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Author: Mark W. Theisen
May 15th 2015 -      INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 15, 2015:     With turbocharger boost pressure increased for today’s ‘Fast Friday” practice session speeds were expected to escalate and the 34 drivers vying for a starting position in the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 24th did not disappoint.
     Six drivers, led by Team Penske driver, Simon Pagenaud, topped the 230 mile-per-hour barrier and 33 of the 34 drivers were all over 225 miles-per-hour in what is shaping up to be a terrific battle for the coveted pole position for the 500 which commences tomorrow morning at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
     While team Penske ked the chart at the conclusion of the day it was Ganassi Racing placing all four of its drivers in the top thirteen giving every indication that they are as ready as the standard-baring Penske organization.
     Pagenaud’s 230.698 speed was barely faster than Scott Dixon of Ganassi, whose 230.655 was right behind.  His Ganassi teammate, Tony Kanaan was at 230.457 good for third giving every indication that the 2013 Indy 500 winner is ready to win another 500.  All three cars were powered by Chevrolet.
     Marco Andretti, of Andretti Autosports, was fourth at 230.312 to lead the Honda contingent during this pivotal practice session. 
     Will Power of Team Penske was fifth at 230.206 as his quest to sweep the month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway continues in earnest.
     Sage Karem of Ganassi was the sixth driver to record a speed over 230 with a lap of 230.166 followed by rookie driver Gabby Chaves in a Honda powered car just short of the 230 standard at 229.891.
     Helio Castroneves, showing no signs of his practice crash on Wednesday taking 8th at 229.852 followed by Takuma Sato in an A.J. Foyt racing Honda with a speed of 229.804.  Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the top 10 at 229.714 in his Penske Chevrolet.  The first 18 were all over the 229 mile-per-hour bracket.
  “I don’t feel like I’m the favorite, said Pagenaud.  “I feel like I have a great race car and the whole Team Penske is doing a great job and the car is amazing fast.  There are so many factors that will come into play tomorrow.  The decisions that we make with the aero level may be too low or too high for the temperature.  It’s going to really tough for the engineers.”
     The pole position cannot be won on Saturday but drivers must be among the nine fastest in full-field qualifying Saturday in order run in the Fast Nine Shootout for the pole on Sunday.  Qualifying will be held from 11 A.M. to 5:50 P.M. on Saturday.
     Eleven drivers have won back-to-back pole positions, but none has won three in a row and Ed Carpenter, in his CFH Racing Chevrolet, has an opportunity for that after winning the pole in each of the past two years.
     Carpenter, who has not been among the faster cars this month, posting a 228.885 today good for just 20th on the final speed chart is not worried about making history.  “My sole focus is on winning the race,” said Carpenter, who has started the 500 11 eleven times.  “it would be nice if it happens (winning the pole three straight years) but I want to win this race so bad that we are concentrating so much on race setup and strategy right now.  These new aero packages are a challenge and we need to be ready for the race.”
     The four-lap qualifying record for the 500 was set by Arie Luyendyk in 1996 and it looks as though that standard will remain, at least for another year, as teams get acclimated to all that is new this year.
     All cars will take qualifying attempts tomorrow with the fastest 9 locked into the Shootout.  The lineup at the end of the day will produce a provisional lineup for the race.  Teams may make as many attempts with or without withdrawing a previous time in order to make the Fast Nine or improve their position in Sunday’s field starting order qualifications.
     Drivers will earn season championship points based on their provisional qualifying position with the fastest qualifier receiving 33 points down to one point for the 33rd qualifier, so it is an important session for all contenders especially those battling for the 2015 Verizon IndyCar title. 
     On Sunday the starting order for the 99th running of the 500 will commence with group qualifying.  Group one will begin at 10:15 A.M. for positions 1- through 30, with each entry making one attempt in an order based on slowest to fastest from Saturday.
     Group two begins at 12:45 P.M. to determine the final row positions 31, 32 and 33.  This session could include any car no qualified on Saturday.  Teams may make as many attempts as possible during the session and with 34 cars bumping in and out of the field looms.
    The fast nine-shootout will conclude Sunday’s activities a 2: P.M.  The Fastest nine qualifiers must make one four-lap attempt based on slowest to fastest from Saturday to determine their starting position including the coveted pole position.  Drivers in the Fast Nine Shootout will earn season championships based on their results, in addition to the points already won on Saturday, with the pole winner getting nine and on down to one for the ninth spot.
     A lot is on the line both days and should weather enter the equation it could result in frantic activity all day long, each day.   
    Six former winners of the 500 are in tomorrow’s field including defending 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay who drew the number position, in a blind draw, that determines the order cars will qualify tomorrow.
     In addition to Hunter-Reay and Kanaan, Dixon, Montoya, Castroneves and Buddy Lazier are all former 500 champions.  Lazier, who has only a partial engine deal with Chevrolet, was the slowest of the 34 cars on the track recording a lap at 216.103 taking just 8 laps as his team struggles to adapt to the new aero package.  The team, which is only competing in the 500, finds itself in a huge hole going into tomorrow’s activities.
     It will be an exciting two-days at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, check back here for the results.