Rain continues to be a major storyline this week at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS), causing Indianapolis 500 practice time to be significantly cut short for Verizon IndyCar Series teams. It has even impacted some of the qualifying for next weekend's Great American Race, and may hamper carburetion day testing as well.
"We only ran a few laps, but I'm fairly happy with where we are," said Alex Tagliani, driving the No. 68 Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, who finished seventeenth overall at 227.394 mph. "It's difficult to really evaluate what we can do by ourselves, but I'm confident that we'll have a good qualifying run."
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (SFHR) drivers Josef Newgarden and Alex Tagliani ran a combined 10 total laps during "Fast Friday" practice, during which cars were on track for less than 20 minutes due to rain.
"Today was very short; there was not much to it, to be honest," said Josef Newgarden, driving the No. 67 Dallara/Honda/Firestone entry, who finished the day fifth fastest after turning a lap of 229.276 mph after running a total of six laps. "The weather ruined it, which was a shame because there were a ton of fans that came out to see us go fast. Fortunately we were able to get an install check in for our new engine that we put in last night. We were able to get in one run, so it was better than nothing, but we still have some work to do tomorrow morning before qualifying."
Qualifications for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 have been revamped this year, allowing fans to witness two full days of teams fighting for grid position and championship points. The coveted pole will be decided Sunday, May 18.
"With two days of qualifying now, you have to be prepared to qualify on both days," Newgarden said. "Tomorrow is really important for points, and getting into the Fast 9 is crucial for us points-wise. I think it's very possible, and that's our aim tomorrow."
Jacques Villeneuve, returning to the Indianapolis 500 after a 19-year absence, turned only six laps on the 2.5-mile oval on Fast Friday. 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner Villeneuve was 16th fastest with a lap of 39.5288 seconds, 227.682 mph.
"We have no idea what to expect for tomorrow," Villeneuve said. "We were on old tires in the few laps we got, and we hadn't trimmed the car out yet. We haven't even done a practice qualification run."
Villeneuve is not feeling the stress of the new Indianapolis 500 qualifying format that awards more Verizon IndyCar Series championship points than ever over a two-day period. A driver who earns the top spot on both May 17 and 18 would earn 42 points in the season championship.
"We're not under any stress for qualifying because we're not in the points battle," he said. "Qualifying is almost meaningless for us, so there's no point in taking a risk with anything. What matters for us is the race."
Verizon IndyCar Series rookies have suffered the most from a lack of track time, SPM rookie driver Mikhail Aleshin said.
"Unfortunately, I don't even think the practice sessions we have tomorrow morning before the qualifying line opens will help us much because track conditions will change greatly when we make our qualifying run later in the day," Aleshin said. "This week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been good for our experienced drivers, but if you're a rookie like me, it was very bad. No one on our team is going to give up, though. We're going to have the pedal to the metal tomorrow and keep fighting."
Aleshin turned eight laps Fast Friday in the No. 7 SMP Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone car. He was 14th with a lap of 39.5046, 227.822.
Simon Pagenaud has performed fewer practice qualification runs than he would like, but he believes the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports car will be ready to contend for a spot in the Fast Nine Shootout.
"We were able to squeeze in a little qualifying practice," Pagenaud said. "We're suffering from a lack of practice time, but everyone's in the same position. We're almost ready, though, and we have some practice tomorrow morning. I'm comfortable with our package, though, and I'm hoping we can make it into the Fast Nine Shootout tomorrow."
Pagenaud was ninth overall on Fast Friday with a lap of 39.3798, 228.544.
The Indianapolis 500 qualifying line opens at 11 a.m. (ET) Saturday, May 17. Drivers will lock themselves into qualifying groups May 17 and then determine final starting spots Sunday, May 18, including the coveted pole. Each driver must complete a qualification attempt on both days. Qualifications will be televised on ABC from 4-6 p.m. (ET) May 17 and 1-3 p.m. May 18.
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