Briscoe, Penske team top Fast Friday at Indy
By Jeff Olson
It appears as if the battle for the pole position Saturday at Indianapolis will be between the Big Three teams, but judging from Friday’s practice, one of the three might have a slight advantage.
Penske Racing had the two fastest laps of Friday’s six-hour practice session, with Ryan Briscoe recording the fastest lap – 39.8263 seconds (225.981 mph) – in the No. 6 Penske Dallara-Honda. He was followed by Helio Castroneves at 39.9223 (225.438 mph) in the No. 3 Penske Dallara-Honda. Will Power, driving the team’s third entry, was clocked seventh-fastest of the 33 cars on the track Friday.
Briscoe and Castroneves were just a tick ahead of their rivals at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, which is fielding the winners of the last two Indianapolis 500s. Dario Franchitti had the third-fastest lap Friday (224.984 mph) while 2008 race winner Scott Dixon had the fourth-best lap – 224.822 mph).
When asked if he felt the Ganassi drivers were sandbagging in practice, Briscoe smiled. “I hope not,” he said, recalling Scott Dixon’s return to the track to regain the pole from Briscoe last year.
“I’m feeling good, though,” Briscoe said. “I think the car is running very solid. We’ve done some non-drafting laps, and the car’s been fast. Tomorrow is another day, and everyone is going to be going for it. Hopefully there won’t be any surprises and we can stay at the top.”
Andretti Green Racing and Panther Racing also should be in the hunt when qualifying begins Saturday at noon ET. Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti had the fifth- and sixth-fastest laps of the day, while Panther’s Dan Wheldon was eighth.
“It’s great to start up front, but it’s a 500-mile race,” Patrick said. “I remember in 2005 when Mr. Wheldon won from the middle of the pack. Anything is possible.”
Saturday’s session is expected to be hampered by colder temperatures and wind, but forecasts don’t call for rain. Rain surrounded the track Friday but never caused lengthy delays.
“Tomorrow will be a whole other unique set of conditions for us, really,” Dixon said. “The weather here in Indianapolis has been quite unpredictable, but we think we have a strong shot at the pole for tomorrow. The Penske cars have been pretty fast, though. Dario has been strong, as well, so we’re optimistic about getting solidly into the race.”
Three drivers were involved in costly crashes Friday, the worst sustained by Scott Sharp. His No. 16 Panther Racing Dallara-Honda spun suddenly in Turn 1.
“It just snapped on me,” Sharp said. “I’m not exactly sure what’s up. I have to go back and figure all of that out with the Panther team. We’ve been struggling a little bit to gain more speed and didn’t really need this to happen right now. We’ll see what the plan is and find a way to rebound.”
Crew members took the mangled car back to the team’s shop, and Sharp did not return to the track.
Ryan Hunter-Reay and Robert Doornbos spun and hit the wall earlier in the day, but both returned. Vision Racing repaired the light damage to Hunter-Reay’s No. 21 car and got it back on track. Doornbos returned in his Newman/Haas/Lanigan T-car.
The surprise of the week so far – Alex Lloyd in the Ganassi/Sam Schmidt No. 99 car – could have a shot at making the top 11 Saturday. His lap of 224.219 mph was 10th-best of the day.
“We’re in the window where we’re pretty happy,” Lloyd said. “We’re pleased with the speed of the car, and I think we can go a little bit quicker if we take off a little more downforce. Obviously, the aim is to try to get qualified tomorrow, and I think we’ve got a car that’s capable of doing that.”
The top 11 positions on the 33-car starting grid will be determined by Saturday’s qualifying. Once 11 positions are filled, drivers will begin to bump one another out of the top 11.