A FEW PERCENT HERE AND THERE
Fast Friday gave some indicator – and I do mean only some insight – as to what kind of speeds teams might achieve with clean air and extra boost during time trials this weekend. With the six-hour session cut almost in half by a massive downpour, teams did their best to perform three or four simulated qualifying attempts, but with the time needed to make setup changes between those runs and looking for a (mostly) empty track to run without the aid of a tow, few teams went home tonight feeling like they had all the information they needed to have.
Saturday morning offers two more hours of practice, but with Friday's limited running, the 2.5-mile oval could be busy with activity and that's exactly what you don't want when working on qualifying setups.
The additional turbo boost allotted for Fast Friday through Bump Day, an increase from 18.84 to 20.29 psi, adds an extra 45 horsepower or so to the estimated 580hp the engines produce on the lower (18.84 psi) level they've used in practice and will have again in the race.
The extra few percent delivered by the single- and twin-turbo engines could push Saturday's pole speed close to or possibly over the 230mph mark, and with so many teams needing to try extremely low-downforce runs – something most did not get a chance to do on Friday – it's hard to tell just how fast the field for the 97th Indy 500 will qualify.
By this time during most Indy 500s, picking the pole average can be done within a few tenths of a mile per hour. As it stands, and with so few fast laps turned today without the aid of a slight tow, I won't even hazard a guess at what the big number will be at the end of Saturday.
BUSY NIGHT AND DAY FOR DALY'S TEAM
32 of the 33 drivers entered for the Indianapolis 500 turned practice laps on Fast Friday, with most concentrating on developing their low-fuel, low-downforce setups that will be used during the run for the pole on Saturday but one driver was noticeably absent.
With a practice-ending downpour blanketing the circuit just after 3 p.m.. ET, AJ Foyt Racing's Conor Daly, who became the first driver to crash this month at the Speedway 24 hours earlier, had just put on his firesuit and was getting ready to head out to pit lane when rain ended any hopes of turning laps in his repaired No. 41 entry.
Daly's disappointment, however, paled in comparison to the frustration felt by his crew members after working deep into the night to un-flatten the rookie's Dallara DW12-Honda.
“Yeah, it was a pretty late night, I think until midnight, which people don't hear much about,” team director Larry Foyt told RACER. “A lot of times you don't see the hours that go into motor racing, especially this place. So both teams actually helped; I was really happy with the No. 14 crew, they jumped in and helped as much as they could. It's been a real team effort to get the car ready, and from what I understand it was about ready to go…”
Foyt's staff only got a few hours of sleep and were back to continue the extensive rebuilding process at 6 a.m.
“Basically the whole right side of the car was junked,” explained Foyt. “The suspension, brakes; you name it. I think the [rear wing] main plane was OK, but we did a gearbox case, most of the internals were OK, though. The GCU (gearbox control unit) looks pretty banged up. So we'll give that a test and maybe keep it as a spare. It was a lot of things. Headers. We've got to see what the engine damage is. Not a great sight but most importantly we can fix racecars as long as Conor's OK.”
Asked to put a price tag on the crash, Foyt, who's nursing a flu that has swept through the team's garage, grimaced when he said, “We salvage everything that we can, but I think a wreck like that easily costs you right around a quarter-million...”
Losing the rest of the day to bad weather allowed the team to finish up Daly's car and leave at a reasonable hour to catch up on some well-deserved rest. Daly's teammate Takuma Sato was 10th fastest on the day which should benefit the 21-year-old after missing a day-and-a-half of running.
“The boys have been working straight through,” Foyt noted. “They came in early this morning and got straight to it and have been going non-stop. The 14 guys had to jump back over on the 14 car but we were really happy with Takuma's run this morning. So I think we can transfer a lot of that over to Conor.
“He's eager to get back going. The weather is obviously hurting us right now. I was hoping to get him out and just get back in and let him get going again and get the confidence back up. But I know he'll be fine. I think he'll put it in the show, no problem.”
Despite having Sato's Fast Friday data and setup info for Daly to draw from, Foyt say he'll likely use as much of Saturday as he can to let the Hoosier log more laps before making his first qualifying attempt.
“Probably I would imagine we would miss our first draw just depending on how things look at how much practice and how he feels after the morning sessions,” he explained. “We'll evaluate all that after tomorrow morning's practice and see what this weather does, but we're in no rush to put him in the show right away.”
DINGER'S ENGINEER SAYS HE'S A FAST LEARNER
Once former Champ Car ace AJ Allmendinger passed his rookie test on Saturday, the diminutive Californian posted top 10 speeds in four out of the next six days of practice and has looked like a 10-year veteran of the great race.
Ron Ruzewski, his Team Penske engineer who looked after Helio Castroneves before being promoted to technical director, knows plenty about winning the 500, and told RACER his hilarious new charge is picking things up at a rapid rate.
“First day, first corner he did the NASCAR line,” said Ruzewski. “Then I told him not to do that…that's what I did. Kidding aside, I'm impressed with him. Once we got through the rookie program it's just been good each day. We've been taking it slow too; I've been taking a calculated program with him. Baby steps. But he's accepted it. He's really had a lot of confidence. Each day I've been trimming it out a little bit. He's doing a good job.”
Years of driving Sprint Cup cars has altered Allmendinger's engineering lingo and changed his chassis feedback slightly, but the Penske engineers continue to bring the driver of the No. 2 IZOD-liveried Chevy back to his open-wheel roots.
“Some of it I have to read between the lines a little bit but I think that's the same with any of the guys,” said Ruzewski. “Helio specifically knows what he wants to get around here. AJ, he's not 100 percent sure but he knows that he wants it to be the same in traffic as by himself and he knows sometimes that's not reality, probably. I've really been cautiously optimistic.”
Ruzewski also pointed out one of the NASCAR skills Allmendinger possesses that could make a difference in the race.
“He's learning getting in these big packs, and there's a lot of crazies out there. And learning about the conditions he'll have in the race is what matters. I think one thing he's got going for him is NASCAR guys are used to searching and looking for the line, finding where the grip is because it's always changing, and I think he's got that going for him that he's not afraid to move around a little bit, where some of these guys get stuck in a routine. So from that standpoint I think it's good.”
After years of success with Castroneves at Indy, Ruzewski is enjoying being out of the spotlight for a change.
“I'm pretty happy with him. It's fun. It's actually fun. It's a different set of expectations. You come here with Helio you're expected to win the race. With AJ, every day is a new day…”
I couldn't help but ask Ruzewski, who's one of the calmer heads on pit lane, what it's like going from engineering and interacting with the always-on Helio Castroneves to the always-always-on AJ Allmendinger.
“AJ…he's got just a different energy,” he said with a big smile. “Between AJ and Helio, I think it's the difference between a full sugar rush and a slow burn…”