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Author: Mark W. Theisen
May 14th 2015 -      INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 14, 2015:  The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was changed from the road course configuration that commenced right after the conclusion of the Angie’s List Grand Prix last Saturday to that of the familiar 2 and one-half mile oval in time for practice for qualifying for the 99th Indianapolis 500 that is set for this Saturday and Sunday and with the 500 being the first race with the new aero packages for Chevrolet and Honda these sessions were extremely important and by Monday morning everyone one was ready.
     Monday was the second day of practice for the new handling packages on any kind of oval track and despite a day that was abbreviated by an early afternoon shower, nearly 1,100 laps of practice were recorded as the shakedowns began in earnest.
     From what was observed the opening day it looks as though Honda is much more competitive with Chevrolet with the oval package than with the road and street course kit that has left them trying to catch up with Chevrolet after the first 5 races of the season. And Andretti Autosports has been heard from after being almost non-competitive in the first five races.
     Sage Karam, who as a rookie finished ninth in last year’s 500 was the fastest at the end of Monday’s second day of practice in his Ganassi Racing Chevrolet with a top lap 0f 225.802 miles-per-hour and he was followed by his teammates, Scott Dixon (225.293) and Tony Kanaan (225.184) as Chevrolet powered cars sat atop the speed chart as per the case thus far in 2015 but this time Honda was within striking range.
     Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosports led the Honda contingent, fourth overall, at 225.184.
    ‘We have a lot of work to do,” Karam said.  “The car’s not anywhere where we want it to be for race day qualifying.  I have a great team and they are making it a lot easier on us drivers being as prepared as they are.”
     Monday also saw Stefano Coletti of KV Racing Technology complete his rookie orientation program as he was racing out of the United States on May 3rd and could not take part in the tests that day also veteran Townsend Bell sailed through his refresher program in his first Verizon IndyCar action since last year’s 500.
     Chevrolet continued to pace the practice on Tuesday, this time with the powerful Team Penske cars leading the speed chart at the end of the day with Helio Castroneves being nearly two-miles an hour faster than that of Karam on Monday with at top lap of 227.414 miles-per-hour as nearly 2,000 laps of practice were recorded.
     Castroneves is one of the main story lines for this year’s 500 as he continues his quest to become a four time winner of the event and join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser Sr., and Rick Mears in that exclusive club and with the success of his team at Indianapolis he always has to been one of the favorites and actually came up just short in last year’s 500.
     Simon Pagenaud, one of his three teammate’s at Penske, was second at 227.383 and Dixon, a former 500 champion, third with 226.769.  Justin Wilson, one of five entries from Andretti Autosport who won the race last year with Ryan Hunter-Reay, was fourth at 226.688 in his Honda.  Bell showed that there was little rust in with his oval track skills placing fifth at 226.519.
     It was a tough day for Simona de Silvestro of the Andretti team as she suffered through her second firs scare in four years at Indianapolis shortly after 2 P.M. when a fuel leak turned into a full blown fire.
     De Silvestro steered to a stop and climbed out safely but the car sustained significant damage and severely cut into her much needed practice time on the oval.  “It’s definitely unfortunate because the car is pretty burnt down, and it’s really frustrating that it seems like fire follows me,” said de Silvestro.  “Hopefully the team can get the car back together as quickly as possible as until now everything was working just fine.”
     “It was a pretty good day,” said Castroneves, who top lap of the day was posted early in the session.  “Things are going in the right direction, we’re not focused on just a lap, and we’re focused on the performance of it all.”
     Castroneves and Pippa Mann were the stories that came out of Wednesday’s session but not for speed.
     Castroneves escaped a frightening crash that’s saw his car go airborne in turn one.  The car spun into the wall with a left-side impact and then traveled backwards.  Traveling backwards, the rear of the car lifted off the ground and flipped.  Initially the car landed upside down with the roll hoop taking most of the impact before it turned over on its wheels.
    Luckily Castroneves was unhurt and was able to smile and talk about the crash after he was checked out at the infield car hospital.  “The accident was most impressive,” exclaimed Castroneves.  “The car is good and I am very blessed.  Unfortunately I still do not understand what happened.  I got loose in turn one and spun out.  The car is good and the impact wasn’t very strong.  We just need to figure out what happened and why the car went airborne.” 
     Mann became the second IndyCar driver to crash Wednesday and did so coming out of turn 4.  Mann’s car spun backwards before striking the antenuator at the entrance to it road.  She hit the end of the divider between pit road and the front straightaway.  The hit forcefully spun her car out back onto the track and into the wall.
    Mann was unhurt in the incident but will have her practice time curtailed as her Dale Coyne Racing Team re-assemble her car.
     Carlos Munoz of the Andretti Autosport team turned in the first 230 plus lap in Wednesday’s session, a 230.121 lap that was over a mile-an-hour faster than Bell who recorded at 228.969.  Kanaan was third at 228.172 with James Davison fourth at 228.043.  Karam rounded out the top five at 227.822.  Munoz and Davison piloted Honda powered cars while other three were in Chevrolets.
     Interestingly enough is the fact that Davison is the only one of the 34 drivers that knows his starting position for the 500 before qualifying as Tristan Vautier will now practice in his car and qualify it as Davison will be racing in Canada this weekend.  Despite wherever Vautier qualifies the car, because of the driver change, the car will have to start last in the 500.
     Josef Newgarden became the second driver to get airborne following crash this month at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when he lost control of his Chevrolet powered car in the first turn, in nearly the same spot as Castroneves did yesterday.  
     “I got around pretty quickly in Turn one,” said Newgarden.  “It surprised me, I’m okay everything is good but I’m just worried as to how bad the car is and how long it will take to be repaired.”
     Mann definitely knows the feeling a she spent all day watching her Dale Coyne Racing team repair her car while de Silvestro was able to get back on the track after losing nearly two days as a result of her Tuesday’s fire.
     Pagenaud, at 228.793 was fasted today followed by Munoz, 228.126, Karam at 227.683, Dixon at 227.634 and Kanaan at 227.527. 
     Today’s session looked as though team’s were working in tandem with one another as with the new handling package passing becomes a premium as the car in front upsets the air of the cars behind them making a slingshot pass much more difficult.
     In the most recent Indy 500’s fans were treated to a spectacular array of lead changes and that will go away this year as track position becomes the most important part of the race thereby placing pit work at the forefront of race day strategy.
      Practice resumes tomorrow on “Fast Friday” and it is expected to liven up as manufacturers will be allowed to increase turbocharger boost pressure from 130 kPa to 140 kPa, which will generate more horsepower and likely higher speeds.
     The increase in boost pressure, which began two years ago, is for Friday’s practice and qualifying on Saturday and Sunday only.  The boost pressure returns to the normally prescribed rating for next Monday’s practice and for the final practice session on Friday May22nd and race on the 24th, and was primarily instituted to bring more attention and spectators into the track for qualifying.