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Author: Mark W. Thiesen
Photo by Brady Whitesel. 2013 All Rights Reserved.
Photo by Brady Whitesel. 2013 All Rights Reserved.
May 17th 2013 -
By:  Mark W. Theisen | INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 17, 2013:    One practice accident is all that marred a week of preparation for qualifying for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 set to kick off a noon tomorrow, weather permitting, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

     With an increase in turbo boost allowance for qualifying for the 500 that will be in force beginning today and lasting through Sunday’s final qualifying attempt the teams spent the first four days of the week setting their cars up in race trim not concentrating so much on speed as they were in getting the handling as good as they could get because the increase in qualifying boost from 130 to 140 will allow for as much as four to five miles an hour increase in speed over what they will race at.

     The boost increase, put into effect last year, was done to draw attention to qualifying that had gone away over the years.  The lure of record speeds is what had drawn significant crowds to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Pole Day Qualifying over the years and that had gone away when the race cars were slowed down for safety reasons.  

     Arie Luyendyk holds the one and four lap qualifying records set on May 12, 1996 with a top lap of 237.498 miles-per-hour and an average of 236.986 and with the 240 mile-per-hour barrier approaching the cars were slowed down and thus the lure of witnessing a speed record at the Speedway went away.  Since then only Scott Dixon has posted a qualifying lap in excess of 230 and that has greatly affected the pole day crowds at the track.

     So with the additional boost it is hoped that the 230 threshold can be achieved coupled with the Fast Nine Pole Qualifying that concludes tomorrows activities it is hoped that race fans will return for the excitement on Pole Day.

     The cars from Andretti Autosports dominated the speed charts this week with Marco Andretti posting a quick lap of 225.100 to lead 32 cars that took to the track on Monday with ideal temperatures and humidity to work on race day set up.

     Rookie Conor Daly, who missed Saturday’s Rookie Orientation Program while racing in Spain, took to the track Monday in A.J. Foyt’s ABC Supply #41 Dallara for his first drive on an oval race track in nearly three years.  

     Daly conservatively worked the car up to speed and by the end of Monday he had cleared the three phases of the test and was cleared to practice with the veteran drivers.  Pippa Mann completed her refresher course as well on Monday to leave just 1996 500 winner Buddy Lazier to compete his refresher course and join the field.

     Joining Marco Andretti, the top five at the end of the day included Helio Castroneves of Team Penske at 225.075; Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti at 224.386; Will Power of Penske at 223.784 and JR Hildebrand of Panther Racing at 223.624.  The top all drove Dallara’s powered by Chevrolet as the Honda Contingent was content to just work of car set-ups.

     Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Company, the parent company of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway announced on Monday that veteran car owner and builder Derrick Walker would join the company as President of Operations and Competition of Indy Car beginning on May 27th.

     Walker currently serves as directed of Ed Carpenter’s Race team and wanted to stay with the second year team until after the 500.  Walker’s bring a deep understanding and insight of open wheel racing to the table and his addition to the management team should help increase the stability of the operation and allow for continued growth in the future.

     On Tuesday, as the cars took to the track for another day of qualifying it was learned that race marketing and management guru, Zak Brown, had taken his name out of consideration for another vacant position in Indy Car, that of director of Commercial Operations.  Hulman & Company had hoped to lure the very savvy Brown into the fold with his world wide contacts in the sport as a means to expand their exposure to his contacts all over the globe.  Brown stated that his business requires his full time attention into order to grow and the Indy Car position would not all that to happen.

     Temperatures shot into the mid 80’s by mid afternoon on Tuesday and that cut into the speeds a bit but James Hinchcliffe from Andretti was the fastest car at the of Tuesday with a top lap of 224.120.  Hildebrand, Marco Andretti, Castroneves and Hunter-Reay completed the top five as Chevrolet powered cars rule the roost again.

     Defending Indy 500 Champion, Dario Franchitti, finally made his presence at the Speedway known on Wednesday getting his Honda powered Dallara up to 224.236 miles-per-hour to lead the speed chart at the end of a day that saw temperatures soar into the low 90’s late in the day that once again held speeds down.

     Townsend Bell in the Sunoco "Turbo” Panther Racing Chevrolet was second at the conclusion of the day with a 223.716.  Castroneves, Hunter-Reay and Ryan Briscoe a teammate of Franchitti completed the top five for the day as two Hondas were able to break up the Chevrolet hold on quick speeds this month at the track.

     At 2:19 p.m. yesterday, Daly, became the first driver to spin this month at the Speedway.  He wiggled exiting Turn 1 and hit the SAFER Barrier with the right side of the car.  The car did a quarter-spin to the left, moving upward on the left side before dropping to the track and sliding sideways down the short chute between Turns 1 and 2.  The right side of his A.J. Foyt Racing machine sustained heavy damage but the good news was the Daly was unhurt in the incident.

     The Foyt team moved quickly to get the car back to their garage and then spent the entire night working on rebuilding what is their only car for Daly in hopes of getting him ready to qualify this weekend.  As of Friday afternoon the team was nearing completion of the rebuild.

     Rookie Carlos Munoz returned to the top of the speed chart at the end of the day on Thursday with a 225.163 top lap followed by Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon on Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Castroneves.  Munoz, who topped the chart last Sunday, was the first driver to lead at the end of two days this month.  Andretti drivers have been at the top at the end of four of the first six days this month at the track.

     And they added to that on Friday, when the increased boost pressure went into effect.  E.J. Viso has posted a lap of 229.537 before a huge rain storm washed out the final two and half hours of practice on Friday.  The cool and cloudy weather was ideal for speed today and it was not known if the 230 thresholds could have been eclipsed.

     Viso became the fourth of the five Andretti drivers to lead the speed parade at the conclusion of a day this month.  Only Hunter-Reay did not rule a day at the completion but he has been in the top 10 each and every day.

     Marco Andretti, 228.754; Munoz, 228.520; Power, 228.401 and Hildebrand, 227.549 followed Viso when the storm broke loose, and their speeds give hope to a 230 day tomorrow.

    Lazier completed his refresher course today and was cleared to practice with 32 now on the track.  Daly is expected on track tomorrow for 33 and then the attention focuses on the two cars with as yet unnamed drivers to make it an interesting Bump Day on Saturday.

     The Andretti cars have been dominant thus far, Penske has been right near the top as well as the Panther cars, all Chevrolet and the manufacturer is looking to shut out Honda in the Fast Nine Pole Qualifying part of tomorrows pole day activities.  Ganassi drivers: Franchitti, Dixon, Briscoe and Charlie Kimball are hoping to break up what has been a dominant performance by the Chevrolet drivers this far this month.

     It will be an exciting Saturday as from noon until 4 the track will be open for four-lap qualification attempts.  At 4:30 P.M. the top nine cars from the first four hours will return for their chance at the pole.

     In all 22 cars will qualify tomorrow.  Potions 10 through 22 will be locked in at 4:00 P.M. but it is conceivable that the driver that is on the pole at 4:00 P.M. could be ninth at the end of the day as the Fast Nine will get as many chances as possible to get the pole in the final hour-and-a-half with the quickest when the gun goes off early the top starting spot for the race in addition to the prizes in excess of $100,000 that go with the pole.

     Stay tuned in.