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HUNTER-REAY, VISO, PAGENAUD AND CASTRONEVES PACE INDY 500 PRACTICE DAYS
Author: Mark W. Theisen
INDY 500 fans enjoy the speeds in practice. Photo/Steve Burzynski
INDY 500 fans enjoy the speeds in practice. Photo/Steve Burzynski
May 16th 2014 -
     INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 15, 2014:  The second through fifth days of practice for the Indianapolis 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway produced escalating speeds as teams honed their cars in for qualifications this coming weekend as well as the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 set for Sunday May 25th.

     Despite each of the four days being plagued by rain showers and the track having to be put under the caution flag to allow for drying efforts 7,601 laps of practice were logged by drivers in an effort to get as much speed out of the cars.

     What made the week even more valuable was the varying degrees of weather conditions that allowed team engineers to see what their cars would do from extremely warm temperatures and humidity to cool and cloudy that developed mid-week and carried through the 50 degree temperatures today.

     Monday dawned cloudy, warm and humid and by the end of the day Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 Verizon IndyCar champion had broken the 225 mile-per-hour barrier with a top speed of 225.025 to pace the 24 drivers that took to the track.  At the end of the day 2,296 laps were recorded by the 24 with Marco Andretti, 222.502; Helio Castroneves, 222.373; Justin Wilson, 222.220 and Juan Pablo Montoya, 222.134 completing the top five on the speed chart.

     "We got a lot of work done today, a lot for what we need race weekend,” said Hunter-Reay.  "It’s nice leading practice but we need to get a feel for what down force levels we will need to run during the race and thus I worked with all five of our team cars to get a grip on what the right set up might be come race day.”

     Indianapolis May Greg Ballard returned to the Speedway today, after he was injured from flying debris from the opening start crash Saturday during the Grand Prix of Indianapolis showing little effect from his forearm injury.

     E.J. Viso continued to substitute for James Hinchcliffe in the Andretti Autosport #27 as Hinchcliffe got the clearance from his doctors to resume training today and by Thursday he was given the "all clear” from his physicians and track medical staff to race, the concussion he sustained after being hit in the cockpit of his car by flying debris during the race has abated.

     Tuesday’s practice began with a 79 degree air temperature but just as soon as the track opened so did the skies and everything was stopped with over and hour and a half lost to track drying.

     When the track finally re-opened it was Viso quickest for the day with a top speed of 224.488, not the lap that his teammate Hunter-Reay had on Monday but still goo enough to the fastest of the 31 drivers now taking practice laps.  

     Former NASCAR champion Kurt Busch, in yet another Andretti car was second at 224.159 as he continues to improve behind the wheel of an IndyCar despite not having ever raced a lap in this type of car.

     All eyes are on Busch as attempts to do the "double” for the first time in 10 years.  That "double” being racing in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca Cola 600 in Charlotte, North Carolina on the same day, and a feat that only three other drivers have ever accomplished:  John Andretti, Tony Stewart and Robby Gordon, being the three.

     To be able to accomplish this "herculean” effort will see Busch practice here, practice and qualify for the NASCAR All-Star race in Charlotte, also this weekend, and the race weekend in Charlotte where he also must practice and qualify for the 600.  He has been training for months for this effort.

     Montoya, Hunter-Reay, and Marco Andretti completed the fast five on Tuesday.

     Sunday saw the Chevrolet powered cars of Team Penske lead the speed charts while Monday and Tuesday it was the Honda of Andretti Autosport that showed the way.

     Heavy rain saw the start of Wednesday practice delayed to 5:00 P.M.; this after an all day drying effort that paid off in the end and practice was extended until 6:30 instead of the usual 6:00 to give the teams as much time as possible.

     Simon Pagenaud, the winner of Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis, recorded the top lap of the month, 226.122 as cool track temperatures allowed for more speed.  Pagenaud in the Schmidt Peterson entry with Honda Power paced the Chevrolet of JR Hildebrand, followed by Scott Dixon, Castroneves and Mikhail Aleshin with all five breaking the top speed of Hunter-Reay on Monday.

     Wednesday saw the first on track incident of the month when rookie Jack Hawksworth lost control of his car in the third turn, did a half spin and then made hard contact with the SAFER Barrier in the third turn.  The car suffered moderate damage to the left side of the car and Hawksworth was unhurt in the accident.

     "I have no idea of what happened to be honest,” said Hawksworth, who led last Saturday’s Grand Prix for a stretch.  "We just went into the turn and it snapped, so we’ll have to look at the car and figure out what happened. 

     Despite the late start to the day 1,044 laps were recorded before the track shut down for the day.

     Today the string of dismal weather conditions continued with intermittent rain but now the air temperatures were in the 40’s and, while good for speed, not so good for watching.

     After a few interruptions for rain all out practice got under way at 3:00 P.M. and between then and the Six P.M. close 2,516 laps were recorded with Castroneves turning the top lap of the month at 227.166 miles-per-hour followed by Ed Carpenter, the 2013 Indy 500 pole position winner at 226.257 with these two laps being the fastest all month long ahead of Pagenaud’s 226.122 yesterday.

     Will Power was third today at 225.899, Townsend Bell at 225.484 and Hunter-Reay at 225.340 followed the top three.

     Practice continues tomorrow, Friday, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway beginning at 11:00 A.M., again weather permitting.

     For years the Friday before qualifying has been known as "Fast Friday”, when the final hour’s speed are an indicator of who has what speed for the run for the pole.

     Castroneves predicted a pole winning average of 230 miles-per-hour.  "Weather says it all here,” said Castroneves.  "Wind, humidity and air temperatures all play into it here but if Saturday and Sunday’s weather forecast holds true I see the 230 as a possibility”

     Qualifying for the Indianapolis is unique in all of motorsport and for 2014 the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has made it even more complicated.

     Drivers complete a four lap run with their average speed for the four laps determining the qualifying speed.  In the past this determined their starting position.

     Now the Saturday qualifications get the car into the field while the Sunday qualifying sets the field. 

     Saturday’s qualification’s now carry points with 33 for the pole winner down to one for the final qualifier, which makes Saturday important in the overall picture for the series champion.  In addition the top nine on Saturday advance to "Fast Nine Shootout” on Sunday which will earn additional points from 9 down to one and will decide who starts on the pole for the 500.  Those extra points in 2014 along with double championship points awarded for the three 500 mile races on the Verizon IndyCar series can severely alter the championship battle and has been bone of contention for some of the series drivers, most notably Power.

     The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been searching for a way to get more people to attend qualification weekend and the added enticements for the drivers is hoped to lead to drama that will build fan interest.

     The experiment begins this weekend.