Through Thursday, the emphasis at Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been on preparing 33 IZOD IndyCar Series race cars, teams and drivers for the 96th Indianapolis 500, scheduled for May 27. On Friday, May 18 the emphasis switches to that other race - to take the Peak Pole position for the race.
There was a good deal of drafting practice Thursday for the first hour and a half of the six-hour test and tune session; drafting practice returned for the final hour as well, with the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval looking much like it was race day, albeit without the largest single day fan attendance.
At the beginning and end of the day, too, it was time for the Dragon Racing duo of Sebastien Bourdais and Katherine Legge to take to the track. Bourdais completed the first of two refresher course phases early Thursday morning; Legge finished the second part of her Rookie Orientation Program after the track closed, with the No. 6 blue and white TrueCar.com Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone Indy car neatly book-ending the proceedings
Following the completion of Phase 2, Legge will be permitted to practice and complete Phase 3 during Fast Friday practice, when teams have an extra 40-50 pounds of boost available for their 2.2-liter V-6 Chevy, Honda and Lotus engines that will lower lap times, increase speeds and allow all participants to post better qualifying laps before returning to their regularly allocated boost for the race.
At the end of the scheduled practice, Scott Dixon posted the best time of 29 drivers on the track (neither Bourdais nor Legge were on the timing sheets). Dixon's lap of 223.088-mph in the No. 9 Target Honda beat rookie Josef Newgarden's 222.709-mph lap with the No. 67 Dollar General Honda and Graham Rahal's 222.080 in the No. 38 Service Central/Budweiser Honda. See a pattern here? The top three cars were all Honda-powered.
Dixon's speed is second only to Marco Andretti's Tuesday bomb of 223.676 mph in his No. 26 RC Cola Chevy. The total number of laps turned by the close of Thursday's proceedings is 7655; drivers logged 1391 laps on Thursday alone.
Will Power broke up that happy moment for Honda Performance Development by posting the fourth-best speed in his Verizon Chevy at 221.932. The only other Chevy drivers in the top 10 were Power's Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe, sixth in the No. 2 IZOD Chevy at 221.510 and JR Hildebrand's No. 4 National Guard Chevy, tenth with a lap of 221.022, the last driver in the 221-mph class.
Fifth place belonged to Justin Wilson's No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Sonny's Honda (221.715); rookie Wade Cunningham was seventh in AJ Foyt Racing's No. 41ECat/ABC Supply Honda; reigning champ Dario Franchitti took the No. 50 Target Honda to eighth at 221.344 mph and Charlie Kimball, who has shown good speed early in the day had a 221.321-mph lap before 2PM in his No. 83 Novo Nordisk Ganassi Honda.
Jean Alesi's No. 64 Lotus and Simona de Silvestro's No. 78 Lotus brought up the rear of the field, although Ryan Hunter-Reay did only two laps to be classified 29th.
The garage inhabitants spent Thursday night preparing their cars for the chassis changes (taking out a bit of downforce) that should be performed to accommodate the added boost on Friday. A total of 37 cars are at IMS with 33 passing technical inspection and with 33 drivers having taken to the track. There is talk that other teams might roll out added cars once their primary entries are safely in the field, thereby allowing a bit of bumping come Sunday.
Schmidt Hamilton HP engineer Ben Bretzman - Anne Proffit photo
Engineer Ben Bretzman on rookie Simon Pagenaud's No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda had this to say about the possible changes to the car for qualifying weekend: "The biggest thing will be gearing. We're going to go quite a bit faster," he said, "so we're going to need to make sure we have the gears right. From a chassis standpoint, it's a bit of an unknown; it will get a little bit more load in the corner because yo'll be going faster, so you might need to adjust the platform. In general, we'll just need to make sure we're geared right."