Andretti Autosport had its best day of the year as three of its drivers filled the top four positions on the first day of running for the 104th Indianapolis 500.
The six-car team placed James Hinchcliffe and the No. 29 Honda atop the field (224.526mph) and the No. 98 Honda of Marco Andretti in second (224.345mph) as drivers ran in packs for most of the 2.5-hour afternoon session. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon held third in his No. 9 Honda (224.047mph), Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay – second fastest on the no-tow list for Wednesday – was fourth (223.341mph), and Arrow McLaren SP’s Fernando Alonso took fifth (223.238mph) as the first representative from Team Chevy.
“It’s always nice rolling off the truck here with a car that has good pace,” Hinchcliffe said after turning 80 laps. “Huge credit to everybody at Andretti Autosport; they’ve got a bunch of quick cars. It’s got good single-car pace, it’s got good pace in traffic. Can’t ask for much more for a first day.”
Fastest among the rookies was Dale Coyne Racing’s Alex Palou, who claimed eighth (223.128mph) on his first day at the Speedway in the No. 55 Honda. Andretti’s Alexander Rossi led all drivers in the no-tow category, posting it (221.952mph) on the way to the 18th-fastest lap of the day. Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson was the high-mileage leader, turning 129 laps in the No. 8 Honda.
The bulk of Wednesday’s work throughout the field involved learning about the new aeroscreen and making the necessary chassis and aero changes to suit the 58-pound driver protection device.
“Anytime they throw something new at the cars, you definitely have some work to do,” Hinchcliffe said. “Obviously, we haven’t had a chance to run here; it’s a big difference on the car.”
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden was the fastest driver from the defending race winners to earn sixth (223.188mph); teammate Simon Pagenaud, who drove into Victory Lane in 2019, was 12th (222.849mph). Altogether, the Penske drivers spent a considerable amount of time running together in lead-follow stints and placed a significant emphasis on long runs to gauge the performance changes as fuel loads and tires were consumed.
“I felt like it was nice to get back out on track and getting through the processes,” said Newgarden. “It is great to be back here at Indy. So thankful that we are able to run. I think we are going to put on a great show next weekend. That’s what we are working on, trying to make our race car drivable in traffic. It is interesting to see who is fast out of the gate, who’s not. We have a long process here. This is a good starting point for us.
Among the other items from Wednesday, four of the five rookies completed their Rookie Orientation Program runs during the dedicated ROP session, and with permission to finish his ROP requirements in the final session, A.J. Foyt Racing’s Dalton Kellett cleared the last hurdle and made it five-for-five.
Due to the last-minute deals that made DragonSpeed’s No. 81 Chevy the last entry in the field, the Indiana-based team spent the day in the garage getting Ben Hanley’s car ready to run, and despite missing all three sessions, the series granted the team a 30-minute window to shake down the car at the conclusion of practice and attempt to meet the Briton’s refresher requirement. After facing adversity and turning a total of three laps, IndyCar has given DragonSpeed more time for Hanley to complete his refresher Thursday morning.
Other than a brief caution period to retrieve Marco Andretti’s stalled car, opening day was unblemished.