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Indy 500 Day Three Stories: Two big crashes as boost beckons

Written by Archie O’Reilly


The conclusion of the bulk of non-boosted track running and standard practice on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) oval in preparation for the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 has now been completed. Weather permitting, attention now turns to a horsepower boost on Fast Friday ahead of the two-day qualifying weekend.


Teams will next visit race running across the two-hour sessions on Monday and then Carb Day next Friday after weather-curtailed testing and practice action so far. Heading into Thursday, only five hours and 41 minutes of a planned 26 hours of running had been completed under green flag conditions. 


Ultimately, the third day of practice saw 1,896 laps turned by the field. This failed to exceed 2,084 laps across only around three hours on Wednesday despite a greater window of running. But it was more productive than 1,327 laps run in April and only 219 across 23 minutes on Tuesday.


The day was marred by two big crashes - the latter commencing a two-hour end period dosed with cautions after the arrival of some more adverse weather. But some drivers did reemerge for 25 more minutes of running to end the day before Conor Daly slowed and more dampness arrived in the final 10 minutes.


When all was said and done, Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward topped the speed charts with a quickest average lap speed of 228.861 miles per hour, ahead of the Scott McLaughlin (227.316 mph). The latter still holds the fastest lap of the week so far with his day-topping 229.493 mph lap on Wednesday.


Here are some of the big stories from Thursday at the Speedway…


Lundqvist learns the hard way


In 2023, the first crash of the Indy 500 campaign came in Monday’s practice session following qualifying weekend as Katherine Legge ran into the back of Stefan Wilson. But one year on, the first and second incidents came on only the second day of meaningful running.


An hour-and-a-half in, Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Linus Lundqvist was running behind a pair of Arrow McLaren cars when he lost the rear in Turn 2 and struck the SAFER barrier rearwards. The car hurtled out of control down the backstretch towards, though some speed was dissipated by grass on the inside and there was only a glancing touch of the inside wall.


The front of Lundqvist’s No.8 Honda was left relatively unscathed but the back end, particularly on the right side, was more severely damaged. The Swede was thankfully straight on the radio and emerged from his machine under his own power. But his head did seem to go down in the cockpit and he appeared downbeat when interviewed on Peacock.


It was encouraging that Lundqvist immediately knew the mistake he had made, hitting the inside kerb and losing the car. And while his confidence may take a hit - and you have to hope he is not spooked by crashing at over 200 mph - it will prove a valuable lesson. Unfortunately, minor errors can have major consequences at Indy.


“He’s good,” teammate Alex Palou said. “He’s strong. I think he got lucky and unlucky at the same time. It was a big crash but it was a small big crash. He’s been really fast. He’s very fast, and he’s intelligent. He’ll go right out tomorrow without fear.”


At least for Lundqvist, he has got his inevitable first crash at the Speedway, which even the best suffer as a near-guarantee, out of the way early. Many other rookies have suffered the same fate as a big and ultimately helpful part of their learning process.


There would likely be more concern if Lundqvist was driving for a lower-resourced outfit. But if any team will not be pegged back and can overcome this without issue, it is probably Ganassi. 


It is still a setback, Lundqvist will have belief to rebuild and limited running has been restricted further. But sitting sixth at the time of the crash, and boasting the day’s best four-lap average, Lundqvist has shown competitive speed and should be able to rebound once he gets into a rhythm of running again.


The Speedway can bite for all


A later crash for 2022 Indy 500 winner and 2023 runner-up Marcus Ericsson proved that the Speedway can bite for anybody - no matter experience or prior success. 


Similar to his countryman Lundqvist, but on the opposite side of the track, Ericsson got down low on an entry kerb. He was running four-deep in traffic at the time of striking the very innocuous-looking kerb, which unsettles the cars significantly. It was great evidence as to how precise drivers have to be on ovals - not just having to ‘turn left’. 


Ericsson was sent into a mild wiggle with massive consequences after finding himself marginally down low on the entrance to Turn 4. It sent him up high and into a spin that caused a left-first impact that destroyed the bodywork on that side of the No.28 Andretti Global Honda. He was thankfully avoided as he slid back across track.


Ericsson finally settled at the end of the pit lane as he struck the inside wall with the remnants of his nose cone and spun once more before striking the attenuator to cause even more left-side damage. But despite bodywork flailing, the car was kept considerably intact, credit to the safety cell and aeroscreen. There was not a hint of flips of the past.


As well as the strong Dallara DW12 chassis holding up, the SAFER barrier helped to dissipate some impact and the attenuator provided only a cushioned blow. And while the car visibly looked mangled and a new tub will be required, Ericsson emerged unassisted and “feeling okay” as he told Peacock.


It is a setback for another one of the field’s strongest outfits, especially considering Andretti had looked in good stead. The fear now is that any progress may be reversed after the driver that almost went back-to-back on the oval at IMS has switched to a back-up car.


It compounds a somewhat frustrating start to life at Andretti for Ericsson.


Varying run plans through the field


Teams split their Thursday running into race and qualifying runs for the most part. There was no extra 100-horsepower boost as is the case on qualifying weekend but, with Fast Friday - when the boost is enabled - rain-threatened, many teams wanted to gain some sort of preliminary qualifying read.


Still, the boost changes how the car feels significantly, which could leave teams short-changed heading into the qualifying weekend. O’Ward believes that, if there is no pre-qualifying running with the boost, extra practice running should be afforded.


“We’re going to need to get a few runs with the boost,” he said. “You feel it. It’s so much faster. The car goes to a different dimension with the boost. It’s really almost incomparable to what it is now. Right now you try to pepper it as good as you can but you’re going way faster. It’s a lot more downforce but you’re also trimming more. It's a very different car.”


Some teams will be desperate for more qualifying running given their programmes on Thursday were halted by the track being too busy to achieve a good enough no-tow read. Aggressive group running ensued almost as soon as some teams emerged on track early in the day in an attempt to gain some qualifying reads.


Even practice can be a spectacle on the IMS oval, with packs continuing to emerge and replicate a race setting during the day. 


The Team Penske pair of Josef Newgarden and Will Power made the most of a lunchtime lull to run as a pair, simulating being the top two in the race - a possible hint as to Penske’s expectations. Both seemed to be handling well, spending time in front, behind and passing one another.


There were 31 drivers on the no-tow speed charts, with no sign of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon or Palou; the pair make up the most recent three Indy 500 pole-sitters thus are likely confident with their qualifying baseline, with Palou noting he does not favour qualifying running until the boost is available. Lundvqist also did not notch a no-tow lap.


Not all of those 31 drivers ran in qualifying trim though 21 drivers did notch a no-tow average lap speed of at least 220 mph.


Andretti and allies showing strong


Andretti Global’s programme, which was matched by Meyer Shank Racing (MSR), who have a technical alliance with Andretti, was to run qualifying simulations in the morning and partake in race running in the afternoon. When you factor in MSR, there are seven Andretti-affiliated cars to share data and set-ups, as well as form packs on track.


In terms of qualifying runs, the seven Andretti-linked drivers placed inside the top 11 on the now-tow speed charts. And it was Colton Herta, who was quick from the outset, top of the order with a 224.182 mph fastest average no-tow speed across a single lap.


Kyle Kirkwood was second in the no-tow charts with a 223.387 mph lap, followed by four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves (222.852 mph) for MSR. Also in the 222 mph range, Marco Andretti ranked seventh and Ericsson eighth for Andretti, with MSR rookie Tom Blomqvist ninth and teammate Felix Rosenqvist 11th.


As well as being quick across single laps, the Andretti cars appeared to perform well in traffic together. Herta was fourth in the overall speed charts, with Andretti finding himself sixth and also in the 226 mph range. Blomqvist was the lowest in the order with his No.66 MSR Honda finishing 29th, though his impressive no-tow speed held as his quickest of the day.


MSR arguably had the most productive day of any team. Blomqvist logged the second-most laps with 85 after being the only driver to run over half-distance on Wednesday. Rosenqvist ran 84 and Castroneves also surpassed the 80-lap mark with 81 laps logged.


O’Ward ready for “badass” boost


It is fair to say O’Ward is eager to be handed the extra horsepower to elevate average lap speeds above 230 mph. For racing drivers that relish the adrenaline of their sport, the Arrow McLaren driver says the four-lap qualifying runs are “one of the coolest parts” of the Indy 500 campaign.


“They can be very enjoyable but they can be miserable as well,” he said. “You’ve got to get it right… That wall comes fast - really, really fast.”


O’Ward and Palou both also spoke about not only being able to feel the sensation of being on the limit but also being able to hear the difference in the tone of the engine. 


“It’s freaking badass,” O’Ward said.


Thursday’s fast man was also asked whether he would like to have the boost at all times, including across the 200-lap race. And while he acknowledged this would be “too gnarly” in his eyes, he did not necessarily rule out wanting to try it - a classic racing driver take.


“I wouldn’t say no. Why not?”


Frustration for Larson


O’Ward’s Indy-only teammate Kyle Larson had a somewhat rocky day, commencing with an overnight engine change that saw him only first emerge on track an hour-and-a-half into the day’s running. Despite being set up in race trim, he ruefully missed some of the early group running.


Attention then turned to qualifying running, which would allow Larson more of a chance to experience making in-cockpit adjustments. But after he finally emerged on track with around two-and-a-half hours to run, with only 11 laps on the board given his car had to be changed into qualifying trim, cautions riddled the end to proceedings.


Speaking on the Peacock broadcast, Larson described it as a “boring and frustrating” day given he was eager to be in the car more. But despite much of the adverse weather clearing, aside from a disjointed end to the session, he logged only 29 laps - the third-lowest through the 34-car field. 


This is all the more frustrating given he still feels there is more to learn. For one, he said he keeps “screwing up” when leaving his pit stall.


“Obviously it’s not ideal for them to not get the same amount of laps, considering he’s new to IndyCar,” O’Ward said. “He’s new to basically everything that has to do with the Indy 500 and with the car and everything. For them, I do hope that it doesn’t rain much more because I’m sure they’ll enjoy getting some laps in. But Kyle looks comfortable. I think he’s fine.”


The rest of the good…


As always in practice sessions, especially given the variation in tows on the oval at IMS, speeds should not be dwelled upon too heavily unless trends emerge.


Most of the day’s biggest times came in the early stages of group running, with O’Ward the only driver to get into the 228 mph range and McLaughlin the only other driver to break the 227 mph barrier. The top eight all broke into the 226 mph range, with Palou third, followed by Herta, Newgarden, Andretti, Lundqvist and Ed Carpenter.


Of note are those that breached the Andretti-MSR-filled top 11 in the no-tow charts, with Graham Rahal fourth with a 222.669 mph best lap for a Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team desperate for qualifying improvement. All four of the team’s cars were inside the top 16 of the no-tow speed charts, even if Takuma Sato was best in the overall charts in 23rd.


Rinus VeeKay is very happy with his car, as shown on Peacock, and was fifth in the no-tow charts. McLaughlin was sixth and teammate Power 10th among the Andretti-affiliated crowd inside the top 11. Sato and O’Ward were also in the 222 mph no-tow average lap speed range. 


In the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (DRR) camp, Conor Daly had a productive day and made a “good step forward race trim-wise”, completing a field-high 86 laps and finishing 11th in the overall speed charts. His day ended with a near-miss after “a bit of a failure” on the right front corner. He admitted that he “got pretty lucky” that he did not end up crashing.


Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay was three places back despite only running 39 laps on top of 44 on Wednesday - a combined total less than Daly’s Thursday lap count. But he “found a comfort level” that he was happy with in race trim as the one-off DRR team continues to be competitive at Indy.


… and not so productive


There appears to be concern at AJ Foyt Racing, who had Sting Ray Robb 30th from 64 laps and last year’s third-place finisher Santino Ferrucci 33rd from 22 laps on Wednesday. Robb was then placed last after only 14 laps on Thursday and Ferrucci unhappy with his car in 22nd after 49 laps.


Dale Coyne Racing continues to look under a little bit of threat too. Katherine Legge and Nolan Siegel were 31st and 32nd on Wednesday, with Legge progressing to 24th on Thursday but Siegel sitting 33rd. The pair were 27th and 28th in Thursday’s no-tow speeds.

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