Andretti Cars Fastest On ‘Fast Friday’

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 18 2019
Andretti Autosport’s Conor Daly laid down the fastest lap in practice at Indy on Friday. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Led by “one-off” driver Conor Daly, Andretti Autosport emerged atop the speed chart during “Fast Friday” practice for the 103rd edition of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Daly led a pack of 12 drivers turning speeds in excess of 230 mph around the 2.5-mile oval as NTT IndyCar Series teams dialed-in setups on the eve of two days of qualifications for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 26. Daly set the pace at 231.704 mph in the No. 25 United States Air Force Honda, followed by teammate Marco Andretti at 230.851 mph in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda for Andretti Herta with Marco & Curb-Agajanian.

The fourth consecutive day of practice marked the first time anyone exceeded the 230-mph barrier. All 36 entered cars benefited from INDYCAR’s extra 1,000 millibars of turbocharger boost that increased engine output by approximately 50 horsepower Friday and through qualifying weekend.

“I’m just super-thankful to be here, honestly,” said Daly, a veteran of 39 career IndyCar Series starts, whose only scheduled race this season currently is the Indianapolis 500. “It’s incredible to be a part of this team. I’ve been super-happy with my group and our engine and our car. We’re just (taking it) step by step, one change at a time _ trying to make this thing go as fast as possible _ and we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

Also surpassing 230 mph with tow-aided laps Friday were Takuma Sato, Spencer Pigot, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball, Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Tony Kanaan.

Daly’s day was capped when his team drew P1 in the qualifying order for Saturday. That means the 27-year-old Indiana native and son of former INDYCAR and Formula One driver Derek Daly can make his initial four-lap/10-mile qualifying attempt in potentially the coolest, best conditions of the day.

“All right, I’ll take it,” Daly said. “That’s good. I hope it’s nice and cool _ 65 degrees, no wind and full power. We’ll see.”

Meanwhile, Fernando Alonso returned to practice for the first time since crashing during Wednesday’s seven-hour session. The 2017 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, Alonso totaled 77 laps _ most of any driver _ in the backup No. 66 McLaren Racing Chevrolet, with his final circuit of 229.328 mph standing as his best and 24th among all drivers.

McLaren driver Fernando Alonso was back on track at Indy on Friday.

“It was a positive day for us,” said Alonso, the two-time Formula One World Driving Champion. “We were able to put the car on track and try different directions on the setup and learn a little bit about the track and the day. Obviously, the boost was up today, so the speeds were higher and it was more a (qualifying) preparation than race setups. But we had a lot of new tires (unused) from the last couple of days, so we were able to do a lot of runs. Hopefully, that information will give us tomorrow a little bit of confidence into qualifying.”

Alonso’s Wednesday ended on his 46th lap when the car made contact with the Turn 3 SAFER Barrier 95 minutes into the practice. His car slid into the inside barrier on the short chute and then up the track to the outside barrier in Turn 4 before stopping. Alonso exited the wreckage without assistance. The popular Spaniard _ seeking to complete the final leg of auto racing’s Triple Crown with an Indy 500 victory _ placed 29th on Wednesday’s chart at 225.433 mph after running 224.162 mph on Tuesday.

Alonso sat-out Thursday’s practice as his crew performed an engine change after the twin-turbocharged V-6 powerplant in the primary car was found to have been damaged in the single-car incident.

“I cannot lie to you. I was changed (into his driving suit) at 11:00,” Alonso said. “I was with the right suit, and I was supposed to be out at that time, and it was supposed to be at 1:00, then 2:30, then 4:00, and then it rained. Yeah, it was frustrating. But yeah, nothing we could do at that point, just getting ready for today and having that extra time to check everything and to be ready.”

Alonso made his oval-track racing debut at IMS in May 2017 in a Honda-powered car prepared by Andretti Autosport. Alonso did not compete in the NTT IndyCar Series in 2018 while wrapping up his F1 career with Team McLaren.

Gil de Ferran, the 2003 Indy 500 champion with Team Penske, is overseeing McLaren’s return to IMS in a group that includes three-time Indy 500 champion and McLaren Racing Team Ambassador Johnny Rutherford. “Lone Star J.R.” competed at IMS in McLaren cars from 1973-79, a run highlighted by victories in Offy-powered entries in 1974 and 1976 sandwiched around a runnerup result in 1975. Rutherford and McLaren also finished last in the 1977 race.

Zack Brown, chief executive of McLaren Racing, said Rutherford, 81, is being counted on for the experience gleaned from his 24 Indy 500 starts.

“Well, he doesn’t talk much,” Alonso, 37, said of Rutherford. “But he’s always interesting, you know, to hear what he says and his recommendations. I think maybe the cars he drove, they are not maybe behaving the same as we have now in terms of aerodynamics and traffic management. But he’s obviously a very experienced driver and he’s trying to help as much as he can, and yeah, I’m enjoying having him on board.”

De Ferran emphasized the McLaren organization is committed to a workmanlike approach to the Speedway as its board contemplates a fulltime return to the series in either 2020 or 2021.

“Certainly (Thursday) was a difficult day for everyone,” de Ferran said. “We’re a new crew. We respect this place a lot. So we wanted to make sure that we put the car together the best way possible. Obviously that took longer than we expected, and I guess having been here before, I was very aware of the importance of being out on the racetrack, both from Fernando’s perspective and for the development of the car.

“But even under those circumstances, I also know it’s very important to keep your cool, you know, so that you don’t make bad decisions going forward. Sometimes you can’t affect certain things, and you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got your game head on when things are ready to go. That’s what we tried to do last night. Fernando did a great job. The crew did a good job. We’re stepping through it and getting better together.”

Alonso admitted he is concerned about being ranked 30th on the “no-tow” list _ designated as such because it comes without the aerodynamic tow from a car ahead on track by 10 seconds or less. Ed Jones recorded the week’s fastest “no-tow” lap at 230.106 mph in the No. 63 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet.

“I think it’s the same for everyone,” said Alonso, whose team drew the 24th qualifying spot. “Tomorrow, I think the pick-up order and when you will do the run is going to be a big factor if it’s a hot day. So yeah, if we are in the wrong moment of the day, which it seems that the luck will put us in that moment this week…let’s see how it goes tomorrow. Yeah, there is nothing guaranteed.“

Pigot, of Ed Carpenter Racing, drew the second qualifying position, with 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner Alexander Rossi third. Zach Veach, Rossi and Daly’s teammate at Andretti Autosport, drew the last qualifying position of the 36 primary cars.

Kyle Kaiser was involved in Friday’s only incident when his No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet made hard contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 3. The 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion was uninjured. The car sustained heavy damage and the Juncos crew expected to work into the night to repair it in a bid to qualify on Saturday.

A final pre-qualifying practice is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. (ET) Saturday (livestream on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold) split into three parts _ 30 minutes for half the qualifying order, 30 minutes for the other half and 30 minutes open to all cars. 

First-day qualifying will run from 11 a.m.-5:50 p.m. Saturday, with the fastest 30 drivers at the end of the day securing a spot in the traditional 33-car field. Drivers may make as many qualifying attempts as they wish, weather and time permitting. Grid positions 10 through 30 are locked-in then, while the fastest nine drivers on Saturday advance to the Fast Nine Shootout. 

Sunday’s qualifying conclusion will feature the Last Row Shootout at 12:15 p.m., when each driver who failed to qualify on Saturday will make one attempt, with the fastest three earning the final spots in the 33-car field. Following that is the Fast Nine Shootout at 1:15 p.m. to determine the pole-sitter and grid order of the first three rows. 

Saturday’s qualifying will stream on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold from 11 a.m.-5 p.m., with coverage switching to NBC Sports Network from 5-6 p.m. Sunday’s qualifying will air from noon-3 p.m. on NBC, with a practice for the 33 qualifiers airing on NBCSN from 3-6 p.m.

The Indianapolis 500 will air for the first time this year on NBC, with race coverage starting at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 26.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 18 2019
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