SPEEDWAY, Ind. – Marco Andretti admitted the focus in the early days of practice for the 97th Indianapolis 500 is not about qualifying speeds or seeing how fast the car will go in a run for the pole.
The focus of attention at Andretti Autosport and the other top teams at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is all about preparing the car for the Race Day on May 26.
“I think it helps when you can simulate a mini-race,” Andretti said after running 54 laps on Monday. “We have that luxury and we are taking full advantage of it. Personally, I think that is how the Ganassi guys beat us last year because it was the first year for me that the Pole was within reach so I got too fascinated with how fast the car would go rather than getting the car ready for the race. The car was a handful in the race and it bit me in the end. We knew we needed to make some gains on race setup this year and that is what we are doing now.”
For the second day in a row, Andretti Autosport sent all five of its cars on the race course at the same time to simulate an actual race. The five drivers included Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, E.J. Viso and rookie Carlos Munoz.
Andretti was the fastest driver during Monday’s six-hour practice session with a lap at 225.100 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet. It was on the 26th laps of the 54 he ran on Monday. That was faster than three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, whose fast lap was 225.075 mph on Lap 36 of 40 in the Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet.
“We are managing mileage on the engine so on Sunday we did not run,” Castroneves said. “Right now we’re trying to follow the schedule. We’re not worried about the result. Rick Mears always says that (Indy) is two races, and right now we’re worried about the first race, which is qualifying. Plus there is the weather and things like that, so we’re not thinking about the result. I dream about it, about becoming a four-time winner, but right now you have to work before you achieve your dreams. And that’s what we’re going to do.”
When the Indianapolis 500 had its old schedule of two full weeks of practice with two weekends of qualifications many teams would work on qualifications on the first week and spend the second week of practice to for race preparations.
But when one week of practice was eliminated with the current schedule teams have changed their approach to the month of May by spending much of the first week getting the primary and backup cars ready for the race before trimming out the cars for speed later in the week.
“It depends on how much progress we get done with the race car,” Andretti said. “If we get pleased and get a lot of stuff off our checklist, why not do some qualifying runs on Thursday?”