full week of practice is in the books – six full days with all cars,
plus rookie orientation on May 10, with nary a rain interruption nor a
major accident thus far.
The speeds set this week largely reflect potential race pace, as the
best laps have come via large tows, and it's been tougher to gauge the
pace in solo runs. On Friday, the series will increase the boosts, so
single-car runs will take precedence and the speeds
– roughly 218 to 219mph in solo runs thus far – are likely to increase
to at least the 223 to 224mph threshold. Here are some of the trends from the
week's worth of running to this point.
NEWGARDEN'S WEEK TO SHINE – Whether
it's down to a fresh paint job on his Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing
thanks to Indy-only sponsor Dollar General, or just the fact
the kid's a quick learner, Josef Newgarden has, by all accounts,
upstaged the usual suspects as a permanent resident on the top of the
leaderboard. Newgarden has ended the day fastest three times out of six,
earning an extra $15,000 for his team ($5,000 apiece),
and had three days where he ended over 222mph in the tow.
His week hasn't been without incident – the rookie had the
month's first spin after losing it off Turn 4 on Wednesday, but
sustaining only minimal damage to
his car. He was back out on Thursday, no issues, and posted a 222.709
for the day. It will be interesting to see how his solo laps compare and whether he stays near the top of the charts.
fact Newgarden's been so close to the top has overshadowed how well
fellow rookie Bryan Clauson has acclimated to the Speedway in his first
IndyCar start. Clauson
has gained experience with consistent laps, shown strongly in the draft,
and occasionally hit the 221mph lap mark as well.
IT'S STILL FAIRLY BUNCHED – Looking
through the combined practice speeds, while the strongly tow-assisted
best laps of the month from Marco Andretti and Scott
Dixon each eclipsed 223mph, and three others ran in the 222 range, the
next 23 drivers all have a best lap between 221 and 219mph – most are in
the tow, but with not quite as big a tow as the best laps.
top 10 combined speeds feature drivers from five different teams –
there are five Hondas and five Chevrolets apiece in the bunch. Sixteen
drivers have exceeded 221mph
for their best lap of the month, with 21 of the 32 that have posted an
official time (Katherine Legge's rookie orientation program not counted)
over the 220mph barrier.
there are a couple anomalies of that group. The Foyt cars, for
instance, made a major jump on Thursday, because throughout the week,
both Mike Conway and Wade
Cunningham struggled to top 218 with any regularity. Cunningham had a
gradual climb each day, from 216.657 Sunday to the team's best lap of
221.450 on Thursday, with roughly one mph gained each day. Conway's
2.7mph spike from Wednesday to Thursday (217.2 to
220.9) would indicate tow to help find the speed more likely than
trimming out the car to its ultimate minimum level of downforce.
WHAT'S THE BIG DOGS' BITE? – Of
the three “power teams” within the IZOD IndyCar Series, Andretti
Autosport has consistently shown pace both in single-car runs
and in the tow, while Chip Ganassi Racing has had more moments of speed
than not, and Team Penske has largely laid in the weeds. Whether that
changes for Fast Friday remains to be seen – if in fact the “big dogs”
will shoot to the top and lock out the top eight
or nine positions or whether the underdogs will continue to have their
quintet of Marco Andretti, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay,
Sebastian Saavedra and Ana Beatriz have shown a good comfort and handle
on their cars, and
all but Beatriz has ended a day in the top five on the speed charts. The
team didn't run on Thursday, probably opting to save a day's worth of
sets of tires. So far, the pace shown by the team has erased the
memories of last year's qualifying disaster when
Andretti barely qualified, Conway didn't, and Hunter-Reay was bumped out
at the last minute and raced thanks only to a purchase of a starting
spot from Foyt.
Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball have all had some very
strong tows throughout the week, and largely stayed in the top 10. Dario
been just a small fraction off his teammates' pace, but still within the
top eight each of the last four days. Rahal rebounded from the month's
lone blown engine thus far to post a 221.855 the day after changing.
for Penske, you wonder if their relative lack of pace has been simply
preparing for the race or if there's more of a struggle in dialing in
the setup. Similar to Andretti,
Penske's trio of cars withheld running too much on Wednesday to save
tires, and the first signs of life came Thursday when Will Power and
Ryan Briscoe each turned their fastest laps over the 221mph threshold.
Helio Castroneves' 222.025, second on Tuesday, has
been the lone eye-popping number from the group this month.