Graham Rahal didn’t intend to put up a big number on Thursday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it just worked out that way.
“I wanted to do a qualifying sim but a couple cars pulled out ahead of me so I just decided to stay in it (the throttle) and go for it,” Rahal said after posting the day’s fastest lap of 226.047mph in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda.
“That’s not my MO but I figured I might as well do it and try to put up a good one and lower my dad’s blood pressure.”
Rahal had been 34th out of 35 on Wednesday’s speed chart so it was good for the RLL stable’s peace of mind.
“Today was definitely better so sure and yesterday we didn’t put in any effort to actually put in a decent lap,” continued the 29-year-old second-generation racer who currently sits sixth in the point standings.
“Clearly everybody starts questioning, worried, this and that so there was a lot of motivation to go and try to put together a decent one today. It was a solid run but every qualifying sim I did today somebody came out in front of me so I didn’t get a single one.”
While Rahal’s speed was only fifth overall for the week (Marco Andretti is tops with 227.053mph), Will Power upped the best lap for drivers getting no tow around the famed oval.
Power, in the Team Penske Verizon-sponsored Chevy, put up a 223.971mph, as Sebastien Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud and Charlie Kimball were also over 223mph with no help from traffic.
“I went out and did a qualifying sim on our first run and did a mid-221 and I repeated it yesterday so we haven’t been overly concerned about qualifying,” said Rahal. “We should be decent but some of the speeds I saw today, Power did four laps in a row at 223, I feel like from what I saw of his teammates, he’s maybe mile and a half or two miles an hour clear of his teammates. He’s kind of extreme. I don’t know that we have that. But we should be decent.”
Tony Kanaan continued to have a good week in his AJ Foyt ABC Supply Chevy. He was second Thursday at 225.896mph after turning the quickest no-tow lap on Wednesday.
“We unloaded pretty quick since the test,” said the 2013 Indy winner. “Now it’s more about trying to figure out what you’re going to need in 10 days, and it’s quite hard to know what the weather is going to do, so we’re trying to run in any type of weather.
“But from tomorrow on, you’ll be making the car as fast as you can for qualifying.”
Andretti was third best Thursday at 225.584mph in his Andretti Autosport Honda, followed by Ed Carpenter at 225.093mph in the Fuzzy’s Chevy and Sage Karam at 224.920mph in the Dreyer & Reinbold Chevy.
“A lot of guys were out there running qualifying simulations and we didn’t do that today,” Karam said. “We really focused on the race car setup again. We struggled a little at first, but we made great changes at lunch time. We came back out and the car felt much better. We were able to mix it up with a lot of people out there.
Karam’s teammate for the month, J.R. Hildebrand, brought out the first semi-serious yellow of the week when he contacted the northwest short chute wall with about 25 minutes left in practice. He wiggled exiting Turn 3 in his SalesForce Chevy, slapped the wall and then hugged it into Turn 4.
“The car felt out of the ordinary,” said Hildebrand, whose car suffered damage to the front and rear wings. “I didn’t feel like I was losing the car at all. I thought for sure I could save the car, which why I’m a little confused on what happened. I did have enough warning to keep it under control. It felt like I had a wacky wheel of a shopping cart because the car kept wobbling a bit. But I’m fine and ready to go tomorrow.”
A total of 2,770 laps were turned Thursday, with everyone getting added boost for Friday’s final practice prior to qualifying.