INDIANAPOLIS – As the Will Power Indianapolis 500 Victory Tour brings him back to where it all started, the winner of the 102nd Indianapolis 500 picked up where he ended in last year’s race: at the top of the scoring pylon.
Power was the fastest driver in Tuesday’s opening day of practice for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 with a fast lap of 229.745 mph around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
That was just a tick faster than his Team Penske teammate and winner of Saturday’s IndyCar Grand Prix, Simon Pagenaud, who was clocked at 229.703 mph.
Power admitted his fast lap was aided by the draft from another car.
“Obviously the speed was a big tow, but it’s definitely a different car with that tire that Firestone brought,” Power said afterwards. “We’ve had to make quite a few adjustments to what we ran last year.
“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. We will obviously, 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.”
It was a very busy opening session of practice with 2,680 laps turned in practice, not counting the laps run in the rookie orientation program or the refresher test session.
Speeds are also up, already near 230 mph in the first day.
“I think the speeds are maybe a little quicker by yourself,” Power explained. “All the big speeds came from big tows. What IndyCar wanted Firestone to do with the tire is exactly what it has done, which is help that front work off the corner so you can follow closer, and you’ve just to obviously get your car to work around that.
“It’s kind of hard to judge the true speeds of cars right now by themselves. 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’s fast lap came more from perfect timing to catch the draft than my planning to be the fast driver of the day.
“I just got sent out and was just trying to catch the train, simply,” Power said. “I wasn’t even thinking about speeds or anything. It just happened that I had the perfect gap and closed up and so did he.
“Some people like Helio Castroneves, if there’s prize money on the line, like he’ll say trim us out and send us out, new tires, low fuel. We’ll say, ‘Why? It’s race running. Don’t worry about it.’
“Do you get prize money today? Come on, it used to be $10,000 a day. I risked all that for nothing?You can’t believe it.
“Like I was lying I didn’t think about — I was going out there to get that money. I’m going to take my team out for dinner, man. I need some cash.”
Ed Carpenter, the team owner/driver and pole winner in 2018, was third on the speed chart at 228.653 mph in the No. 20 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet. Ed Jones, Carpenter’s teammate in the No. 63 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevy, clocked the fastest lap without the aid of a tow, 224.542 mph.
“There is always more you can get done, but today was a really good start,” Carpenter said. “The baseline setup was good, and we were able to work through everything that we wanted to try today. Not only on my car, but the other two as well.
“All things considered, where we are starting Day 1, speed-wise and race setup-wise, we are in a decent place.”
Three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves was fourth at 228.441 mph in the No. 3 Chevrolet with rookie Colton Herta rounding out the top five at 228.284 mph.
Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso had a frustrating day as an electric issue hampered his Chevrolet. He ran 50 laps with a fast time of 224.162 mph.
Power is looking to become the first back-to-back Indy 500 winner since Castroneves in 2001-2002.
“The competition just gets tougher,” Power said. “It’s obviously the second year with this car, and the IndyCar competition – the team standard has got a lot better. There is no bad teams and no bad drivers. Yep, it will be tough, simply. Like it will be – first thing is to make the show and qualify, and then focus on what you can do in the race.
“But I expect it to be probably the most competitive 500 ever when you look at the standard of the teams that are down pit lane right now.”
From Tuesday to Thursday of this week, IndyCar teams and drivers work on race setup with lots of full-tank runs and group runs to see how this car will work in traffic.
On Friday teams start to trim for qualifying setup because that is the day they get the extra boost. Teams work in reverse order to the month because they believe it is much more important to be ready for the race in case of rain. Speed setups can be handled in the fast Friday and Saturday morning practice sessions.