7:45 PM — Fast Friday is in the books, and quite honestly, I’m not sure what we really learned today. The speed chart was topped by the Honda trio of Conor Daly, Marco Andretti, and Takuma Sato, each at over 230.5 mph, though those cars wound up 22nd, 7th, and 16th on the no-tow chart. The no-tow speeds were led by the “Two-Ed’ed Monster” of ECR’s Ed Jones and Ed Carpenter and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.
I have no evidence to back it up, but my gut feeling says the sandbags haven’t been fully detached from the four Team Penske cars quite yet. Helio Castroneves was the slowest of the quartet on the no-tow chart at 15th, but I am never willing to count those drivers out of pole contention. I won’t be the slightest bit surprised if any of the Penske cars comes out in tomorrow morning’s practice session and puts up a big number.
Then again, we’ve seen several times in recent years that many of the fastest contenders have chosen to completely forego the Pole Day practice session and not head out until qualifying begins. Those most confident in their cars (and I would most certainly put two, if not all three, of the Ed Carpenter Racing cars in that group) avoid putting in many laps that can sometimes only serve to confuse teams and send them down a rabbit hole. Weather conditions will likely be very different tomorrow morning compared to when teams go out to qualify in the late morning or early afternoon. Sometimes running more laps early in the day does more damage than good.
So it’s now time to start giving some serious consideration to teams and drivers who might be in real jeopardy of being in the Top 30
or Top 33 when tomorrow’s 5:50 gun goes off. Remember, if the field is full tomorrow evening and rain washes out all of Sunday, the Top 33 from Saturday will be locked in and the field will be set. There will be no make up session or second opportunity for teams to qualify.
So who do I currently think are in trouble? Based on my prediction accuracy lately, these people I consider in trouble will be almost certain locks to qualify. Nonetheless, I think you need to start with the #81 Dragon Speed car of Ben Hanley. The team is working hard, but the speed just isn’t coming fast enough. He was only 35th on the speed chart today out of 37 car/driver combinations (JR Hildebrand drove a handful of laps in Sage Karam’s #24 car this afternoon after Karam started to get a bit spooked) and the no-tow speed is just as discouraging. It’s going to take some luck and divine intervention to find the necessary speed by tomorrow.
Also finding himself near the bottom of the charts is the third Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car of Jordan King. King has not shown an abundance of speed all week, and wound up only 32nd fastest for today. The third RLLR car failed to qualify here when Michel Jourdain was unable to find speed to make the field in 2013 but was able to successful get into the field in the hands of Oriol Servia last year.
Another team that is at best “not comfortable” is Carlin. With 51 laps run on the day, fourth-year driver Max Chilton could do no better than 33rd on the speed chart at 227.5 mph. He was only a 0.06 mph faster than rookie teammate Pato O’Ward, who finally got back on track this afternoon in Chilton’s road course back-up car. With the additional stress of their technical partner at McLaren also having a crash this week, Carlin has had a pressure-packed week and is nowhere near as comfortable as they hoped to be.
The exception for Carlin is Charlie Kimball who showed great speed today with a lap of nearly 230.3 mph. That was a lap in the draft, and he was only able to post the 25th fastest time on the no-tow chart. But Kimball has a lot of experience here, and unless something strange happens, I feel pretty confident he will end up in the Field of 33. Max and Pato may be less confident, but I think Charlie will probably sleep pretty well tonight.
While those are the somewhat obvious picks, I still think we’ll see a great surprise tomorrow afternoon with a driver we don’t expect to see struggling. I’m not sure that we’ll see a driver like James Hinchcliffe fail to qualify, but I think there is a real chance of someone of his caliber sweating it out later in the day.
A quick update to something I reported earlier today… If rain becomes an issue on Sunday and the day is washed out, the Top 30 will be locked in the field and the remaining entrants will still vie for the final three starting positions whenever the track again becomes available. Reports had earlier indicated that a Sunday washout would revert back to Saturday’s Top 33. However, INDYCAR VP Curt Cavin confirmed to me this evening that the shootout for the final row will happen regardless of whether it rains on Sunday or not.
Additionally, if rain does become a factor Sunday, the shootout for the last row will have time priority over the Fast 9 shootout and any practice sessions.
That’s going to wrap it up for Fast Friday. It’s time to go grab some dinner (Dawson’s on Main, of course) and get ready for what promises to be an exciting day tomorrow. Thanks for checking in throughout the day!
3:35 PM — Shortly after I posted my last update, Juncos Racing’s Kyle Kaiser had a massive crash in Turn 3, completely destroying what was thought to be the team’s only chassis. It appeared Kaiser got very low below the white line even before getting to the apex of the corner, lost the rear end, and made very hard impact with the left side of the car. Upon hitting the wall, Kaiser’s car rolled nearly vertical before setting back down on the four wheels. Kaiser was able to remove himself from the car under his own power, but it was a major setback for that team.
A couple hours later, Katie Hargitt reported on the IMS PA that Juncos Racing did indeed have a back-up car they were beginning to prepare. In a move that exemplifies the IndyCar community, Katie reported that several teams had offered assistance and whatever spare parts they might need to give them the best opportunity to get back on track. It will be a major undertaking and a lot of thrashing to get that car ready for practice tomorrow morning. The team and car were already going to be a major feel-good story as they were making great speeds with entirely white sidepods, but if Juncos is able to make it back on track tomorrow, there won’t be anyone in the stands who won’t be pulling for them.
Currently, as of 3:30, the track is under caution with impending weather in the area as lightning has been reported within eight miles of the track. There are dark clouds west of the Speedway, particularly to the southwest, but thus far, no rain has been reported. This delay is the very last thing some of the teams need who are desperately looking to find a few more miles per hour.
For a handful of teams, the sand is starting to run out of the proverbial hourglass. While McLaren might have said they weren’t worried yesterday or the day before, they are probably growing more concerned as this afternoon goes on. At this break, Alonso is 28th of 36 cars that have been on track and is 30th on the no-tow list. Other teams that are sweating out these last few hours include Dragon Speed Racing team with Ben Hanley and the third Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car of Jordan King.
One team that survived a near disaster was the #28 Andretti Autoport DHL entry of Ryan Hunter-Reay. RHR had an episode in the north end of the track between Turns 3 and 4 where his Dallara apparently lost a left rear wheel shim and had a major wiggle on entry to Turn 4. Had the incident occurred a couple seconds earlier or a half second later, it would have been a major issue for Hunter-Reay. Luckily he was in the north chute and while he had a pretty good wiggle while driving straight(ish), he was able to steer it immediately back to pit lane and have the team make necessary repairs. Unfortunately for RHR, though, he has only been able to run 16 laps with a top speed of 227.966 mph, good for 25th on the overall chart and 19th on the no-tow chart.
In a bit of a surprise, Honda teams are flexing their muscles today and putting a strong effort on the leaderboard. While Ed Carpenter is currently first on the no-tow speed chart in a Chevrolet, Honda-powered cars of Rossi, Rahal, Herta, Marco, Bourdais, and Ericsson are within the Top 10. My gut feeling is that Chevrolet cars are not really pushing very hard right now. Spencer Pigot is currently third on the overall speed chart but only 34th on the no-tow chart. Likewise, Helio Castroneves and Will Power are “only” 10th and 11th on the no-tow chart. I think all three of those drivers will be solid contenders for the Fast 9 tomorrow.
Unlike the first three days of the week when perfect weather conditions prevailed, the number of completed laps are way down today. With roughly 3,000 laps turned on Tuesday and Wednesday, there have currently only been 704 laps turned today with Sebastian Bourdais’s 33 laps being the highest for any driver.
Though the goal for today is to get solo laps and understand how the car is handling without traffic, at some point, the drivers and teams are going to have to bite the bullet and get on track to really get a feel for their car in qualifying trim. When the track reopens for practice this afternoon, I would think drivers would want to take advantage of all time remaining. They certainly aren’t going to get much solo running time in tomorrow morning’s sessions.
Practice is set to restart at 3:40pm, and cars are starting to be pushed back onto pit lane. Back with more later.
11:50 AM — Good morning and welcome to the Live Blog for Fast Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Today is the day all entrants in the 103rd Indianapolis 500 get their extra boost in preparation for tomorrow’s first and main day of qualifications. We typically expect speeds to jump by about six miles per hour over the speeds we saw earlier in the week.
The big story today, I think, is going to be the weather. After heavy storms rolled through the area last night, today has dawned warmer, muggier, and overcast. The current temperature in the Speedway area is 76° with 66% humidity. The air feels heavier than that though. Temperatures are expected to climb into the low 80s by mid afternoon with the humidity staying relatively moderate. For that reason, I expect the bump in speeds to be slightly less than what we’ve seen in previous years. With two perfect days for running early in the week, speeds were probably a bit higher than we typically see on those opening days.
That being said, I think we’ll easily see speeds above 230 mph pretty early, and I won’t be surprised if we see cars touching 231 or even 232 mph today.
Of bigger concern weather wise, however, is the rain predicted for Sunday. If Sunday gets rained out, there will be no qualifying make-up session, and the fastest 33 drivers from Saturday will be the starting Field of 33 for next Sunday’s big race. We were expecting bumping throughout the day to get into the Fast 9 and the Top 30, but with expending rain on Sunday, the race to get into the Top 33 will be even more critical.
Several drivers are trying to play it cool this morning and throughout today, but for the three drivers who have crashed this week – Fernando Alonso, Felix Rosenqvist, and Patricio O’Ward – time is getting short and they are undoubtedly behind the eight-ball. My gut feeling is that all three of those cars will eventually make it into the field (though I’m not ready to say they’ll safely make it in), but if any of them have any troubles today, their spot in the lineup will be in serious jeopardy.
To take that a step further, any driver having a a major problem today (or even worse tomorrow), especially if that problem includes includes significant wall, will be in serious peril. For that reason alone, I don’t expect drivers to push as hard today as they might have with more qualifying days, especially those guys who feel safely in the show but without a real shot at going for the pole or the Fast 9. That obviously puts a lot of pressure on the teams who are struggling for speed because the quest for speed often leads to pressure-induced mistakes. While McLaren and Carlin might be saying the right words at this point, I assure you they are starting to feel the pressure and are not nearly as comfortable as their demeanor would appear.
I’ll be back with some more thoughts and updates throughout the day. Feel free to shoot me questions on Twitter at @Fieldof33_blog and let me know what you’re thinking!