Three Indy 500 practice sessions down; three times Takuma has rocketed to the top of the speed chart late in the day.
Alexander Rossi set Fast Friday’s early fast speed at 231.883mph. It stood for most of the afternoon until two-time 500 winner Sato went 232.789mph in the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda come Happy Hour.
“It’s a great feeling,” Sato said. “The entire team did a fantastic job to prepare to this.”
Worrisome wind gusts made the six-hour session a test of bravery for many drivers as early wind blasts just over 20mph reached nearly 35mph at later points in the afternoon. With a big dose of extra horsepower to use for the rest of the weekend as qualifying looms, the traditional four-lap simulations became a rarity as many drivers bailed out after one or two laps for the sake of safety in the fluctuating conditions.
Rossi’s pace offered promise for his Andretti Autosport team even if it was an outlier. Romain Grosjean was next within the Andretti camp in P15 while Colton Herta, who turned just seven laps, was last in P33. There’s a belief within the Andretti camp that Rossi’s pace in the No. 27 Honda can be mirrored by the rest of the team on Saturday.
“Probably the most strange day here at the Speedway,” Rossi said. “We knew it was going to be pretty chaotic with the winds and temperatures. It proved to be just that. We went out for our first [qualifying] sim and it became a risk versus reward type of day. We know our car is fast; it has been strong all month.”
In third, Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward took the No. 5 Chevy up to 231.798mph and dealt with wild swings of oversteer and understeer as gusts pushed his car around each lap. Chip Ganassi Racing’s strong week continued with Marcus Ericsson in fourth at 231.782mph in the No. 8 Honda and Scott Dixon in fifth at 231.530mph in the No. 9 Honda. Dixon’s lap was particularly remarkable as it was generated on his second lap of the day; the 2008 Indy 500 winner turning just four laps on Friday.
The top six was completed by O’Ward’s teammate Felix Rosenqvist who lapped IMS with a best of 231.493mph in the No. 7 Chevy.
Of the other runners, Sato’s rookie teammate David Malukas impressed once more by claiming seventh; Sage Karam was a solid 13th for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and rookie Callum Ilott was 16th for for Juncos Hollinger Racing.
The first and only incident of the week was recorded by CGR’s Jimmie Johnson whose No. 48 Honda understeered into the wall at the exit of Turn 2. A few hours of repairs had the rookie back on track where he ended up 17th with a 229.929mph lap.
Major teams that still haven’t revealed their speed include Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing. All have long nights ahead of them if they hope to feature in Saturday’s quest to place their cars inside the Fast 12.
UP NEXT: Pre-qualifying practice, Saturday, 8:30 a.m.