Fast Friday preparing for Saturday’s Indianapolis 500 qualifying provided plenty of challenges for even the most experienced drivers and teams as the universal aero package, track temperatures, and traffic combined to leave plenty scratching their heads.
Conor Daly grabbed the headline time late on Friday with a lap at 231.704mph, but his no-tow speed was only good enough for 22nd overall. It was a similar day for Ryan Hunter-Reay (photo above), who recovered from a scary rear-suspension issue in the afternoon to go fifth fastest courtesy of a tow. But with his no-tow speed ranked 24th, the 2014 Indy 500 champion says the current car doesn’t always respond to changes as he’d expect.
“It’s tough,” Hunter-Reay told RACER. “It’s really tough just to find where you are in qualifying trim without a tow. Our effort the whole day was to try and do that, but we’ve had some issues getting speed out of this car. I think we made a little bit of a step today, but I don’t think we’re a Fast 9 contender at the moment.
“We’ll see. It’s always challenging around this place — especially on low downforce with the current car spec.
“We did one trim [adjustment] today and I thought it was going to be a big-ticket item, and I was like ‘Alright, ready? Here we go!’ and I came back … and it was the same speed we did the time before. That’s why Indianapolis can be frustrating and rewarding.”
Happy Hour proved busy with a number of cars chasing extra mileage, something Hunter-Reay says is a sign of how few are truly comfortable going into qualifying.
“I think everybody just wants to run one more time with a different trim level, and it’s all about the balance – the degradation’s key, right? You can run a really fast lap, but if you degrade 2.5mph you’re going to be in trouble, so it’s all about getting that balance. That’s why I think you see everybody running right to the end of the day.
“We tried to go out; we thought we might be in a gap, and it just went pear-shaped.”
Graham Rahal was high on the no-tow list throughout the day, but was unhappy with his No. 15 car until one of those late runs Hunter-Reay referenced.
“Obviously, in the evening, conditions get a little bit better, but we’ve got to see what we get tomorrow,” Rahal said. “It could be hot like earlier today and everybody will be sliding around; but it’s also really dependent on when you get your pick and when your qualifying draw is.
“It’s hard. When you’re trimmed to the limit, it’s hard for sure to get a good balance. As everybody’s seen, it’s such a fine line between what’s acceptable and what’s too far in terms of rear movement and things like that.
“We kind of reset there with that last run,” Rahal added. “Went back to what we started the morning with, and I know that the conditions did get a little better but it reflected what it was this morning, so it’s good.
“The pick is going to be so important… For sure if you get an early morning pick it’s going to help a lot.”
With the experienced drivers struggling for balance on Fast Friday, it was no surprise a rookie who had crashed on Thursday – in this case, Pato O’Ward – found himself searching for answers and confidence throughout the day.
“No car is going to be identical, but for some reason just the whole day today there was just zero rear stability,” O’Ward explained. “At any moment it could just step out and we don’t have the space to destroy another car.
“All day we just worked to see what exactly was wrong with it, and it looks like, in this last run, we’ve finally found at least [what we had when] we started the first day here, so that’s good.
“We’re still full downforce, we’re still in a very safe aero and mechanical set-up just to see if it’s OK,” O’Ward added. “So I think, time-wise, what we did with what the car is like right now is pretty good. So tomorrow, when we actually trim out and see what we have for qualifying, we should be in the mix.
“It’s just going to be interesting to see if the car behaves like it should.”
Asked if that means qualifying is going to be a nervy ride, O’Ward replied: “Very. Very.”