The strong single-lap speed that has been on show from Chip Ganassi Racing through the opening days of Indianapolis 500 practice held through the first three hours of running on Fast Friday, but the four-lap averages produced by some of their rivals suggest that CGR will have a fight on its hands when qualifying begins tomorrow.
A 234.753mph lap by Takuma Sato 50 minutes into the session was enough to keep the two-time winner at the top of the speed charts as the afternoon ticked past the halfway mark, although the No. 11 crew came within a cigarette paper’s width of a very different kind of day when Sato’s right-rear swung impossibly close to the Turn 2 wall next time around.
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But while making speed wasn’t a problem for the Ganassi squad, carrying it through four laps proved more challenging, with Sato, Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson all watching their pace drop off significantly towards the end of their simulated qualifying runs.
“It was a bit more of a handful than I would like,” 2022 Indy winner Marcus Ericsson told Peacock after his first run. “The first two laps pretty good, then the rears started to step out a little bit on lap three. I thought about bailing like other people did, but I like to do the whole four laps if I can. I just have to lift a little bit. To get the feeling on how the car, the tires behave on lap three and four, for me that’s valuable information. Lap three and four were not ideal, but (there was) good information for me and the team.”
A stiff tailwind down the back stretch made things especially tricky, but a little cloud cover in the third hour delivered a slightly cooler track surface, and it became open season on the four-lap average charts as teams began to find their sweet spot.
Conor Daly set an early four-lap benchmark of 232.012mph in the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, which held until Will Power rolled the No. 12 Team Penske Chevy out of the pits 80 minutes in and strung together a 233, a 232, a 232 and a 231 to raise the bar to 232.474mph.
“It was wide open for the four laps,” said Power. “The car has good balance, it was fast on the first lap — I’ve never seen a 233 (on the first lap) in my life, so I saw that come up and thought, ‘All right, we’ve got some speed.’ We’ll try some different aero configurations for the different weather conditions today and tomorrow, but not do much, honestly. We’re in a reasonable window. Don’t want to get into a tailspin.”
Forty-five minutes later, Penske teammate Scott McLaughlin was on track to better Power’s time until the Kiwi had to lift in Turn 3 on his final lap and settle for a still-quick 232.316mph run.
Shortly after that, ECR and Andretti Autosport came to play. Andretti’s Kyle Kirkwood reeled off a pair of 233mph laps backed up by a couple in the high-231mph range to string together a 232.613mph four-lap average that dethroned Power.
“I think the track is getting a little bit quicker as we get through the day,” Kirkwood said. “But we’re happy. We’re excited. We’re still making improvements and we can still get it better. We don’t think we’re at the limit yet.”
Minutes later, ECR’s Rinus VeeKay raised the four-lap benchmark to 232.898mph, which remained the standard as the session entered its second half. The Dutchman and his teammate and boss Ed Carpenter both intimated they’d learned all they’d needed to for the day, especially with sunnier conditions and a 180-degree change in wind direction on the cards for tomorrow.
Meanwhile, the encouraging signs for Andretti continued beyond Kirkwood, with Colton Herta popping up with the third-fastest four-lap average right near the end of the third hour — Herta reporting that there was still some room left to play with the car’s trim — while Marco Andretti overcame some handling problems in early part of the session to climb to seventh fastest on the four-lap times.
A few teams still had some work to do as the session headed into the late afternoon, including Juncos Hollinger, where rookie Agustin Canapino shouldered the bulk of the running in the No. 78 Chevrolet while Callum Ilott’s No. 77 completed just seven laps, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan, which appeared to be lacking outright pace across all three of its entries.
The first three hours of running passed without interruption aside from a brief yellow for a track inspection.