INDIANAPOLIS — Close calls and tight speeds were the story of “Fast Friday” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Scott Dixon posted the fastest lap of Indy 500 practice for the second time in three days.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver got even more good news when he pulled the No. 1 spot in the qualifying draw for the 105th Indianapolis 500. That means he will put the first speed on the board at noon ET Saturday for everybody to chase in the battle to make the Fast Nine that will battle for the pole position.
That might brighten the six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion’s mood. Dixon was one of many drivers frustrated by slower traffic while trying to find a clear track to simulate a four-lap qualifying run around the 2.5-mile oval in a highly competitive field of 35 cars. Drivers also were adapting to an extra 90 horsepower in a turbo boost provided for “Fast Friday” and the qualifying sessions Saturday and Sunday.
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“Obviously, it was really tough out there today; just really tough to get a clear track,” said Dixon, whose 19th of 29 laps led the session at 233.032 mph in his No. 9 Dallara-Honda. “You had some guys doing some pretty silly stuff out there. Teams should have been held responsible for some of those runs as well.
“I know it’s difficult. I know everybody wants to try to get a run. Some of those closing speeds when you have people doing cooldown laps at 150 mph, you’re coming in at 240, gets pretty hairy.”
After one narrow miss, Graham Rahal apologized to Ed Carpenter after lingering in the bottom lane instead of moving his No. 15 onto the apron (Rahal blamed miscommunication with his team) as the No. 21 Chevrolet whizzed by at speed.
Alexander Rossi, whose No. 27 Dallara-Honda posted the fastest no-tow speed (231.598 mph) voiced his displeasure with Josef Newgarden midway through the session.
“Yeah, it was kind of annoying,” Rossi said. “People aren’t doing any favors either, so it was a lot of … whatever, it’s fine. Yeah, it was a good day.”
Dixon blamed one unnamed driver for putting him in a bad spot by declining to pull off track into the cooldown lane.
“When you’re coming in at 240 mph, you had a car in the short chute at 150 mph, that’s a pretty big problem,” he said. “Some of it you’ve got to rely on the spotters. We found ourselves in some positions today. It’s not easy. It’s hard to talk about.”
Dixon said the solution might not be as simple as IndyCar monitoring how cars are released.
“I think it’s part of the process now,” he said. “Once you do a run, everybody is trying to cool the cars off. Some people used to not care about that, but now everybody is doing it. It becomes a lot of cars on track at different speeds. I feel like if you’re off the pace, you just got to use the bottom lanes. How they address it, I don’t know, man.
“I think it was just more difficult this year because I think you’ve got a very full field that are very close. You have a couple people that are going to be hanging on pretty tough. Everybody’s trying to get a run.”
While there were many real estate disputes, there was no debate about which engine manufactcurer had the field covered Friday.
“Honda with a capital ‘H,’ ” Rossi joked.
Honda drivers posted the top five speeds (with Dixon, Colton Herta, Tony Kanaan, Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou) and 12 of the top 15. Team Penske’s fastest driver was Newgarden (22nd), followed by Scott McLaughlin (24th), Will Power (29th) and Simon Pagenaud (30th).
Hondas also had seven of the top 10 four-lap average speeds. The best Chevy was the No. 5 of Pato O’Ward, who posted the sixth-fastest speed and was third on four-lap average.
It portends another tough Indy 500 qualifying session for Chevy, which had only one car in the Fast Nine last year and three cars in the top 15 starting spots of the 2020 Indy 500.
“I think we can all look at the chart and see who is more dominant,” O’Ward said. “My Chevy has been good to me so far. I think we’ve been doing a good job with what we have. Tomorrow obviously the goal is going to be getting to the Fast Nine.”
Friday’s session was the third this week to run incident free. The only crash in four days of Indy 500 practice was Santino Ferrucci, who was transported to IU Health Methodist Hospital for precautionary examinations of his left foot Thursday after backing his No. 25 Dallara-Honda into the Turn 2 wall in a hard collision.
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After being cleared to drive Friday morning, Ferrucci posted the 14th-fastest lap and the eighth-best four-lap average in a car that his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team worked overnight to repair.
“I’m so proud of these guys and so thankful the cars are as safe as they are,” he told NBC Sports reporter Marty Snider. “Our Hy-Vee Honda is cooking, man. I just had to forget about (the crash). It’s like that golf mentality. You hit a bad shot and just forget and move onto the next one.
“We had our setback yesterday. I slept it off, took some Tylenol when I woke up this morning and said we’re going to go fast.”
Here’s the rest of the top 10 in qualifying draw (going early usually is an advantage because the track tends to lose grip as the temperature rises): Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, Ed Jones, James Hinchliffe, Stefan Wilson, Tony Kanaan, Newgarden, Rinus VeeKay.
In addition to determining the Fast Nine that will compete for the pole position, Saturday’s qualifying session also will leave five cars in jeopardy of missing the field. Two will be eliminated Sunday in the Last Row Shootout.
The cars that seemed to be in the danger zone as the five slowest Friday: Rookie RC Enerson (226.055), Charlie Kimball (228.520), Sebastien Bourdais (229.426), Simona de Silvestro (229.477) and Sage Karam (229.536).
Fast Friday, frustrated drivers: Scott Dixon fast again in a ‘pretty hairy’ Indy 500 practice originally appeared on NBCSports.com