INDIANAPOLIS – If Sunday’s 103rd Indianapolis 500 were contested with the same weather conditions as Monday’s two-hour practice, it would be a much closer show according to pole winner Simon Pagenaud.
The temperatures were a cool and crisp 60 degrees under overcast skies and a bit of a breeze and that brought up the grip level on the track surface. The track temp was 89 degrees.
Sunday’s forecast, however, calls for hotter conditions with a high of 80 degrees and a chance of thunderstorms.
Pagenaud was the fastest driver in Monday’s two-hour session that included 34 car/driver combinations. The extra combo was Tony Kanaan driving both his No. 14 Chevrolet and the car of A.J. Foyt Racing teammate Matheus Leist.
Pagenaud’s fast lap was 228.441 mph aboard his No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet.
“I would welcome a higher temperature because I think we have a better chassis than most,” Pagenaud said. “I think it will make more of a disparity with other cars, so I would welcome that, obviously, as a competitor.
“As a race fan, I would rather have a cool race in terms of temperature because the racing would be a lot more packed and more fun to watch. But a day like today would be really good racing, really fun to watch. So, we’ll see.
“I think no matter what, I think IndyCar made some really good changes on the Firestone tires. They did a great job giving us a little bit more grip, and the new front wing extensions were working really well in traffic. All in all, it’s very positive.”
There were 2,469 laps turned by the 34 car/driver tandems, with 101st Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato turning the most laps at 98 – nearly half of the 200 laps that make up the Indianapolis 500.
“I thought at the end it was almost like a race,” Pagenaud said. “Everybody was on track. So that was entertaining. It was a good way to see how the car was reacting.
“The trick part is that it’s so cold that every car feels good today, I think. Obviously we have a good idea on where our car is at, but you want to see what the competition is like, as well, and that’s why you saw me running a lot behind people and cycle back to the back to try to understand who was strong and how they were driving their cars.
“I think we’ve got a really good balance so far. I think we still need to find a little more front grip alone and in traffic, and I think we’ll be in really good shape. Then the trick part is going to be to find the right level of downforce for the race. Obviously, like I said, with the temperature changing, that’s a very relevant point that is very important to work on with the engineers.”
Pagenaud’s Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden was second fastest Monday at 228.278 mph. Honda driver James Hinchcliffe, who had to utilize the Last Row Shootout to make the field, was third at 227.994 mph, followed by 2008 Indy 500 winner and five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon at 227.951 mph.
Alexander Rossi, the winner of the 100th Indianapolis 500, rounded out the top five at 227.660 mph.
The final 90-minute practice will take place during Carb Day on Friday afternoon. It is expected to be 89 degrees that day, giving teams another variable to address in terms of race setup.