Ericsson, Dixon keep Ganassi atop Indianapolis 500 speed chart for 2nd day
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Defending Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson looked like a double threat in Indianapolis 500 practice Thursday.
First, he charged to the top of the speed chart with a lap of 229.607 mph on the 2.5-mile oval. Then late in the session, he turned the best no-tow speed of the day at 224.414.
Ericsson’s teammate, Scott Dixon, had the second-fastest overall lap for the second straight day, giving Chip Ganassi Racing another one-two finish. The six-time series champ and 2008 race winner went 229.186.
“It was a really good day for the whole Chip Ganassi team,” Ericsson said. “Yesterday we worked a lot on the race cars. We did some changes overnight that I felt were really great. It was a very positive day and hat’s off to the Ganassi team.”
For Ericsson, it was a significant jump from Wednesday’s session when he was seventh overall but the slowest driver on Ganassi’s four-car team. Tuesday’s first scheduled practice was rained out.
Thursday’s boost could put Ericsson in a stronger position to become the sixth driver in Indy history to record back-to-back wins, the first since four-time winner Helio Castroneves captured his first two in 2001-02.
Dixon also is chasing history. If he wins a sixth Indy pole, he will tie Rick Mears’ career record and become the first driver in race history to hold the No. 1 starting spot in three successive years.
Another strong showing in Indy also would help Ericsson make the case for a contract extension with one of IndyCar’s top teams. He slipped from first to third in points with an eighth-place finish last weekend on Indy’s road course.
“We feel strong, we feel better than last year and last year was pretty good,” Ericsson said. “We feel like from what we’ve seen, we’re going to be up there (on the starting grid) but we don’t want to underestimate the other teams.”
Castroneves was 17th as he attempts to earn a spot on the 33-car starting grid and seek a record-breaking fifth 500 title. Simon Pagenaud, Castroneves’ teammate with Meyer Shank Racing, had a more promising day by winding up third on the leaderboard at 228.681.
Team Penske’s Will Power, the 2018 race winner, was fourth and had the fastest Chevy of the day at 228.577, while Colton Herta led Andretti Autosport at 228.240, just behind Power.
The threat of rain interrupting the speedway’s traditional Fast Friday festivities, or washing it out completely, made for a busier session than usual.
Thirty-four cars turned more than 3,100 laps over six hours on a warm, sunny day with a light breeze. The forecast is calling for similar conditions in the qualifying rounds set for Saturday and Sunday.
Speeds are expected to take another big jump when series officials add extra power to the cars for Friday’s practice and qualifying weekend. The race is scheduled for May 28.
“I think the fact it’s going to be a hot day is going to help, too,” Pagenaud said, celebrating his 39th birthday as he used some help from his friends to post his best lap. “I feel really good tonight, so, yeah, really satisfied.”
But the lineup of Ericsson, Dixon, 2021 series champ Alex Palou and two-time Indy winner Takuma Sato, the fastest on track Wednesday, has made Ganassi’s team the clear favorite for Indy’s prestigious pole.
“I think we see a general trend on fast cars, but what does that mean when we get all the juice, we’ll see,” said Connor Daly of Ed Carpenter Racing, who was sixth. “I’ve always struggled here in qualifying, but I feel pretty good going forward. All three cars are about the same.”
Kyle Larson, the 2021 Cup champion, wasn’t the only big name at the track Thursday. Four-time Cup champ and five-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon accompanied Larson to the track just a few miles away from his hometown.
They were joined by former Indianapolis Colts receiver Krishawn Hogan, an honorary starter, and Greg Oden, the NBA’s No. 1 overall pick in 2007, who grew up in Indy and was the state’s 2006 Mr. Basketball Award winner.
The Butler men’s basketball assistant was joined by his boss, Thad Matta, and two other assistants — former Ohio State star Jon Diebler and former Butler star Alex Barlow. Neither Diebler or Barlow had previously been to the speedway. But not everyone recognized the bearded, 7-foot Oden.
“Some people think I’m LeBron James,” he said.
Keeping up with Jones
Parnelli Jones also showed up on the 60th anniversary of his then record-setting 1963 pole-winning run. His four-lap record average of 151.153 mph and his fastest lap, 151.847, both set track records.
Jones went on to earn his only 500 win that year by a margin of 33.84 seconds over Jim Clark while leading 167 of the 200 race laps.
Jones nearly claimed a second 500 win in 1967 when he was leading the race with three laps left but his car broke down. He did make two trips to Indy’s victory lane as team owner for the late Al Unser in 1970 and 1971.