The final practice session before the field is set for the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 came and went early on Sunday morning.
Only three of the five drivers for the Last Chance Qualifying — RC Enerson, Charlie Kimball and Simona De Silvestro — opted to go out on track to tweak their setups. Both Sage Karam and Will Power kept their respective machines in the garage down Gasoline Alley.
De Silvestro was the first to go out, with her No. 16 Paretta Autosport Chevrolet logging 10 laps with a best at 228.998mph to lead the trio. Charlie Kimball, driving the No. 11 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet, was the last among them to go out on track and pushed out seven laps, with a best of 227.920mph.
RC Enerson, who is trying to make his and Top Gun Racing’s No. 75 Chevrolet into their first Indy 500, put down 14 laps and a best at 227.384mph.
For Power, the 2018 winner of the Indy 500, the plan is just simply “do my best.”
“I did sleep a little bit stressful, but you wake up thinking about the day ahead,” related the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet. “You know, we’re trying to just execute everything absolutely perfectly. Doing everything we can. We’ve been analyzing videos, really looking at gears and shifting strategies and when to get out of the slot eight to slot one — looked at everything. So all I can do is go out there and do my absolute best to give us the best chance to get in.”
While it may seem odd to see a Team Penske entry and defending winner battling for a shot to simply qualify to make the show, Power understands that’s just part of Indy and the current state of the NTT IndyCar Series.
“You can never underestimate this place,” Power added. “It can throw anything at you, so you never come in thinking it’s a given that you’re just going to be fast and you’re going to get in. Obviously, the field is way more competitive than it’s ever been. I can tell you, the team worked as hard as I’ve ever seen them work for this race in the off-season. So certainly we’re all a little bit confused at where is the speed, but we go where we go right now and we’ll just have to execute and do the best job we can.”
After his morning running, Enerson felt like they were missing something to take their pace to that next level.
“The car feels good. We’re relatively close to yesterday,” said Enerson “Obviously, doing as much as we can to free it up but I think we’re the most trimmed out of anybody. We just can’t seem to find that straight-line speed. It’s tough because you do a really good lap and you come across the line and you’re like, ‘Where’s that extra mile an hour or two?’ And so we’re going to go back and work on it and see what we can do what we can do this afternoon.”
Fast Nine contenders
The session opened up for drivers competing in the Fast Nine Shootout moments after the Last Chance Qualifying practice ended. The track temperature, which started at around 100F, had risen to 108F by this point.
Helio Castroneves and Alex Palou were the first drivers on track. Castroneves, piloting the No. 06 Meyer Shank Racing Honda, dropped the hammer for an overall session-best 230.509mph lap on his opening lap in full anger. He went out on two separate occasions for a total of 12 laps.
Palou, who was running the repaired primary No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda that he crashed during his second attempt on Day 1 of qualifying on Saturday, pushed through the to complete a 17 laps from two separate attempts, with a third-best overall of 230.282mph.
Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy 500 winner, was the only other driver to go out, with his No. 28 Andretti Autosport Honda squeezing six laps and a second-best overall pace of 230.450mph
The remaining drivers competing in the Fast Nine — Ed Carpenter, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, Tony Kanaan and Rinus VeeKay — did not drive in the session.
The decision for Carpenter, a three-time polesitter of the Indy 500, was a fairly easy one.
“I think we’re pretty happy with what we have,” said the driver/owner of the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. “We feel like we’ve run in the conditions that we need to. It’s going to be a lot different later than it is right now. So I think you can hurt yourself more than you help yourself.”
Additionally, Carpenter also suggested that the pressure is off on pole day.
“I feel pretty good,” Carpenter said. “I think we’re going to have a tough fight on our hands, but that’s always the case when you’re going for pole here. I think we have the speed to get there. Today is going to be a little more tricky than yesterday, weather-wise, so even more so it’s going to come down to that fourth lap. So just focusing on making the decisions that we need to get right.
“And, you know, it’s nice having been here before and been through this process to calm the nerves a little bit and make you feel more confident with the decisions that you need to make. It’s also nice that I have a team that go before me, too. We’ll take every little bit we can get, but I’m excited. It’s always a fun day. I think it’s more stressful for me getting into this point or not. Once you’re into the Fast Nine, if we all get one run, we make our decisions before we roll out there and then you just got to go do four laps. A lot of the pressure is gone. Your fallback plan, your starting ninth. It’s a good spot to be in.”