Live blog – Fast Friday 2023

7:31 PM — Fast Friday 2023 has come and gone, and many of the questions we had coming into the day seem to have been answered. Unfortunately, for some, we simply confirmed what we feared we knew.

Let’s start with the good news. Chip Ganassi Racing is fast, though maybe not quite as dominate as we had perhaps thought heading into today’s practice. Takuma Sato dropped a monster lap of just under 235 mph, but then nearly put his #11 Deloitte Honda into the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier a lap later. He immediately aborted his four-lap qualifying simulation and took his car to pit lane. Though they took to the track later in the afternoon, Sato wasn’t able to match the 234.753 mph of his first lap.

As for the rest of the team, Marcus Ericsson became the fourth and final driver to exceed 234 mph very late in the day. Scott Dixon’s 233.508 mph was “only” good enough for tenth on the final chart, and Alex Palou was 14th. While the Ganassi cars are certainly not in danger of missing the field, I wouldn’t say that all four are necessarily locks for the Top 12 tomorrow either. And the notion that Ganassi will finally match the Team Penske feat of 1988 and sweep the front row now seems significantly less likely.

Speaking of Team Penske, that team must be feeling a little better tonight after Newgarden, Power, and McLaughlin put their cars sixth, twelfth, and thirteenth. Most impressively, Newgarden appeared to have one of the most consistent four-lap qual sims on the day, even though his single lap speed was slightly off of the very top speeds. I’m still not convinced Team Penske is a real pole contender, but I do feel they have the speed to get a least a couple cars into the Top 12, if not all three.

Once again, when it’s go time, Rinus Veekay somehow seems to turn it on perhaps more than anyone else in the field. Veekay led the entire Chevrolet brigade and wound up third on the day with a top speed of 234.171 mph. Though teammate Conor Daly and team owner Ed Carpenter could only manage the 18th and 21st fastest speeds, all three seemed very confident about their cars and may find just enough speed to sneak into the Top 12 tomorrow.

Another tip of the hat has to go to AJ Foyt Racing, who backed up their speed from earlier in the week. The #14 car of Santino Ferrucci had a great run today at over 233.7 mph, just 0.0014 second off the speed of Newgarden and good for seventh fastest on the day. Teammate Benjamin Pedersen also had an exceptional showing with a lap of 233.197 mph, good for 15th fastest on the day.

Unfortunately, the news is much less rosy for a couple teams. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing continues to struggle and found its quartet in 29th, 31st, 32nd, and 33rd on the day. The cars are stable and consistent, but they are simply slow. In fact, it is not inconceivable to imagine that the four RLLR cars end up in the bottom four positions after Saturday’s qualifying round, leaving the four teammates to battle for the final three starting positions on Sunday for next Sunday’s race.

The only saving grace for RLLR is that as bad as their day was, the day of Callum Ilott and Juncos-Hollinger Racing was even worse. After battling a demonic car at the April open test and the first two days of practice, the JHR team finally made the very late decision this afternoon to move to their backup car, a move that has left the team scrambling and INDYCAR making accommodations to allow the team to work late into the night after Gasoline Alley should be closed down. The team that miraculously qualified in 2019 by bumping McLaren and Fernando Alonso after Kyle Kaiser had a midweek crash will need to pull another rabbit out of the hat to get Ilott into the field. The good news is that teammate Agustin Canapino found speed today that put him 20th on the charts, so the team should hopefully have a good starting point.

In spite of Canapino having speed, all may not still be well within that team. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of love between the second-year Briton and the rookie Argentinian, especially after their team put them both in an ugly position in Long Beach. Ilott has reportedly been less-than-excited about helping his rookie teammate, allegedly having said, “I figured it out by myself. He can figure it out on his own.” (A bit paraphrased, but the message is accurate.) Given that statement circulating in the media, one has to wonder how much Canapino will be willing to share with Ilott if requested.

That’s going to put a bow on today. Practice tomorrow runs from 8:30 to 9:30 for the full field (split into two groups). If the sessions are conducted as in recent years, I expect very little running to happen in those early morning sessions before qualifying kicks off at 11:00 AM EDT. That may be good news for Callum Ilott, who, if all goes well, will be lucky to get practice laps on his own in his newly built race car.

With that, I’ll leave you for the evening with a few quick pictures from today’s action.

11:28 AM — Good morning, friends, and welcome to Armed Forces Qualifying Weekend for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500! Fast Friday has dawned under nearly perfect conditions at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and we expect to see speeds soar as soon as the track goes green for practice at noon.

About 90 minutes prior to today’s green flag, the ambient temperature is 71º under sunny skies. We expect that temp to climb through the day and settle into the 80s by mid afternoon with cloud cover increasing as temperatures rise.

The big focus of today will obviously be on which teams are struggling more than they were willing to admit over the past two days and which engine manufacturer will respond best to the increased boost. Over the past several years, it seems that early practice day speeds have been well dispersed amongst Honda and Chevrolet, but Honda has taken more kindly to the increased turbocharger boost. As such, Honda has laid claim to the last three pole positions and seven of the nine front-row starting positions since 2020.

One of the biggest questions will be how the Team Penske drivers fare today. As we’ve seen in previous years, Team Penske has spent the first few days of practice lingering on the upper end of mid-pack but haven’t really shown to be serious contenders yet. However, since 2020, Team Penske has seemingly lost their way on Fast Friday when the boost has been turned up and never been able to recover. In 2020, Josef Newgarden was the highest starting Penske car, starting 13th. A year later, rookie Scott McLaughlin took the team’s top starting honors in 17th (with Will Power barely making the field). And last year, the team did no better than 11th when Power started in the middle of Row 4. Given their recent history, it’s hard to see how the Penske cars become competitive on race day with only a mid-field qualifying effort this weekend.

Another team with question marks in their eyes in that of Andretti Autosport. While Colton Herta was able to post a time yesterday that was good enough for ninth fastest on the combined speed charts, the rest of the team is currently checking at 15th (Andretti), 19th (Kirkwood), 26th (Grosjean), and 31st (DeFrancesco). All drivers except for Marco have run well over 200 laps combined over the two days, so their lack of speed is not resulting from a lack of running. While the entire team may have been running long-run race simulations, it still does not bode well to see their overall lack of speed. And with Devlin DeFrancesco lingering below P30 (immediately behind the Abel Motorsports entry of RC Enerson), any small hiccup could be disastrous for that entry and their hope to put all five cars into the starting field.

Yet another team that has been an enigma thus far is Arrow McLaren where none of their four cars have cracked the Top 10 in combined practice speeds. Pato O’Ward leads the team at P11, followed by Rossi (12th), Kanaan (18th), and Rosenqvist (21st). I don’t think any of the McLaren cars are in real jeopardy of missing the show, but I did admittedly expected to see more speed from them this week. If they are still lingering midpack today, qualifying in the Top 12 might be a tough proposition, which will make finding their way to Victory Lane on race day a much more difficult challenge.

The team that is not lingering midpack but must be getting close to panic mode (if not already there) is Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The team that put Graham Rahal in a strong position to win the race in 2021 struggled mightily upon returning in 2022. Thus far in 2023, the team’s fortunes have not appeared to change at all, and they continue to struggle. A couple very late afternoon drafting laps yesterday helped pull Graham and Jack Harvey up to 16th and 17th, respectively, on the combined speed chart, but Christian Lundgaard and Katherine Legge continue to be at the bottom of the chart. Lundgaard has ben able to do no better than 28th while Legge is the slowest of all participants thus far. If one of their cars fails to make the race, the questions will be asked quickly of whether that team, which was already behind the eight ball, spread itself too thin for the month, even more thin than it already was.

With that, I’m going to go take in the ambiance of the grand facility and check out Gasoline Alley. I’ll be back with a mid afternoon update and a post-practice wrap up.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s