INDIANAPOLIS – It didn’t last long but it sure was frantic.
Tuesday’s practice session for the 98th Indianapolis 500 only lasted for 1 hour and 37 minutes but with heavy rain approaching 31 car/drivers combination ran practice laps before the session was stopped for rain. By 2:47 p.m. IndyCar officials called an end to the day although the sun was out less than an hour later.
Normally, 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kurt Busch finishing the day as the second-fastest driver would have been the major topic but the status of Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe overshadowed Busch’s lap at more than 224 miles per hour.
Hinchcliffe was re-evaluated on Tuesday and was not cleared to return to the cockpit of his No. 27 Dallara/Honda, however he was cleared to begin “light training” with a trainer as he continues to recover from a concussion. Hinchcliffe will be re-evaluated in two days – May 15 – before a determination is made if he can return to action at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week.
Hinchcliffe’s helmet took a direct hit from an end plate off the front wing of Justin Wilson’s car on the Lap 57 of Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
Former Andretti Autosport driver E.J. Viso has filled in for Hinchcliffe in the first three days of practice and was the fastest driver in Tuesday’s abbreviated practice session with a fast lap at 224.488 miles per hour in a Dallara/Honda.
“I’ve taken on the full role of (James Hinchcliffe),” Viso said. “Whatever his crew and engineer had planned to test and experience, I’ve been doing. It has been a quick adaptation to the team for me and so far it’s all been pretty positive. My biggest wish is to Hinch and to his recovery. Hopefully, he’s going to be able to make it to the race. I think today he was getting checked and soon we’ll have an answer.
“When you are driving a car that’s already up to speed and you know it’s capable of doing something, you feel very safe. After a few laps, I was flat out.”
Busch was second quick at 224.159 in another Andretti Autosport Dallara/Honda. Team Verizon driver Juan Pablo Montoya of Team Penske was third at 224.115 mph – the best speed yet for the 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner.
“We started today off in a little more of a qualifying setup on the No. 2 Verizon Chevy, just trying to creep up on what we’ll need for this weekend’s pole days,” Montoya said. “The car felt good and had a lot of speed since it was a more trimmed out. Unfortunately we had an electrical issue and it took us a couple of runs to figure it out, but that’s why I was stopped on the grass. Then the rains came and that was the end of the session. We ran a lot of laps yesterday in preparation for it so it’s nothing major and it gives the guys time to catch up on the car.”
Another Andretti Autosport driver, 2012 IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, was fourth at 223.612 mph. Teammate Marco Andretti rounded out the top five at 223.605 mph – both drivers in Dallara/Honda combinations.
Three-time IndyCar Series champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon was sixth in a Dallara/Chevrolet with a lap at 223.235 mph.
“Well it ended up being a short day today,” Dixon said. “We got rained out after about an hour or so of running. We worked again on long runs and race preparation in the Target car. It looked like the weather isn’t going to be much better tomorrow so we’ll just have to sit and wait. Typical May weather for Indianapolis.”
Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner Simon Pagenaud was seventh at 223.063 mph in a Dallara/Honda with Josef Newgarden eighth at 222.652 mph.
“I’m kind of happy about the rain a little bit,” Newgarden said. “I know it sounds very odd, but it’s been a tough on our teams trying to switch over from the Grand Prix race that we had a couple days ago, so it’s nice to give them a break. We’ve had a good start to the month, at least in terms of practice for the 500. We’ve been trying to step through our program and things we didn’t get to do last year. We have a pretty good car.
“It’s just a continuation of what we didn’t get to do last year. We did a lot last year, but as a one-car team, you can’t really do everything you want to. This year is a bit different. We have Alex Tagliani as a teammate and it’s easier to get things done. Yesterday we did quite a bit of running. We ran 105 laps. We’re just hoping for a couple of clear days this week because we have a lot more to do.”
Rookie driver Sage Karam as also impressive as the fifth driver for team owner Chip Ganassi was ninth at 222.483 mph in a Dallara/Chevrolet that is being prepared by Dreyer & Reinbold.
“Today went well,” said last year’s Indy Lights champion. “We made some good improvements to the car which allowed me to run in more traffic and in bigger packs of cars. I was able to put up some pretty good times similar to what guys were running yesterday and close to the fast guys today. Getting into the top 10 is a good confidence builder for the team and myself. We’re going to work very hard to tweak the car and get it a bit better for me in traffic so I am more comfortable. Once we that happens, we are going to have a very good car for this month.”
Practice continues Wednesday at Noon Eastern Time, weather permitting.