Speeds ratchet upward in final Indy 500 practice day before qualifications

Fast Friday was just that at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

With added horsepower at their disposal, drivers exceeded 231 mph for the first time in practice this week for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, on the eve of qualifying for the world’s largest single-day sporting event.

INDIANAPOLIS 500:  Fast Friday practice resultsNo-tow practice resultsQualifying order

Marco Andretti was fastest with a lap of 231.802 mph in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda. It earned the Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian driver a $10,000 check from Harding Group for turning the top lap in Fast Friday practice.

“The car is close in race trim; I don’t know how much better we can get it,” Andretti said. “But (qualifying) trim alone, I’m not pleased with the car speed right now. I think we’re right on the bubble of the top nine, to be honest.”

Robert Wickens, the Verizon IndyCar rookie who has impressed in his first five races, was second fastest with a lap of 231.732 mph in the No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Ed Carpenter was third on the timesheet at 231.066 mph in the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet.

“I feel like I don’t fully deserve to be here,” Wickens said. “Fast Friday is for qualifying (simulation runs) and all that stuff, but my very first lap of the day, two people came out of the pits in front of me and I just got like this insane tow that got me to where I am.

“Honestly, we have a lot of work to do. I think we’re OK by ourselves here on Fast Friday, but we’re definitely, in my opinion, on the outskirts of the Fast Nine, which is my goal for tomorrow.”

INDYCAR rules permit increased engine turbocharger boost equating to approximately more 50 horsepower for Friday’s practice and continuing through the two days of qualifications. While the top lap speeds Friday also benefited from the aerodynamic tow of cars running ahead, the all-important no-tow list saw a jump in speeds as well – led by a trio of Team Penske drivers.

Will Power, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, topped the no-tow chart at 229.780 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Teammate Josef Newgarden, the reigning series champ and points leader after five of 17 races this season, was second on the no-tow list at 228.994 mph in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud was third among no-tow laps at 228.857 mph in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

“I think the No. 12 Verizon Chevy is definitely in a good window,” said Power, who is third all time with 51 career Indy car poles, but has none for the Indy 500. “I think, obviously, we’re fast. I know there’s a lot of guys up there. I think it’s going to be very tight tomorrow.”

The fourth Team Penske driver at the Indy 500, three-time winner Helio Castroneves, was 12th on the overall speed chart (229.122 mph) and 11th on the no-tow list (227.895 mph) in the No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet. Danica Patrick, competing in the final race of her groundbreaking career, was 20th on the overall list but seventh in no-tow laps (228.284 mph) in the No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing.

“The car was really good on the first run,” Patrick said. “We did a step of trim and it was a little bit loose the second run, but still pretty good and definitely fast. … We just decided to, as they say, make a couple tweaks and put a cover on it and go out tomorrow.”

With 35 drivers entered, bumping into the field of 33 could come into play for the first time at Indy 500 qualifications since 2011. Dale Coyne Racing rookie Zachary Claman De Melo is expected to be the first qualifier on Saturday following the blind draw for positions held after the completion of Friday’s practice. Patrick would be 15th to qualify and Power 30th.

Saturday’s qualifying will determine the 33 cars that will start the race, but not the grid order. The fastest nine on Saturday are locked into Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout to decide the Verizon P1 Award and grid positions for the first three rows. The 10th- through 33rd-fastest qualifiers on Saturday will make another four-lap run on Sunday to determine those starting positions.

The lone incident in Friday’s practice occurred when James Davison spun exiting Turn 2 and made hard left-side contact with the SAFER Barrier in the No. 33 Jonathan Byrd’s 502 East Chevrolet. Davison was uninjured, but the Foyt with Byrd/Hollinger/Belardi entry sustained significant damage that will need to be repaired overnight if he hopes to qualify on Saturday.

Davison wasn’t certain what led to the crash.

“I guess I became one of the drivers to slam the wall at Indianapolis, so I joined the club today,” the 31-year-old Australian said. “Obviously, it’s not ideal, but we had to try some things. We’re 32nd quickest, right on the bubble and we are not going to go faster just standing there and looking at it, so no regrets there.

“We’ll regroup, see what we can pull out of the bag tomorrow and give it everything again.”

Pre-qualifying practice is scheduled from 8-9:30 a.m. ET Saturday and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.comyoutube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app. Qualifying airs from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on WatchESPN, with the final two hours broadcast on ABC from 4-6 p.m.

Sunday’s qualifying is available from 2:30-4 p.m. on WatchESPN and then from 4-6 p.m.on ABC.

The 102nd Indianapolis 500 airs live beginning at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 27 on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

INDYCAR universal aero kit earns prestigious Louis Schwitzer Award

The prestigious Louis Schwitzer Award was awarded Friday to four men instrumental in the design and development of the INDYCAR universal aero kit that has generated so many positive reviews in its debut this season. Tino Belli, INDYCAR’s director of aerodynamic development who spearheaded the program, was honored with the award along with Andrea Toso and Antonio Montanari of Dallara, INDYCAR’s chassis and aero kit manufacturer, and Chris Beatty, whose conceptual aero kit designs were significant every step of the development process.

The Schwitzer award is presented by BorgWarner and the Indiana Section of the Society of Automotive Engineers. It includes a $10,000 prize, as well as having recipients’ names added to a trophy listing all winners dating to the first presentation in 1967.

The Schwitzer Award recognizes individuals for innovation and engineering excellence in racing technology associated with the Indianapolis 500. It memorializes Louis Schwitzer, winner of the first auto race at IMS in 1909 and designer of the “Marmon Yellow Jacket” engine that powered the Marmon Wasp to victory at the first Indianapolis 500 in 1911.

“This award is for engineers, provided by engineers, so it’s just in the technical environment,” Toso said. “I see this award as a right example to reward engineers. The engineers are the unsung heroes of our society. They are under a lot of pressure to comply with a lot of requirements – technical, stylish, performance, crash safety and such. Really, they are on the front stage like we are today.”

Dale Coyne Racing names Ferrucci to drive No. 19 Honda at Detroit

Dale Coyne Racing announced that Santino Ferrucci, a 19-year-old from Woodbury, Connecticut, will drive the team’s No. 19 Paysafe Honda in the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear from June 1-3. Ferrucci is currently driving in the FIA F2 Championship and serving as a reserve and test driver for the Haas Formula One team.

The opening to drive the car came about when DCR shuffled its driver schedule in the wake of Pietro Fittipaldi being injured in a sports car crash on May 4, putting the grandson of two-time Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi out of the INDYCAR Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500 this month. Teammate Zachary Claman De Melo is filling in for Fittipaldi at Indianapolis, with Ferrucci getting the nod for the Detroit doubleheader race weekend.

“It came together quickly,” Coyne said. “His agent contacted us and said there was an interest in maybe doing an INDYCAR race or two this year. It kind of fit together all at the right time because we were trying to decide who was going to be the driver here (at Indianapolis) and how are we going to move around and make that work logistically, financially, all the things that had to happen.”

Though he’s never driven an Indy car, Ferrucci is confident his European experience will carry him.

“Coming from F2 into INDYCAR, I’d say my race craft is going to be OK,” he said. “Racing in Europe is very hard, just as it is in INDYCAR.

“I just look forward to being on a street course. I have to bring my mouth guard to Detroit, as I’ve been told it’s very bumpy.”