Penske Cars Top First Indy Practice Day

Helio Castroneves posted the third fastest time during Sunday's Indianapolis 500 practice session. (Al Steinberg photo)
Helio Castroneves posted the third fastest time during Sunday's Indianapolis 500 practice session. (Al Steinberg photo)
Helio Castroneves posted the third fastest time during Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 practice session. (Al Steinberg photo)

INDIANAPOLIS – For many teams in Gasoline Alley at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, opening day for the Indianapolis 500 seemed like the “Day After.”

It was time to put cars back together or replace drivers after the carnage that was part of Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Many teams stayed until midnight on Saturday night to either repair damaged IndyCars or work on changing from road course configuration to oval track setup.

IMS Facilities Manager Paul Riley and his crew worked throughout the night to change the facility from the road course to the oval which requires a massive amount of work putting up safety barriers and taking down walls and fences in the infield that were used during the course of the 82-lap contest on the 14-turn road course.

“Everybody has been preparing for the quick change-over (road course to oval),” said IndyCar President of Competition Derrick Walker.

“It’s all part of the plan. The design of the track (road course) and the way the track was built; they were consciously thinking that overnight it would have to be turned back into an oval. When you look at all the road course lines, most of the lines have been taken off. It’s back to oval today just like it always has been. A lot of organization went into the changeover. All the credit goes to the Speedway.

“The bigger teams that have more cars have dedicated oval cars. They put a lot more effort into that. Some teams have to use the same car; they have to put the oval suspension and the oval wings on. They like to clean up and make the body work fit nicely and appear clean and slick.”

And for Andretti Autosport, it had to replace injured driver James Hinchcliffe’s Dallara/Honda ride with former Andretti driver E.J. Viso after Hinchcliffe suffered concussion when an end plate off the front wing of Justin Wilson’s Dallara/Honda nailed Hinchcliffe in the helmet on Lap 57. Hinchcliffe was able to keep his wits about him and pull off in the Turn 7 runoff area so safety workers could tend to him.

Hinchcliffe underwent a CT Scan at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis Saturday night that showed he had a concussion. He made a brief appearance at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Sunday and had lunch with family but was not re-evaluated by the IndyCar Medical Staff.

He could return to the Speedway for re-evaluation as early as Tuesday although a date for his next medical visit has not been set. Meantime, he has returned to his Indianapolis home to recuperate.

Viso was behind the wheel of Hinchcliffe’s No. 27 Dallara/Honda and was the sixth fastest of the 24 drivers that hit the track for Sunday’s Opening Day of practice for the 98th Indianapolis 500.

Viso ran 28 laps with a fast lap of 222.105 miles per hour.

“So far things have been pretty smooth,” Viso said, “I love working with these (Andretti Autosport) guys. Last year I had an amazing year, an amazing experience, and I only have positive things to talk about my teammates and my team. This opportunity just showed up overnight. Of course we all know what happened to Hinch – at the same time, he is a great friend of mine, he was my teammate last year. Right now I’m helping him out, putting miles on his car and hoping he comes back soon and jumps back in.

“It’s all credit to the team; we have a very strong car, and I think with the little things we’re tuning up, they’ll become very important later on in the week when we start trimming the car. As of now, we have a good database from last year to start the month off.”

Will Power was the fastest driver on Opening Day as the Team Penske driver ran 82 laps with a fast lap of 223.507 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet. Teammate Juan Pablo Montoya was second at 222.502 mph followed by three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves at 222.373 mph as Team Penske swept the top three positions.

“Apart from the speed, it’s great, to be at the top of the speed charts, but the car felt really good, too, today and we got to do quite a few laps, try to get the mileage up,” Power explained. “Just anticipating that it might be wet the next couple of days it was important to get a lot of laps. It’s only practice, first day, always handy to be at the top, though.

“It’s the first oval that we do all year. So you’ve been in road course mode and you get to the oval, and it’s a lot different, and the way you race around here is a lot different with the drafting and pretty close quarters all the time. This is the start of the oval season when you start. Obviously Brad’s obviously got three years with this car, so quite a bit of data to go off, but it’s a slightly different tire, too.”

A heavy rainstorm swept through Indianapolis about two hours after Sunday’s practice session ended and more rain is in the forecast for the early days of the week and that could limit practice time. That is why in Team Penske’s case it was important to get some laps in on a decent sunny and warm day on Sunday.

“Actually we did a bit of race work today, just anticipating the rain here,” Power said. “I think it’s important to get some race stuff in, because you get to the end of the week and you get to thinking about qualifying, which pays big points, too. So you have to be pretty honest with that. But the whole race does pay massive points, double points. Honestly, I think it’s way too far but it is what it is right now.”

Power entered Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis as one of the primary contenders to win the first-ever Verizon IndyCar Series race on the IMS road course but he had to overcome a drive through penalty after he ran over pit equipment on his first pit stop. He fought back for an eighth-place finish but admitted he didn’t expect Saturday’s race to be so brutal.

“It was a surprise,” Power said. “It was aggressive. I couldn’t believe it, some of those restarts. I actually had a drive though penalty, so I just backed off and watched one of them, and sure enough the car goes flying into the wall and bits of debris going everywhere.

“It just seems to get rougher and rougher in IndyCar all the time. Like it’s just becoming – I can’t tell you how many times I was hit yesterday, like side-to-side, and you kind of – the cars are almost too strong now. Man, we bang off each other a lot. It’s made for some good racing, but I just don’t want it to become dangerous.”

J.R. Hildebrand was fourth quick in Ed Carpenter Racing’s second Indy 500 entry with a lap at 222.200 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet and 2012 IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top five at 222.134 mph in a Dallara/Honda.

NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Kurt Busch took to the track late in the day in the No. 26 Dallara/Honda for Andretti Autosport and ran 31 laps with his fastest at 220.352 mph. That car had to be repaired after Franck Montagny drove it in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and was involved in a crash.

“Something hit the engine so we had to change out the engine but because we aren’t a full-time entry in the IndyCar Series that won’t set the team back any in terms of the mileage requirement,” Busch said.

“It was a nice rookie day to go and play in traffic,” Busch continued. “When your parents tell you to go out as a kid and play in traffic, they try to get rid of you. The Andretti Autosport guys said, it’s time to ramp up where we are with your level; and that’s to get into some dirty air and feel the car behind other cars.

“Today was a nice shakedown. And then the second run out was a baseline run, and then the third time out was to follow around Ryan Hunter‑Reay, a champion. That’s helping me. It’s really nice to have his lead. Carlos Munoz was in our pack, as well as E.J. Viso. It’s nice to have the teammates looking back in their mirrors for me and to help out.”

Busch experiences drafting and turbulence in NASCAR Sprint Cup contests but talked about the dramatic difference he feels in an IndyCar at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“The best way to explain it is it’s time 10, the amount of draft that you feel versus a stock car, which means I can easily catch the guy in front of me,” Busch said. “The flipside to that is these cars have less horsepower, so if you ease off the gas, it really kills your momentum. So it’s almost a balance of running it like a Nationwide horsepower, but then the dirty air is times ten on how quickly you can catch a guy if you have a run on him.

“So a lot to digest and then you have less horsepower to cover up any of your mistakes.

“Our car definitely changed. The attitude and dirty air, it’s exciting because every corner is different. And you have to remember where each of those moments from the lap before; and then continue to gain more information and digest what just happened in the next lap. And things are moving quickly at 220, and it’s – you know, it’s just a few cars. So I know there’s going to be more dirty air and there’s going to be tougher conditions, and then as we advance through the week, you know, just each day, just kind of check off the list and get further into more detail with the team.”

The other four drivers at Andretti Autosport including Marco Andretti, Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and Viso, who was filling in for Hinchcliffe, have welcomed Busch to the team.

“Overall, it’s been a grand reception here in the IndyCar paddock, which is nice,” Busch said. “It’s a warm welcome.

“There’s also the guys on the NASCAR guys that have shown interest on – go on up there, see what you can do, we’re wishing you the best. Not necessarily show those guys up, but just give it a good run. It’s great to talk with guys like Gordon about it, Jeff Gordon. Carl Edwards is interested about it. And Marcos Ambrose came over; he was asking me questions on the open‑wheel side of things, because Marcos before he was an Australian V8 Supercar champion drove a lot of open‑wheel cars.

“So it’s just interesting to have the camaraderie and talk back and forth. Even a legend in my mind stopped in the garage stall back in the concrete jungle – what’s it back there, the paddock.”

Actually, it’s called Gasoline Alley and it’s the most famous garage area in American motorsports. Busch is familiar with those garages during his time in the Brickyard 400 NASCAR race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Now, he’s prepared to compete in the race that has made this place famous – the Indianapolis 500. And his first step in that quest began on Sunday.