Penske in charge as the pace quickens on Fast Friday at IMS

Team Penske fired a warning shot across the paddock at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday with a 1-2-3 at the top of the timing screens as the field made their final preparations for Saturday’s opening day of qualifying for the Indy 500.

Teams had extra boost worth roughly 100 additional horsepower, and Josef Newgarden was quick to make good use of it, laying down a 233mph lap in the opening three minutes of the session. That laid the foundations for a 233.259mph four-lap average that remained unbeaten until Newgarden went out later and improved it to 234.063mph in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet.

“You can’t get too excited on a day like today,” Newgarden said. “We’re testing, everybody’s testing, it counts when it counts. But I think we have fast cars — there’s no doubt we have to be somewhat pleased at what we’re looking at.


“Let’s not get excited about Fast Friday. We need to put the pieces together tomorrow and I think the car can do that. We just need to go through the motions. It’s going to be harder tomorrow, it’s going to be even harder on Sunday, so I think those are the things we really need to think about and game out what is our plan and how are we going to attack this, because there are no guarantees in IndyCar racing.”

Teammate Scott McLaughlin came closest with a 223.623mph four-lap run in the No. 3 car, leaving Will Power and the No. 12 entry third-fastest at 223.451mph. Arrow McLaren made it an all-Chevrolet top five, with Alexander Rossi (233.355mph) edging out Pato O’Ward (233.043mph).

While the Chevrolets looked to be a class apart in the opening three hours, Honda made its presence felt in the latter part of the afternoon, led by Meyer Shank’s Felix Rosenqvist (232.906mph) and Andretti Global’s Kyle Kirkwood (232.983mph) finishing the day sixth and seventh fastest respectively. JHR’s Agustin Canapino and A.J. Foyt Racing’s Santino Ferrucci were next, leaving Arrow McLaren’s Kyle Larson to round out the top 10 – and pick up fastest rookie honors – at 232.549mph.

“It was less than what I expected,” Larson said of the impact of the jump in speeds. “I expected it to feel like you’re going way faster than before, but surprisingly when the balance is OK but the grip is still there… It definitely feels faster, but it’s not scary fast, thankfully.

“I think our balance was pretty comfortable; I was happy about that. We had one run where we trimmed out some and the sun came out and I was like, ‘OK, maybe I can feel the rear being closer to the limit,’ but overall, happy with the day, happy with the speed. It’s hard to see where you’re at yet because every run there’s some bit of tow, but the balance seems comfortable. I didn’t feel like I have a lot of understeer — or tight, for any stock car racers listening — and I don’t feel super-loose either, so it’s pretty balanced.”

Larson also had the second-best single-lap speed of 234.271mph, beaten only by Andretti’s Colton Herta, whose 234.974mph lap was aided by a hefty – and unwanted – tow from Graham Rahal, who was released into the path of the No. 26 Honda mid-run.

That battle for clear road became the main theme of the final hour, when pitlane was full of cars looking to squeeze in a final run ahead of Saturday.

That said, the final hour was still productive for some. Reigning series champion Alex Palou suffered what looked like an engine problem just after the three-hour mark, and after a 90-minute visit to the garage, the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda returned to the track with a new engine.

Takuma Sato spent the first half of the day cutting his runs short, and eventually returned to the garage where it was discovered that what he described as “a critical part” was missing from the car. Once that was rectified, the two-time winner’s day became more productive, if not particularly fast.

Similarly, Andretti’s Marcus Ericsson, who was in a backup car following his crash yesterday, spent a good part of the afternoon fighting balance issues before finally showing some signs of progress in his final runs, although once again, traffic prevented him from putting four laps together.

Elsewhere, Conor Daly will be among those facing an uneasy night after spending the day battling handling problems with the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold/Cusick Chevy that the team was unable to diagnose.

There are more serious concerns at Daly Coyne Racing, where Katherine Legge struggled to get the No. 51 Honda to behave to her liking, while next door in the garage the team is working to prepare the car that Luca Ghiotto raced in the Indy GP last week for Nolan Siegel, whose No. 18 Honda sustained serious damage in a crash early in the afternoon.

The rookie lost control late through Turn 2 and spun up into the SAFER barrier; the car spinning 180 degrees and hitting the wall again before launching skyward and landing upside-down in the middle of the track.

“I don’t know [what happened], to be honest,” a dejected Siegel said. “I had one snap of oversteer in the middle that I caught, and then turned back in and spun. I’m not exactly sure why. Disappointed. I feel bad for the team that’s been working so hard for so long for this, and I just kind of threw it away. so not happy at all about that one, but we’ll move forward and see if we can get back out and qualify for the race tomorrow.

“We’re probably going to have to go to the spare car and we don’t know exactly what that’s going to be. I’m fine, I feel like I can go back and have a chance at making the race at least. I’m fine, just apologies to everyone.”



Story originally appeared on Racer