Famous names set the pace in the third day of practice for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, with the likes of Rahal, Kanaan and Andretti atop the speed chart.
Graham Rahal, the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, was fastest of the 35 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers on track Thursday, putting down an early lap at 226.047 mph in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda that held up throughout the seven-hour session.
Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 winner, was second fastest at 225.896 mph in the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. He was followed by Marco Andretti, the third-generation racer and grandson of 1969 Indy 500 champion Mario Andretti, who ranked third at 225.584 mph in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda. Andretti’s fast lap of 227.053 mph on Wednesday remains the best of the week thus far.
Rahal explained that he was attempting a qualifying simulation when he set the fast lap, with the assist of a car coming out of the pits ahead of him.
“Stefan Wilson came out in front of me,” said Rahal, who drives for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team co-owned by his father, Bobby. “He was at the end of the back straight as I was going out of (Turn) 2. I thought, for once I’m just going to stay in it (on the accelerator). Not normally my M.O., but I thought I might as well put a good one up there, at least lower my dad’s blood pressure for the night.
“Today was definitely a good day for us overall just to make a huge step forward in a lot of phases.”
Drivers again spent much of Thursday running in groups getting accustomed to how their cars react in traffic under race conditions. Some made qualifying simulation runs when the track was quieter, in preparation for this weekend when the 33-car field will be set for the iconic 200-lap race on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
Will Power, fresh off a win May 12 in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road course, topped the list of driver laps without the benefit of a tow from cars ahead. Driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Power’s 223.971-mph lap headed up the no-tow chart. Sebastien Bourdais, in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda, was second on the no-tow list at 223.348 mph.
Speeds are expected to increase on “Fast Friday,” the final day of practice before qualifications. INDYCAR permits an increase in engine turbocharger boost of 100 millibars, equating to about 50 added horsepower. With the same boost level a year ago, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon won the Verizon P1 Award for the pole position with a four-lap average speed of 232.793 mph.
Kanaan, who sat on the Indy 500 pole in 2005, said the focus now shifts completely to dialing in a qualifying setup in Friday’s practice that will hopefully carry over to the nail-biting four-lap attempts on Saturday and Sunday.
“Tomorrow, it’s just Fast Friday and you worry about four laps (in qualifying simulations),” Kanaan said. “That’s all you’ve got to worry about. Then four laps (in qualifying) the next day, and hopefully (four laps in qualifying) on Sunday. From tomorrow on, it will just be making the car as fast as you can and the most consistent for qualifying.”
The first on-track incident in three days of practice occurred less than a half hour before the end of Thursday’s session. JR Hildebrand drifted high exiting Turn 3 in the No. 66 Salesforce/DRR Chevrolet and skimmed the SAFER Barrier, then slid along the wall before the car came to rest on the track in Turn 4. Hildebrand was uninjured and the car sustained minor right-side damage.
“We were looking forward to making a long run at the end of the day in traffic,” Hildebrand said. “We weren’t that deep into the run and we had something happen in Turn 3 with the car. We are still analyzing what might have happened.
“The car felt out of the ordinary. I didn’t feel like I was losing the car at all. I thought for sure I could save the car, which is why I’m a little confused on what happened.”