After four full days of on-track running consuming 8,162 laps around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, one thing is certain: the battle for pole position in the historic 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil is wide open.
The last practice before Saturday’s first day of qualifying – dubbed “Fast Friday” because it’s usually when the top lap speeds are produced as teams trim out their cars and run four-lap qualifying simulations – lived up to its name.
Aided by the planned increase in turbocharger boost for the 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines that added about 30 horsepower, 18 drivers turned laps in excess of 230 mph today, including 15 without benefit of a “tow” from cars in front of them.
The fastest lap of the day and week came from Will Power in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, at 232.672 mph. Power earned $10,000 from Harding Group for posting the fastest lap on Fast Friday, but admitted he had help from the draft of a car running in front of him on the 2.5-mile oval.
“I got a good tow,” Power said. “Even when the car is out of traffic, it was pretty good, pretty solid. I think it’s fast. I think it’s going to be really, really tight for pole. There’s a lot of quick guys out there and I think Honda is right there, too.”
Power sitting atop the leaderboard marked the first time in four practice sessions this week that a Chevrolet was first. Josef Newgarden, in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing, was second at 232.344 mph. James Hinchcliffe was third at 231.972 in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, with Carlos Munoz fourth at 231.952 in the No. 26 United Fiber & Data Honda for Andretti Autosport.
“It’s been a really good week,” said Munoz, who has finished in the top four on the speed chart every day this week. “Today was my worst position in the whole few days. It’s more or less like 2013 in my rookie year when I was always in the top (and finished second in the race). The car feels great. Really fast car, for sure, in traffic and alone.”
The all-important “no-tow” speed chart for laps without benefit of a draft was headed by Munoz’s teammate at Andretti, Townsend Bell in the No. 29 California Pizza Kitchen/Robert Graham Honda, at 231.342 mph. Bell was barely ahead of Power (231.339) and Andretti drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay (231.284) and Marco Andretti (231.255).
Indianapolis 500 qualifying again is scheduled for two days. The nine drivers who log the fastest four-lap qualification attempts Saturday are locked into the Fast Nine Shootout for the pole the following day. The other drivers move on to Group 1 qualifying Sunday, when race starting positions 10-33 are determined.
“To get pole here, it’s just got to be your day and it’s got to work out,” said Power, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion whose best Indy 500 start is second in 2010 and 2015. “That’s the way it is around this place. I think it’s the same for the race.”
The draw for qualifying positions following today’s practice saw 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan earn the first spot in line in the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Simon Pagenaud, the current Verizon IndyCar Series points leader who’s won the last three races on the schedule, drew the second spot in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevy. Juan Pablo Montoya, the reigning Indianapolis 500 champion is slated to be the 27th primary car to qualify, in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevy.
Each of the 33 entries is guaranteed one qualifying attempt Saturday, provided it is in the qualifying line at its designated time and follows the proper procedures until it reaches the head of the line. Cars may make multiple attempts throughout the day to better their position.