shot.”

QUESTON: Winning a second Indy 500. What would that do to your legacy?

SCOTT DIXON: “It’s the goal. I love racing. I feel very privileged and lucky and enjoy what I do and what I get to do, especially with the team and group of people I get to work with. We’re in the business of winning. Each year, you are graded on your performance. History and stats are something you look back on when you’re done with it, but for us, if you’re not winning, you’re not getting the job done.

“So this year, we’ve come up short. We’ve had some great results but you remember more the ones that get away. That’s the hard part. We’ve finished second here a few times and we’ve been in the running many times. A couple years ago, I think, we had a great shot to win the race. This place doesn’t owe me anything. I love racing here, and hopefully, we can be drinking the milk again in the not so distant future.”


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 18 2017
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