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Author: Mark W. Theisen
Photo by Brady Whitesel. Copyright 2015 -
Photo by Brady Whitesel. Copyright 2015 -
May 7th 2015 -      INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 7, 2015:  Last Sunday, May 3rd.,  the Indianapolis Motor Speedway officially opened for on track activities leading up to the running of this Saturday’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 24th two distinctly different races on the “most famous race course in the world”.

     Sunday’s practice for the Verizon IndyCar series cars on the 2 and one-half mile oval track was the much awaited debut of the oval car aero-package on the Dallara chassis of the Chevrolet and Honda powered cars.  The differences in the two kits from each of the manufacturers is to distinguish their cars from the other and too, of course, provide an on track advantage for the particular manufacturer.

     Chevrolet held a distinct advantage with the aero kits in the first four road and street course races but after its debut on Sunday, it seems Honda may have spent more time honing their oval package as they were not as behind, on debut, as they were with the road course package.

     Sunday was divided into sessions that included practice for the veterans on the oval with the new aero kit and then rookie orientation for the new drivers entered in the 500 this year and then back to veteran practice to conclude the day.

     Helio Castroneves in a Chevrolet powered car from Team Penske was the first driver on the track when it “officially” opened for the month of May at 9:30 A.M.

     A tradition that dates way back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when the track opened on May 1st. and the teams spent the entire month getting ready for qualifications and the 500.  Being first on the tack when the Speedway opened indicated that that particular car/team was indeed ready for the month and eager to capitalize on track time while others may still be getting their car built.

     Although not as big a deal today as it has been, for a team like Penske, which is part of the tradition of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway it I still a big part of the month and they seized on the opportunity for the sixth straight year, five of the past six being led by Castroneves and in 2012 by Ryan Briscoe.  In Roger Penske’s eyes it is always be prepared and being first on the track at Indianapolis indicates that he is primed to win the even for the 16th time come May 24th.

     Rookie driver tests and refresher courses followed with the rookie orientation program being a series of 10 laps in the 205-210 mile-per-hour bracket, 15 laps at 210-215 and 15 laps at 215 plus.  Gabby Chaves was the one rookie participating in the program while Sage Karam, Conor Daly, James Jakes, Oriol Servia, Simona de Silvestro and Bryan Clauson took part in the refresher program.  By noon all the drivers had been cleared to practice with the veteran group the rest of the day.

     When the track closed at 5:00 P.M. Juan Pablo Montoya was fastest in his Penske Chevrolet with a top speed of 226.772 miles-per-hour followed by Castroneves at 226.468   Marco Andretti placed third in his Andretti Autosports Honda at 226.268 with Scott Dixon in the Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet at 225.881.  Simon Pagenaud in yet another Penske Chevrolet was fifth at 225.641.  Considering that top speeds for last year’s 500 were in the low 230’s this was an impressive start for the month of May and points to speeds approaching the all-time record of 237 miles-per-hour set in 1996 to be broken in the foreseeable future.

     Alex Tagliani was confirmed as the third driver for the A.J. Foyt Racing Team this past week which brings the total entry for the 500 to 34 which will mean that a bump will happen during qualifications that conclude Sunday May 17th.  17 Chevrolet drivers have been confirmed while Dale Coyne Racing has yet to name two if it’s three drivers for the 500 which will bring Honda to 17 as well.  Coyne is still trying to finalize contracts for the 500 but is committed to the three, two of which are on the Verizon IndyCar Leader’s Circle program.

     When the track closed on Sunday changes were made to the configuration of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to convert it into a 2.439 14 turn road course that will be used for the second running of the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis this coming Saturday.

     The road course opened for practice for the Angie’s List race today with 25 cars on the track with the drivers having to switch to their road course configured cars after working with the new oval package this past Sunday, a yeoman task for not only the driver but the crews as well, dealing with two entirely different cars within one week.

     Dixon emerged as the fastest driver following the two sessions that encompassed action on the track today.  His speed of 124.197 was just ahead of Will Power, Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais and Castroneves as three of the four Penske cars were in top five and the fourth, defending Angie’s List race winner, Simon Pagenaud was 6th as Chevrolet drivers swept the top 7 spots on the speed chart for the day with Sebastian Saavedra taking seventh.

     Takuma Sato on an A.J. Foyt Racing Honda was the fastest Honda taking 8th followed by Graham Rahal in the Rahal, Letterman, Lannigan Racing Honda.  Charlie Kimball was 10th in a Ganassi Chevrolet as Honda is still looking to improve on its road course street package.

     Practice continues tomorrow, for the second running of the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis at 11:00 A.M. with qualifications set for 3:00.  The race begins at 3:40 P.M. Saturday.