Josef Newgarden was fast - but crashed - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
Does it make a difference if you're wicked fast AND hit the walls?
That was the situation for Josef Newgarden and the No. 67 Dollar General Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone IZOD IndyCar Series contender on Wednesday.
For the third time in five days, rookie Newgarden was the fastest driver of the 30 car/driver combinations that took to the 2.5-mile flat Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval in preparation for the 96th Indianapolis 500 set for May 27.
After setting the fastest lap of 222.785 mph on his 45th of 61 laps, Newgarden became the first driver into the wall since the track opened for practice last Saturday. He lost it coming off the fourth turn with about 15 minutes left in the session, spinning and first making light contact with the outside wall and later a bit harder hit of the inside pit wall after almost getting the car stopped.
"You don't get many lucky breaks around this place, and I think I just got one," Newarden said. "The guys have done a great job putting together such a good car, and I don't want to hurt the thing. I'll try to learn what happened and why the thing got around on me. Everyone's trying to figure out the race car around this place, and obviously I have a little more work to do. We were on our old tire run and trying to run as far as possible to see how the car reacts, and I think it's just difficult to run in the tow, and today I got bit by it a little."
Three of Andretti Autosport's five drivers formed a Chevy phalanx to earn the next three spots, with Marco Andretti (No. 26 RC Cola) turning the better lap for second (222.108), followed by Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL/SunDrop (221.763) and James Hinchcliffe's lap of 221.638-mph in the No. 27 GoDaddy.com Indy car. Dario Franchitti's No. 50 Target Honda rounded out the top five at 221.623.
Their situation is a huge change from 2011, when the entire team struggled to make the field and Hunter-Reay's inability to qualify eventually placed him in the A.J. Foyt Racing car qualified by Bruno Junqueira.
There were 30 drivers on the track today and 1632 laps in the books for a five-day total of 6264 laps. James Jakes sat out the afternoon session while the Dale Coyne Racing crew changed his mileaged-out Honda engine in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America car so he can run again on Thursday; neither Sebastien Bourdais nor Katherine Legge made the trip out to the pit road for practice although Legge is expected to make her Rookie Orientation three-phase program early on Thursday morning.
The Lotus-powered cars of Indianapolis rookie Jean Alesi and Simona de Silvestro were allowed to add extra boost to their turbocharged engines so they could, in Alesi's case pass the Rookie Orientation Program on Monday and for the Swiss MIss, get her confidence level up. Alesi's quote today was quite telling, once the added boost was removed: "Right now I feel very unsafe, being quite slow in the middle of the track. So I am quite concerned for my fellow drivers," he said, "if we are not able to get the speed that we need. I am flat out and have reached 205 as the maximum that I can see. So it is not a comfortable position right now."
Practice continues Thursday with standard settings before they're allowed to up the boost for Fast Friday and for Saturday and Sunday's qualifying. Right now the prognosis for qualifying is totally up in the air and it will be telling to see how the lineup changes once another 40-50 horsepower is on tap come Friday.