James Hinchcliffe laid down the fastest lap on the opening day of practice for the Indianapolis 500, and was one of only three drivers who broke the 224 MPH barrier with an average speed of 224.526 MPH. The Canadian piloted his bright orange Andretti Autosport Honda for 75 laps around the Brickyard over the six hours of scheduled track time.
Formula 1 star Fernando Alonso, who failed to qualify for the Indy 500 last season, had a good first day and went fifth fastest at 223.238 MPH, slotting in between IndyCar veterans Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden.
Andretti Autosport, which fields a record six cars for this race, had the four fastest no-tow speeds on the day. That potentially bodes well for them in qualifying, which is the one of the few times during the next two weeks they will be on track without a slipstream from other drivers.
Times for this first day aren’t the best indicator of race pace, however, as teams spent the better part of the day trying out large changes to the setup and will dial the balance in more precisely over the next week.
In the morning session, reigning series champion Josef Newgarden hit the track first, but it was Scott Dixon who got off to the fastest start with an early speed of 224.047 MPH. The current points leader and 2008 Indy 500 champion obviously came prepared with a good setup on his Chip Ganassi Honda.
In the middle of the day, the rookies and the drivers that haven’t raced at Indianapolis in a while were afforded a session on their own. After going through a prescribed build-up that forces them to complete a few laps at a relatively slower speed, the inexperienced drivers were allowed to put in some laps at full song with a sparsely populated track.
Rookie Dalton Kellett was not able to complete the full mandated build-up during the rookie session, and had veteran team-mate Tony Kanaan hop in his car for a few laps in the afternoon to make sure there weren’t any large problems with the car.
The afternoon session saw most drivers get on track and test out the feel of their cars while driving in turbulent air. The veterans were noticeably more comfortable in the close-quarters running and were generally faster than the rookies.
No drivers crashed during the six hours of on-track running, but the yellow did come out briefly when Marco Andretti had a problem with his car at speed. His Andretti Herta Autosport Honda shut off suddenly and became stuck in gear when he brought it to a halt on pit lane.
The problems seemed to have been solved, however, as Andretti was back out on track for the afternoon session and put in a fast lap that was good enough for second on the time sheets, at 224.345 MPH.
Dragonspeed arrived at the track late and was still working on setting up the car in the garage throughout the day. Ben Hanley was allowed some track time after the official practice session, however, in order to give him some time to test out the car in a safe environment.
Multiple drivers had problems with the air hose that connects to the top of their helmets, with some even resorting to using duct tape to keep the hose attached. The added air turbulence from travelling at such a high speed meant the clips that hold everything in position were not sufficient.
Overall, driver cooling was not as much of an issue as it has been in previous rounds due to intermittent cloud cover and the high average speeds. Even though this is the first time the drivers have tackled the 2.5-mile oval with the Aeroscreen, enough air was moving through the cockpit to keep them mostly comfortable.
Another full day of practice is on the schedule for tomorrow, with the green flag waving at 11:00 EDT.