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Penske Leads Day 1 Of Indy 500 Practice

INDIANAPOLIS – We’ve officially turned the page over to Indianapolis 500 action now.  After two days of running on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course last weekend, 36 NTT IndyCar Series drivers took to the oval on Tuesday for the opening day of the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500 (11 a.m. ET/NBC/INDYCAR Radio Network) practice.

When it was all said and done though, Team Penske picked up where they left off from last year. Will Power’s No. 12 Chevrolet was on top of the scoring pylon the last time the Indy Car drivers were on the famed 2.5-mile oval in “official” track action for last year’s Indy 500. Almost 51 weeks later, his car was back on top again on opening day.

Power, turned the days fastest lap with a speed of 229.745 mph on Monday afternoon. His lap was obviously with a big tow when he and two of his Penske teammates joined a group of several cars on the track at the same time late in the day. The defending ‘500 champion’s quick lap was his 41st one on the afternoon.

His teammate Simon Pagenaud was P2 with a lap of 229.703 mph in his No. 22 Chevrolet. Pagenaud, just won the INDYCAR Grand Prix last Saturday and got a big tow from Power who got a big tow from Josef Newgarden on their fast laps.

The third Penske driver in Helio Castroneves (228.441 mph) was fourth to give Penske three of the top five speeds on Day 1 of Indy 500 practice. That’s not all that shocking as they had the top two speeds a year ago too. What’s ironic is, last year it was Pagenaud, Castroneves and Ed Carpenter as 1-2-3. This year, it was Power, Pagenaud, Ed Carpenter (228.653 mph) and Castroneves was 1-2-3-4.

This year too the times were much quicker.

Pagenaud last year led the way with a lap of 225.757 mph on opening day. Castroneves and Carpenter were both over 224 mph themselves. This year, the top three speeds were all over 228 mph, giving us a three mph advantage.

But, it’s not like we can take a lot away from Tuesday’s action. See, the cars do have more downforce in 2019 compared to 2018, but the speed differential on single lap runs won’t be that much of a difference.

A lot of action on Tuesday was race running since the boost levels don’t get increased until Friday. That has Power questioning just how good they are compared to everyone else when a majority of the cars were on different programs.

“All the big speeds came from big tows,” Power said. “It’s kind of hard to judge the true speeds of cars right now by themselves,” he added. “You don’t know what aero configuration people are running, whether they’re doing qualifying sims or they’re in race trim. We don’t know where we stack up, honestly, as far as true speed.”

Power, said that they tried the same setup as they had when they won last year and due to the changes in the car and the new tire that Firestone brought, that his race winning setup from 2018 didn’t translate well over to 2019’s.

“Obviously, the speed was a big tow, but definitely a different car with that tire that Firestone brought,” said Power. “We’ve had to make quite a few adjustments to what we ran last year. I mean, I started with what I raced last year and it definitely was not in the window. So, (we) made a lot of adjustments at the end. Obviously, (we’ll) keep working on that tomorrow and see how we progress. I would say that we weren’t very good in traffic the first day, but by the end, felt way more comfortable.”

Rookie Colton Herta rounded out the top five in the speed department on Tuesday. Herta, circled the track with a top lap of 228.284 mph in his No. 88 Honda. But, Herta also had the lone incident of the day too when he spun exiting the warmup lane in Happy Hour. The car wasn’t really damaged and they were able to turn laps to close out the day.

Here are my main takeaways from Tuesday’s session.

19_MDF_IN_3-0075Tony Kanaan practices his No. 14 Chevrolet on the opening day of Indy 500 practice on Tuesday – INDYCAR Media Site

Chevy Looks The Part Again

It’s early, but it appears that Chevrolet will be among the ones to beat again this year. Last May, Chevy put seven cars in the Fast Nine and 11 of the top 13 overall. They’d lead well over 100 laps in the ‘500 itself and finish 1-2.

On Tuesday, they had the top four speeds on opening day.

JGS_2019-INDIANAPOLIS-500-096954-1Spencer Pigot leads his Ed Carpenter Racing teammate and boss Ed Carpenter around the famed 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Tuesday – INDYCAR Media Site

Ed Carpenter Racing May Have Showed The Most On Tuesday

Penske may have put three of their cars in the top four on the overall speed chart on Tuesday, but it was Ed Carpenter Racing who in my opinion had the best day. They had all three cars in the top 11 on the speed chart but two cars in the top five on the no tow list. In fact, Ed Jones was quickest by nearly one full mph on the no tow chart with a top speed of 224.542 mph by himself. The next best was JR Hildberand at 223.694 mph. Carpenter, was fifth at 223.134 mph.

Overall, Chevy had the top five no tow speeds and like I said above, they’ll be the ones to beat for the pole.

ECR put all three cars in the top nine last year and look to be favorites to do so again this weekend.

Indianapolis Motor SpeedwayTuesday, May 14, 2019
©2018 Walt KuhnJames Hinchcliffe at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Tuesday, May 14, 2019 ©2018 Walt Kuhn

Hinchcliffe A Busy Man

We’ve seen this in the past with Andretti Autosport having Tony Kanaan shaking everyone’s cars down. On Tuesday, we saw James Hinchcliffe do the same for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Hinchcliffe, turned 115 laps overall this afternoon with a top speed being at 225.498 mph. The only thing was, Hinch’s top speed wasn’t even in his own car – it was Marcus Ericsson’s.

Ericsson, turned 83 laps on Tuesday with a top speed of 224.701 mph in his No. 7 Honda. Hinchcliffe’s top lap in his No. 5 Honda was 225.235 mph. He also practiced in Oriol Servia’s No. 77 Honda and Jack Harvey’s No. 60 Honda too.

Overall, he turned 99 laps in his own car, six in Servia’s No. 77 and five each in the No. 7 and No. 60 cars.

SPM didn’t have a ton of speed last year and are hoping Hinchcliffe can get them there quickly this year. Granted, Tuesday was all about finding balance first.

“Solid first day in the books,” said Hinchcliffe. “We accomplished everything that we had set out to do today. The big thing was the car swap (Hinchcliffe did laps in each of the team’s four cars). The Arrow guys did a great job building four cars as close as they did, it’s not an easy thing to do. Lots of data gathered today, lots of things to look at overnight, so we can get into it tomorrow.”

Indianapolis Motor SpeedwayTuesday, May 14, 2019
©2018 Walt KuhnConor Daly at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Tuesday, May 14, 2019 ©2018 Walt Kuhn

Andretti Autosport Not Far Behind

The Andretti Autosport group had a plan on Tuesday and it worked to perfection. Some of the day they worked on single car runs to get the balance right for qualifying. The other part they ran together in group running. That led to Andretti having four of their five car fleet in the top 12 of the speed charts.

Zach Veach led the way for them in being seventh overall on the speed chart. He was also P7 on the no tow list as well. Alexander Rossi was P6 on the no tow and P8 on the overall speed chart himself.

Marco Andretti was ninth on the overall while Ryan Hunter-Reay was 12th.

They may not have much for the front row at the moment but they do have solid top 15 cars.

Conor Daly was the slowest of the bunch in 19th but that’s because his car isn’t suiting his driving style just yet. To be going 226.7 and not be comfortable yet, that’s saying something. Imagine where they’re going to be at this time on Thursday when they get his car dialed in to his liking.

JGS_2019-INDIANAPOLIS-500-097427-1Ed Jones leads Fernando Alonso in practice on Tuesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – INDYCAR Media Site

No Take A Lot Of Stock In Who’s Where On The Speed Chart

Yes, the speeds are higher and it’s the same guys up front as we expected, but don’t read a lot into what we saw on Tuesday. Like Power said, some are on strictly race trim like Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and others, while some like Andretti favored both race and qualifying sims.

You may see the three slowest drivers on Tuesday, ones that are in their right car, were James Davison, Oriol Servia and Ben Hanley, but expect that to change some between now and Friday.

This was just Day 1.

19_MDF_IN_2-0089Fernando Alonso pulls out of his pits on Tuesday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – INDYCAR Media Site

Alonso, McLaren In For Long Month

They knew it would be this way, but didn’t necessarily think it would be this rough. See, McLaren and Fernando Alonso said ahead of their second endeavor at the Indianapolis Motor Speewday that this year would be much different than 2017. See, in 2017, they just showed up. The car and everything was prepared by Andretti Autosport. It was essentially an Andretti car.

This year, they’re out on their own. There’s also a different car than 2017 with much less downforce. Translation? It would be a rude awakening and challenging to get up to speed.

It showed in the open test as they were two mph slower than the next best car. While Alonso topped 224 mph, he was only 32nd. Granted, like I said above, don’t take a lot of stock in what you see on Day 1, but for them, put a little more in them.

I think they’ll spend a majority of the time on the speed charts in the bottom half of it. I don’t see at the moment Alonso challenging for a spot in the Fast Nine this weekend.

Also, they likely weren’t working on qualifying sims on Tuesday anyways, so the speed wouldn’t rival those up front. But, they have a large checklist to go through and have to do so on their own this time.

Day 1 Speed Chart

  1. 12 Power 229.745
  2. 22 Pagenaud 229.703
  3. 20 Carpenter 228.653
  4.  3 Castroneves 228.441
  5. 88 Herta R 228.284
  6. 18 Bourdais 228.242
  7. 26 Veach 228.133
  8. 27 Rossi 228.061
  9. 98 Andretti 228.000
  10. 63 Jones 227.966
  11. 21 Pigot 227.836
  12. 28 Hunter-Reay 227.642
  13.  9 Dixon 227.428
  14. 30 Sato 227.249
  15. 48 Hildebrand 227.201
  16. 19 Ferrucci R 227.083
  17.  2 Newgarden 227.001
  18. 10 Rosenqvist R 226.829
  19. 25 Daly 226.721
  20. 15 Rahal 226.498
  21. 32 Kaiser 226.410
  22. 23 Kimball 225.843
  23.  7 Hinchcliffe 225.498
  24. 14 Kanaan 225.473
  25.  5 Hinchcliffe 225.235
  26. 60 Harvey 225.202
  27. 59 Chilton 224.846
  28. 77 Hinchcliffe 224.793
  29.  7 Ericsson R 224.701
  30. 24 Karam 224.615
  31.  4 Leist 224.355
  32. 66 Alonso 224.162
  33. 42 King R 223.973
  34. 39 Mann 223.910
  35. 31 Chilton 223.521
  36. 33 Davison 223.514
  37. 77 Servia 223.290
  38. 81 Hanley R 221.547
  39. 60 Hincchliffe 220.503