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Author: Mark W. Theisen
(Courtesy WXIN)
(Courtesy WXIN)
May 20th 2016 -      INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 20, 2016:    Chevrolet and Will Power in the #12 Team Penske Dallara Chevrolet recorded the fastest lap of today’s ‘Fast Friday” practice session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway but the end result of the day is that the battle is wide open for the covered pole starting position for the historic 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 between the two engine suppliers for the Verizon IndyCar series, Honda and Chevrolet.

     Power turned in a quick lap of 232.672 miles-per-hour in his Chevrolet followed by another Chevy driver, Josef Newgarden at 232.344 but then came nine Honda powered machines led by James Hinchcliffe at 231.972 as 18 cars posted laps at or above 230 miles-per-hour.

     Last year’s fast nine shootout, the final run for the pole, featured all Chevrolet powered cars so it is clear that Honda wants to be part of the mix.

     And that desire was evident as practice in earnest for the 500 began on Monday after the rookie orientation program that saw all five 500 rookies’ breeze through their programs.

     The cars of Andretti Autosport paced Mondays sessions with Marco Andretti fastest at 228.978 miles-per-hour followed by his teammates, Carlos Munoz, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi.  The fifth car out of the Andretti stable, Townsend Bell was sixth.

     It should be noted the first four days of practice were with the same manifold boost pressure that will be used in the 500 while today’s practice and qualifying featured an increase in boost that added about 30 horsepower to the 2.2-liter, twin turbocharged V-6 engines, thus the jump in speed.

     Tuesday’s practice was rained out so on Wednesday it was Hunter-Reay atop the speed chart at 228.202 with Munoz second and Power third.

     Wednesday also featured the first, and through today, the only accident of any of the practice sessions.  Rookie Rossi, lost control of his car in the first turn striking the wall hard enough that the car suffered significant damage.  Rossi was unhurt in the incident but his crew needed all of yesterday to repair the car and thus the rookie missed a lot of significant practice time while waiting for his car to be put back together.

     Gabby Chaves gave his small Dale Coyne racing something to crow about when he was fastest in his Honda yesterday at 227.961 followed by Munoz and Bell.  Thus Honda was fastest on each of the first three days of practice when most teams devoted as much time as possible to race setup versus qualifying because they knew the boost pressure increase was coming.  All the teams just wanted to test how well the car handled under various fuel load and different race conditions.

     When today dawned, many expected the Chevrolets to rise to the front and they did but not emasse as last year.

     Power admitted he got help or a “tow” to post his top lap.  “I got a good tow,” said Power.  Even when the car is out of traffic, it was pretty good, pretty solid.  I think it’s fast.  I think it’s going to be really, really tight for the pole.  There’s a lot of quick guys out there and I think Honda is right there, too.  I’m looking forward to tomorrow and Sunday.”

     Newgarden, who got his first taste of the “Fast Nine Shootout’ last year was more concerned about set up and his teammate’s car’s to get real excited.  “It was a good day.  It was hectic, we definitely want to step through our trim steps and fortunately we got the full day to get it all done with all three team cars,” said Newgarden.

     Hinchcliffe snuck his Schmidt-Peterson Honda home in third today his best effort of the week.  “I think we made a lot of progress over the day,” said Hinchcliffe.  “Certainly all those times up there (on the final speed chart) are tow times.  If you look at the now-tow report, we’re hovering around 10th or 11th something like that.  That’s all it is and it puts use in the fight for the Fast Nine tomorrow.  It is great to run those good laps and great to see all the Honda’s running up front this year.”

     Munoz put his Honda in fourth to show that his times earlier in the week were no fluke and that he and his team are ready to make a run for the pole tomorrow.  “We did what we needed to do,” said Munoz.  “It’s hard to judge the speed because of the tows, but I think we’re looking strong on everything.  We will see what is going on for tomorrow, everyone is on their own then.”
Marco Andretti was fifth in search of his first 500 pole and win. “It was a good day for our car, very productive,” said Marco Andretti.  “It would have nice to have a little more at the end of the day, but I’m particularly happy being third on the now-tow speed chart.  It shows that we are going to, hopefully, play for the top nine and then on Sunday go for the pole.”

     Andretti Autosport placed all five of their cars in the top ten today, showing that the flagship Honda team is ready this year.

     The key to everything is no-tow or single car speed.  Everyone knows eh capabilities of the Chevrolet teams with their star studded driver roster and great over all speed.  It looks as though Honda has closed the gap with the next two days are key.  Each car will post as many four laps runs as they can tomorrow and at the end of the day the only award will be the provisional pole.  Come Sunday they will have to do all over.

     Cars that qualified 10th through 33 tomorrow will have to post one four lap run on Sunday to determine their starting berth for the 500.  The fast nine from Saturday will come back in the afternoon on Sunday and those drivers will go for the pole starting position.  The one and one-half hours session will feature as many four laps runs as can be recorded with the car that qualified ninth on Saturday going out first down to the fastest on Saturday.  Should time remain on Sunday after the nine have qualified a car can go back out and make another try for the pole if he or she thinks that they still have the speed to do it.

     Optimism in the Honda camp as today drew to a close but the reality that Chevrolet may have been “sandbagging” all month long in order for Honda to not receive any special changes that could have worked in their favor was a distinct possibility.

     With only 33 cars, the agony of the “bumping” ritual is gone but the excitement of an ever battle for the pole and the race, looms and that’s makes it very exciting and interesting.

    We’ll see!