Practice Begins For 96th Indianapolis 500

Josef Newgarden - Anne Proffit photo

Josef Newgarden - Anne Proffit photo

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The first two days of practice for the 96th Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway have yielded some unexpected names at the top of the leader board.

And the weather has been glorious throughout the weekend, with light winds, clear skies and temps in the mid- to high-70s.

It has been perfect weather for learning about cars, tires and watching how the race track changes from hour to hour.

Rookie Josef Newgarden led the proceedings on opening day with a tow-aided 220.250-mph lap in his No. 67 Dollar General Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone entry.

The Tennessee native remarked, "The team has done it all year; they've built really good, reliable comfortable race cars for me and they're doing the same for Bryan (Clauson) now. I'm proud to be with them."

JR Hildebrand, who finished second last year at the Indy 500 was second on the initial day of practice in his No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevy, just 0.1035 seconds behind Newgarden at a speed of 219.693. He admitted "that was a good tow lap. I think having a methodical approach in how to make the car quicker and the sensitivity to adjustments this year is going to be more important than in years past."

The balance of the fast cars on Saturday were rookie Clauson (Newgarden's teammate), rookie James Jakes in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda and Tony Kanaan's No. 11T Mouser KV Racing Technology Chevy.

There were 26 cars and drivers on the 2.5-mile racetrack on Saturday turning 693 laps. Most teams are looking to conserve both engines and tires as they progress through the week.

Sebastian Saavedra - Anne Proffit photo

Sebastian Saavedra - Anne Proffit photo

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On Sunday there were a total of 33 car/driver combinations on the racetrack--but none from Dragon Racing, who are still working to get their engine situation handled.

As the six-hour practice session wore on, a drafting festival broke out, bringing the speeds up ever higher.

It was Sebastian Saavedra in the AFS/Andretti Autosport No. 17 Chevy who got the benefit with his quick lap of 221.526 mph.

Saavedra is racing in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 this month, quite a challenge for any driver.

Saavedra, who made the field in his first attempt two years ago and failed to qualify for the Indy 500 last year recognized, "We've been struggling the past couple of years and so starting the month of May this way, it's a very satisfying feeling. We're five cars (at Andretti Autosport) and all of us, we have homework to do every day. We have things to try and we sit down all together to see what works, what we need to try for the next day, but everything is a big strategy."

Clauson was second for the day and Newgarden took third, both hitting the 221-mph plateau as they caught a tow. Justin Wilson had the top spot for much of the afternoon in his No. 18 Sonny's Dale Coyne Honda entry but fell to fifth behind Scott Dixon's No. 9 Target Honda. There were 1138 laps turned on Sunday for a two-day total of 2372 laps.

The only incidents on both days were for track inspection; everyone is quite mindful of the time they need on the track. On both days the two slowest cars belonged to Jean Alesi and Simona de Silvestro, who have the only two Lotus-powered cars in the field. Silvestro, who did 19 laps today thinks she can improve. "I think it's a lot of me just trying to get comfortableout there and things like that, so we're working on that and taking our time. We've improved the car quite a bit, so I'm happy with that."

Practice continues through the week and boost levels are increased for Fast Friday and through qualifying to get speeds up a bit and heighten the interest.

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