SPEEDWAY, Ind. – It was an unusual Opening Day for the 97th Indianapolis 500 for many reasons Saturday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
With the teams competing in last Sunday’s spectacular street race in Sao Paulo, Brazil the race cars and equipment did not arrive in the United States from the journey from South America until Wednesday night.
Once the cars and equipment were back in the possession of each team, the cars had to be restored, repaired and turned around from street course setup to the race configuration needed for the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Team Penske worked on the cars all night Thursday and drove through the night to get to Indianapolis early Friday morning.
The top teams had their cars ready to go and their garages set up in Gasoline Alley by Saturday’s Opening Day but many teams were still in the process of moving in and decided they would not participate in the first day of practice. Throw in the fact that the first practice lasted 2 hours before it was halted so rookie drivers A.J. Allmendinger, Carlos Munoz and Tristan Vautier could complete all three phases of the Rookie Orientation Program before the veterans were allowed back on the track.
Then throw in the fickle Indiana weather, which was very cold on Saturday and had periods of thick, grey clouds and a brief period of rain before finally giving way to bright sunshine by the end of the afternoon.
Because of that, only 16 cars hit the track Saturday for a total of 298 laps.
Ed Carpenter was the fastest driver of the day with a fast lap of 220.970 miles per hour in a Dallara/Chevrolet and spoke about how unusual Opening Day was on Saturday.
“It was definitely a little different and there were a lot of reasons,” Carpenter said. “We just got our cars back from Brazil on Wednesday and it was a lot of work for everyone to get ready to run today and some people opted not to run today. Then throw in the weather and ROP in the middle and it made for a quiet Opening Day. We wanted to get out and run today because Sunday looks even worse than today.
“It definitely was not the most exciting Opening Day but any time you are on this race track it’s something special. This is my 10th Indianapolis 500 and it feels special every year. I wasn’t going to sit out today, that’s for sure.”
Josef Newgarden of Nashville, Tenn., was second fast at 220.920 miles per hour in a Dallara/Honda for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. He was among the fastest drivers in practice at last year’s Indianapolis 500 and backed that up on Saturday.
“I thought we had a great start to the month of May here today,” Newgarden said. “It was a solid day for the Century 21 car. I thought it looked beautiful on the race track, and it felt even better. It was good to get in the rhythm. We weren’t pressing anything today. It was good to get the car shaken down and get a good solid start. We’ll be looking to pace ourselves throughout the month. The end goal is to finish the race well, so we have to keep our eyes on that prize.”