Sports

Penske cars struggle with speed as Andretti tops 233 mph at Indy 500 practice

INDIANAPOLIS
(AP) — Honda claimed a clear edge over Chevrolet in speed on Fast
Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Marco Andretti topped 233
mph in the final practice before qualifying for the Indianapolis 500.

Andretti jumped to the top of the speed chart by logging a lap at 233.491 mph (375.77 kph). It was the fastest lap in a practice — which is considered unofficial — since Sebastien Bourdais went 233.116 mph in 2017.

He was one of nine Honda drivers to
crack the top-10 in speed after IndyCar allowed a turbocharger boost of
approximately 700hp to prepare for Saturday and Sunday qualifying. Track
temperatures and heat both factored into how cars performed Friday with
the fastest speeds posted early in the day.

So it was just
Andretti’s bad luck when he drew the 28th spot for Saturday qualifying,
ensuring he’ll make his attempt during the hottest part of the day. He
didn’t seem concerned, though, because he was able to turn consistent
laps during the later part of Friday practice.

“In the middle of
the day, the heat of the day, we put together a really solid four laps,”
Andretti said. “That is the heat of the day, right? That’s the positive
to take, that if it is going to be hot, we already did that.”

The
Chevrolet teams showed very little in terms of speed but insist the
cars handle well in traffic and should be find for the Aug. 23 race.
Team Penske struggled with speed throughout the day and it was Conor
Daly of Ed Carpenter Racing with the fastest lap of the brand.

Daly
was second on the day behind Andretti, the only Chevrolet to crack the
top 10, and it wasn’t until the very end of the session that Roger
Penske’s cars began to see improvement.

“Look, we’re just not
fast. Simply,” 2018 winner Will Power said at one point. ”We’re just not
going to be able to challenge Honda.”

Power later jumped to 11th on the speed chart, but more important, he drew the 10th spot for qualifying.

“If
you drew in the first top 10, you’re in pretty good shape,” he said.
“Especially for us who are just trying to crack into the top nine, an
early draw, getting 10th, I was really happy about that.”

The fastest nine on Saturday advance to a shootout on Sunday that sets the first three rows for the Aug. 23 race.

The
four-car Penske operation was one of the last teams to pit lane when
the track opened Friday and nearly two hours passed before their drivers
tested the added horsepower.

It took just handful of laps for
Team Penske to determine it had a problem. Reigning IndyCar champion
Josef Newgarden went back to the garage and his teammates followed. The
contingent of Power, Newgarden, three-time Indy 500 winner Helio
Castroneves and defending race winner Simon Pagenaud all needed
adjustments to handle their cars at increased speeds.

Pagenaud
felt the high track surface temperature of 130 degrees and clear, sunny
day did not suit the qualifying setup on the Penske cars.

“It is very difficult at these speeds to control the race car,” Pagenaud said.

Team
Penske is owned by Roger Penske, who this January purchased the
speedway, the series and the Indy 500. He has removed himself from
competition aspects of the organization. His drivers have won the Indy
500 a record 18 times, and that number designates his prime infield
parking spot in the shadow of the Pagoda.

Andretti was the only
driver to top 233 mph, but teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay, James
Hinchcliffe, Alexander Rossi, Colton Herta and Zach Veach all topped
231.

“It is crazy jumping in with that boost,” said Hinchcliffe. “Going 231 around Indianapolis? Man, this is fun.”

The speed record at Indianapolis Motor Speedway belongs to Arie Luyendyk, who went 239.260 mph (385.05 kph) for an unofficial mark during practice on May 10, 1996. Two days later, he turned a lap at 237.498 mph in qualifying.

Five-time IndyCar
champion Scott Dixon was among the fastest Honda drivers even after his
team lost almost 90 minutes trying to diagnose an electrical issue. The
problem? “A key stroke in a piece of data that was incorrect,” Dixon
said.

Dixon heard the chatter that Honda is far superior in
qualifying trim to Chevrolet but wasn’t sure how much can be taken from
Friday’s practice.

“It seems a little strange so far,” said
Dixon, noting the manufacturers typically follow plans and adjust their
programs each day. “It’s hard to tell what Chevy is up to.”

Even
Andretti underplayed the importance of his fast lap. He recorded it as
soon as the track opened then switched his focus to stringing together
four consistent laps. Qualifying is not based on single lap speed,
rather the four-lap average a driver turns.

“The first thing you
need is speed and then you need to put the four laps together,” Andretti
said. “The luxury is we have the speed. We don’t need to find speed, we
need to find four laps.”

Daly, meanwhile, logged a 232.337 as he prepares to qualify with engineer Cole Pearn,
the championship-winning NASCAR crew chief who moved to Canada and quit
racing at the end of last season. Pearn has signed on as engineer for
Daly for this one race.

Daly said the handling is difficult in
part because the added weight of the cockpit-protecting aeroscreen is
causing the tires to wear quickly during the four-lap stints.

“The drivers are earning their paychecks,” Daly said.