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Dixon Tops Test As Cars Get Rolling At Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 21 2022

2008 Indy 500 champion Scott Dixon was fastest in Wednesday’s open test at IMS. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Led by 2008 event champion Scott Dixon, on-track preparation for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500 is underway at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Dixon paced Wednesday’s first day of the Indianapolis 500 Open Test with a top lap of 227.187 mph in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. That lap around the 2.5-mile oval was aided by an aerodynamic tow.

“The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is scheduled for Sunday, May 29.

The session started 90 minutes late due to morning rain. Testing ended approximately 30 minutes early as a precaution so INDYCAR and IMS officials could inspect the acceleration lane inside Turns 1 and 2 after three drivers spun while exiting that lane during the day, with two of the incidents happening in the last 20 minutes.

Cool air temperatures ranging from the mid-50s to low 60s kept speeds high and drivers focused as most ran in aerodynamic packs. The schedule included three sessions. The opening two hours were reserved for veteran drivers, followed by a two-hour session for rookies and veteran refresher tests and then an open track for all competitors.

“I think the conditions are always pretty ideal when you run this time of year,” said Dixon, Ganassi’s six-time series champion. “The car feels really good. A lot of it depends on track placement and how much confidence you have in the car, how big a tow you can get. I guess we lucked-out on that today.

“We still have a bit of a test. We didn’t get through too much of it because the session was kind of fragmented, then obviously finishing early. Still a lot of work to do I think (for Thursday). Maybe we’ll get a bit of a time extension depending on conditions. All in all, I think all the drivers were really confident with how the day went and how the cars felt. But I think that’s maybe across the board because of conditions.”

Conor Daly was second-fastest overall at 226.985 mph in the No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet. Callum Ilott was fastest of the seven Indianapolis 500 rookies, third overall at 226.308 mph in the No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet.

Santino Ferrucci was fourth at 226.182 mph in the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, while Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top five at 225.341 mph in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Global racing stars Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson continued their journeys toward their first Indianapolis 500 starts, turning laps with the veteran drivers since both completed the Rookie Orientation Program during testing last fall at IMS. Formula One veteran Grosjean’s fastest lap was 223.253 mph in the No. 28 DHL Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport. Meanwhile, seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Johnson’s best lap was 222.255 mph in the No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Johnson launched his INDYCAR oval-track career with a solid sixth-place finish in the XPEL 375 on Texas Motor Speedway’s high-banked/1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth on March 20. The only oval-track race on the schedule prior to the Indy 500 was won by two-time series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske.

All five Indianapolis 500 rookies still needing to complete the Rookie Orientation Program _ Kyle Kirkwood, Devlin DeFrancesco, David Malukas, Christian Lundgaard and Ilott _ passed all three phases of the test. Indy 500 veteran Marco Andretti completed his refresher test, while two-time 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya and Sage Karam were scheduled to finish their refreshers Thursday.

Three drivers _ all Indianapolis 500 winners _ spun while either on or exiting the acceleration lane from the pits in Turns 1 and 2. Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, winner of the landmark 100th Indy 500 in 2016, was the first to experience the problem, avoiding wall contact on a spin in his No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda moments after the track opened at 12:30 p.m. (EDT).

Four-time/reigning Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves also spun in the same spot during the open practice, careening across the track and hitting the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 at 5:11 p.m. Castroneves was unhurt, but his Indy 500-winning No. 06 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda suffered significant front, right-side and floor damage.

“I didn’t feel anything strange, anything bottoming, I wasn’t pushing,” Castroneves said. “And the rear just spun out. I was trying to control it, making sure I didn’t crash and it was a very odd situation. Unfortunately, we couldn’t avoid that. It was very unusual.”

Just 21 minutes later, 2018 500 winner Will Power spun his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet in the Turn 1 warmup lane and veered toward on-track traffic. Power barely kept his car from entering the oval; Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta was forced to run above the racing line in Turn 1 to avoid Power, also spinning, nudging the SAFER Barrier in Turn 1 and shearing the attenuator from the rear of his No. 26 Gainbridge Honda. Both Power and Herta were unhurt.

Ericsson could have been awarded the unofficial “Driver of the Day” award after he darted around the spinning cars of Castroneves and Herta in separate incidents, barely evading a major incident.

“He was going left and right and wasn’t sure, and my brakes weren’t quite locked-up yet, so it wasn’t clear which direction I was going,” said Herta, referring to Ericsson’s evasion of his spin. “Then I locked them up, and luckily he’s a heads-up driver and got out of the way.”

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1997) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service and Ford Racing).

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 21 2022
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