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Indy 500 Day Two Stories: McLaughlin’s confidence, RLL’s philosophy and productive rookies

Written by Archie O’Reilly


After the conclusion of Day Two of Indianapolis 500 practice on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) oval for the 2024 Month of May, there is still a wait for a complete day of running after a rain-marred start to the week following a largely rained-out open test in April. 


But from the short amount of track running on Wednesday, it was Team Penske’s Scott McLauglin notching the fastest average lap speed of the fortnight so far. His teammate Will Power was second, followed by Colton Herta, Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi and Kyle Kirkwood.


Here are some of the stories from the day…


More disjointed running


From the moment Day One’s action was called off after shortly over 20 minutes of running, there was almost wall-to-wall rain. The track was, as a result, left in no fit state for an earlier-than-planned start of 10am ET on Wednesday. 


Dampness continued to ensue and Day Two quickly became more punctuated than ideal too, such that there was an announcement early in the day that Thursday’s running would start at 10am to allow for a planned eight hours of running as opposed to six.


As drying finally commenced on Wednesday, more rain fell and it proved a false start. But a window was finally found, blue sky emerged through cracks in cloud cover and a 3pm start time could be targeted. While five hours later than planned, four hours were left on the clock - up to an extended 7pm deadline - for some much-needed running.


Cars eventually emerged on track at 3:05pm and preparations commenced in anger. But while frenetic race running ensued, there were four more caution periods for conditions across three hours - the final being for the greatest volume of moisture, even if not extremely heavy rainfall. There were also two track inspections and a yellow for a fallen helmet hose.


Most interruptions were brief but still disjointed the running across a three-hour period. The final dose of dampness led to very little action in the last hour, aside from drivers sitting in their cockpits scrolling through Instagram and James Hinchcliffe dialling up Colton Herta from the NBC commentary booth.


Of 26 hours of planned running across April’s open test and the opening two practice days, there has only been five hours and 41 minutes of green flag running.


Penske’s confidence paying off?


Penske dominated the top of the speed charts on Wednesday as their cars appeared to excel in the tow. An early statement 229.493 mile per hour average lap speed for McLaughlin at the back of a long group of cars held top spot for the remainder of the day, exceeding Scott Dixons day-topping test from the brief running the day prior.


At the time of McLaughlin going quickest, the next-closest fastest speed was in the 226 mph range. And while the day was not about big speeds and more about teams refining their cars - predominantly in race trim - being quick is hardly harmful even if the order on the speed charts may not prove representative of the final order at the end of the month.


With Power second and the only other driver to break the 228 mph barrier all day, the 2018 Indy 500 victor’s pre-event confidence about Penske’s chances is seemingly paying off in these early stages. Newgarden rounded out the day fourth as one of six drivers to notch a lap of at least 227 mph.


McLaughlin: “Car feels really good”


Speaking in the end-of-day press conference, McLaughlin confirmed what the speed charts suggested. After a “pretty busy” day, he has been left happy with his No.3 Chevy, decked in Pennzoil yellow.


“It was hustle and bustle just getting out there and finding some space,” he said. “Traffic running was what we were working on - the race car feels really good, basically straight out of the truck. Even yesterday when we had limited running, I felt really good from a balance perspective. And I just had that confidence today.”


McLaughlin said he “ran some really good runs” in the dirty air and “was able to pass a few cars” from his position deep in the pack on track. He admitted it is “a good sign” when this is the case, especially so early in practice,


“We’re all in the same box together,” he said of the limited track time so far. “You’ve just got to make the most of the track time that you have and I felt like we had a really good day today with how much we got through. We were able to put the car away at 6pm instead of running all the way to 7pm. It’s nice to be in that situation.


“It can change quickly if you get a little bit complacent or whatever, so it’s important that we stick with it and keep focused.”


McLaughlin feels he is “in a lot better shape” and “more focused on the right things” rather than “being blase on the little details” as he prepares for his fourth Indy 500. He is yet to finish better than 14th at the Speedway.


“I feel like I’ve got a pretty firm understanding of what I want from the car, especially on an oval,” he said. “It’s just a matter of putting the pieces of the puzzle together. I think I’m in that frame of mind and that experience level where I can really sort of take it to the next level.”


A productive day for rookies


The most productive driver on Wednesday was Meyer Shank Racing (MSR) rookie Tom Blomqvist, who was the only driver to exceed half-race distance by running 105 laps. He rounded out the day 28th-quickest but gained valuable experience ahead of his oval race debut, as was the case for some very busy rookies through the field. 


“My first day properly on track with a load of other cars… so much to learn,” Blomqvist said. “For me it was all about myself, focusing more on myself and not the car. I’ve got a load of good teammates to lean on for that so they’ve been doing some of the dirty work and I’ve just been trying to build up that confidence. It’s just so new to me.”


The next-closest to Blomqvist’s tally was Ed Carpenter Racing rookie Christian Rasmussen, who ran 94 laps en-route to a 26th-place finish for the day. Dale Coyne Racing rookie Nolan Siegel ran 84 laps - the third-most in the field - as he finished 32nd in the speed charts.


None of the three Chip Ganassi Racing rookies ran on Tuesday but all three logged laps on Wednesday. Kyffin Simpson ran the most with 71, followed by Linus Lundqvist’s 63 and oval debutant Marcus Armstrong’s 56 laps.


Of note, Arrow McLaren rookie, but 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion, Kyle Larson ran 54 laps. He described the day as “a little bit frustrating” but continues to remind himself that there is a lot of track time still ahead.


“I’m glad to have gotten out there and got running,” he added. “I’m still trying to figure a lot out and work through the car balance, timing of runs and all that. Just trying to play around with things and make runs and pass people.”


Days of discovery for most


There were 2,084 laps run by the whole field compared to only 219 on Tuesday and 1,327 in the open test last month. But while some prioritised getting laps on the board, others ran considerably fewer on the ‘day of discovery’ that the earliest day of meaningful running is.


There may be some concern at AJ Foyt Racing, where last year’s third-place finisher Santino Ferrucci only logged 22 laps. Similarly at Andretti Global, Marco Andretti ran even fewer with a field-low 15 laps on the board, though he showed relative speed to sit 22nd compared to Ferrucci in 33rd.


In terms of others that could be concerned, Katherine Legge was also in the 40s for laps run for Coyne as she joined teammate Siegel in the bottom four with only 42 laps. But fluctuations through the field are natural as teams try to put themselves in a better window for later in the weekend and carry out very different programmes.


Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (DRR) had a disrupted April test and saw neither of their drivers log a half-century of laps on Wednesday. In their No.24 Chevy, Conor Daly is pleased with his progress but ran only 40 laps to finish 19th, with the best news for him being that the team found changes that should help on Thursday. 


Ryan Hunter-Reay, in DRR’s No.23 Chevy, ran only seven laps in the open test due to car issues but was ninth from 44 laps on Wednesday. It was a “good” day for him as his crew worked their way through their checklist of items and, as is necessary during these practice sessions, found balance and front grip improvements that can be made in traffic running.


At MSR, four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and 2023 front-row starter Felix Rosenqvist did the work on setting the car up as Blomqvist prioritised running laps. 


Castroneves’ brand-new car is in the “right direction” and he has credited how quickly he has got up to speed with a new group of people in MSR’s third, Indy-only entry. Rosenqvist also felt the day was “pretty productive” with the car feeling good in traffic and clean air.


Prioritising traffic running


For the majority of teams, the plan for the ultimately-abbreviated opening two days of running will have been to really refine their race cars before turning their attention to qualifying and making the field come the weekend. This is why, as soon as the green flag was flown on Wednesday, the majority of the field formed a big group on track.


Most of the action consisted of drivers attempting to experience and test their cars passing their way to the front and dropping back to experience being deep in the pack. Which was most valuable for the rookie drivers in the field.


Dale Coyne Racing’s Nolan Siegel noted on the broadcast that it was considerably different to be running in traffic compared to being alone on track. There was a lot of impetus from all of the rookies, as Blomqvist said of his programme for the day, to use early track time to get used to the feel in traffic.


Armstrong had the biggest moment of the day, wiggling as he tucked behind another car after being passed. The team consequently dragged him into the pits by his team despite his willingness to stay out on track. 


There was also a minor scuffle between Colton Herta and Rasmussen as the pair went side-by-side at one point, leading to Herta brandishing a middle finger.


RLL bucking the trend


Given the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL) team saw their three full-time entries contest Last Chance Qualifying in 2023, and Graham Rahal bumped from the field, they need to ensure they have a quick qualifying car. And so they opted to split their programmes across Wednesday.


Takuma Sato, a two-time Indy 500 winner, including with RLL in 2020, has returned to the team in a fourth entry this year and was relied upon to try and run some qualifying simulations as opposed to partaking in the mass of group running. The race running was handed off to his full-time trio of teammates.


“So many people are going to qualifying sims still not happy with the race car,” Sato said.


But all considered, it was a good day for Sato and the RLL squad despite the adverse weather conditions. It has to be considered qualifying running was not prioritised by many but Sato did top the no-tow speed charts with a 221.219 mph fastest average lap speed on the 28th of only 31 laps.


“We were working on some of the pure speed stuff, let’s say qualify-ish, the simulation,” he said. “Because the team had a really challenging year last year, we really needed to find pure speed. We had a couple items with experimental things, and we were probably 80 percent completed what we wanted to see. So it was a very productive day.”


It did prove hard to find a lap without a tow given the amount of cars on track but the intention from RLL was to avoid any runs in the draft on Sato’s side. And all in all, the veteran Japanese driver is confident that progress has been made.


“Overall I think we’ve done a lot since last year,” he said. “I think we did a very, very different philosophy of car, so it was good to see the car putting up better speed.”


Sato: RLL trying “very different philosophy”


After the wake-up call of 2023, RLL are trying a “very different philosophy” in terms of setup as they return to the oval at IMS for 2024. At this stage, he admitted “everything is experimental” as he looks to guide the team back to the success that saw him victorious four years ago, with Rahal also finishing third on that occasion.


“It was very interesting,” he said of the difference between the car so far this year and back in 2020. “Obviously last year was certainly the most challenging year for them for the 500, which is why probably Bobby kept calling me: ‘Taku, when are you going to come back?’ 


“Half of the team members are really familiar faces. [There are] new members and engineering has been updated so much since I left.”


Sato said the car is “very similar” to when he was previously with the team up until the end of the 2021 season but admitted that the “sensation is very different” at the same time. 


“The car is not there yet, where I want it, but there are some few signs that are quite promising,” he said, “We will see for the next few days what we can gather together, if we can speed it up.”


Sato competed in the 2022 Indy 500 with Dale Coyne Racing, while he ran an oval-only schedule with Ganassi in 2023. Finishing seventh in an always-strong Ganassi car has allowed a recent baseline that Sato can compare the RLL car to.


“I don’t know how much I could implement to this team [RLL] right now, but certainly the last four months we were working really closely updating every single element,” he said. “Our team’s trim will be so ready, showing the Rahal car was much more competitive than last year.”


Rahal finished the day in an encouraging 12th place, with Pietro Fittipaldi 24th and Christian Lundgaard 27th. Sato was 17th in the overall speed charts despite his primary focus being no-tow running.


How are rain delays spent?


It is no doubt frustrating for drivers having to wait continuously for the chance to go out on track. But while it can be arduous, their IMS-based motorhomes provide a good place of refuge. McLaughlin for one passed the time by watching Netflix.


“There’s only so much Netflix you can watch,” he said “I was over it. I watched about three movies but then I was ready to go once we got going.” 


Pressed further on his Netflix watching, McLaughlin added: “There was one [movie] about Wembley. Kevin Hart, his roast. And I actually watched an episode of Survivor, caught up with it.”

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