Marco Andretti & Andretti Autosport Pace Fast Friday

Marco Andretti set the fastest practice lap of the week during Fast Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Al Steinberg Photo)
Marco Andretti set the fastest practice lap of the week during Fast Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. (Al Steinberg Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – Andretti Autosport dominated all angles of Fast Friday for the 104th Indianapolis 500.

Marco Andretti ran the fastest lap of the day, and the fastest at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 24 years. Andretti’s early speed lap of 223.491 mph was the fastest lap on Fast Friday since Arie Luyendyk’s practice lap of 239.260 mph on May 10, 1996.

Andretti’s lap was aided by a tow, which at Indy is measured by a car 10 seconds in front of a trailing car.

The more important indicator is the laps turned by cars without a tow. The fastest lap without a tow belonged Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner, who ran a fast lap of 232.124 mph.

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Even more important, Hunter-Reay had the fastest four-lap average speed of 231.263 mph, which puts him in prime position to contend for the pole during qualifying this weekend.

Saturday’s qualifications will lock in positions 11-33 and will determine the fastest nine qualifiers that will fight it out for the pole on Sunday.

“Our roll-off cars were good,” Andretti said. “Honda brought it this year. We were kind of holding our breaths, hoping Chevy didn’t have that extra turn up. Maybe they are for tomorrow, we’ll see.

“Basically, we would have to screw it up right now to hopefully not be in the top nine, even with a bad draw. That’s the goal.”

Conor Daly was the fastest Chevrolet driver at 232.337 mph on Friday, but that speed was boosted by a tow. Daly’s best no tow speed was 228.521 mph, which ranked 27th of the cars without a tow.

Five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indianapolis 500 winning driver Scott Dixon was third fast at 232.290 mph. His no tow speed was 232.032 mph, second in that group behind Hunter-Reay, who was fourth overall, but first where it counted the most.

“We’re in the hunt for the pole tomorrow,” said Andretti Autosport Team Manager Ziggy Harcus, who calls Hunter-Reay’s race strategy on the No. 28 DHL Honda team. “We are looking good. We have had no issues so far with Ryan. It’s one of those no panic months. We’ve made good decisions and had a very successful week so far.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver Spencer Pigot rounded out the top five at 232.116 mph. He was ninth without a tow at 230.898 mph.

The top 10 drivers with the best four-lap average speeds included Hunter-Reay’s 231.263 mph, Marcus Ericsson’s 231.233 mph, Graham Rahal’s 231.057 mph, Dixon’s 230.840 mph, James Hinchcliffe’s 230.832 mph, Will Power’s 230.201 mph, Takuma Sato’s 230.057 mph, Andretti’s 230.057 mph, Colton Herta’s 230.014 mph and Rinus VeeKay’s 229.035 mph.

“It’s obviously going to be very tough to make it in the top nine because there’s so many fast cars,” Power said afterwards. “I think we’re just on the cusp there.

“I think maybe our strength is the consistency over four laps. Hopefully that really matters throughout tomorrow. The opening speed for some of these other guys aren’t too big. But, yeah, still working through it though. Still trying to think about how we can make it really count tomorrow.”

Because passing is expected to be difficult in the Aug. 23 Indianapolis 500, starting up front will be beneficial in this year’s 200-lap contest.

“Race pace is only as fast as the car ahead of you,” Andretti said. “It seems when you’re more than two cars back, it’s really hard to pass.

“I feel comfortable in race trim. I put myself in pretty tough positions and I still felt good about it. We’ll revisit that Sunday afternoon. Right now, we’re in qualifying mentality.”

Winning an Indianapolis 500 pole would be extremely important to the son of team owner Michael Andretti, who has endured some difficult seasons since his last victory in 2011.

“It would be awesome,” Marco Andretti said. “That’s what we’re gunning for. I have to be able to play first. I got to get in the top nine with a bad draw. That’s my next objective. From there, I know you’re looking at ultimate speed, but it’s going to come down to lap three and four I think even for the pole.

“That’s what we’ve been working on.”