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Indy 500 Fast Friday Stories: Penske’s pace, Larson’s multitasking, engine battles and airborne Siegel

Written by Archie O’Reilly

The annual ‘Fast Friday’ session - the first day with added qualifying horsepower - ahead of Indianapolis 500 qualifications has concluded at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). Colton Herta topped the speed chart, but his 234.974 mile per hour quickest average lap speed was courtesy of a significant tow, as was Kyle Larson’s 234.271 mph lap in second.

Josef Newgarden’s third-place 234.260 mph average lap speed was the most notable of the day given it came on a solo run. Team Penske were one-two-three in the four-lap average order from their qualifying simulation runs.

Here is the story of Day Four of running ahead of the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500, ranging from Penske’s pace and Kyle Larson’s continued discoveries, to the Chevy-Honda battle and an airborne crash for young Nolan Siegel. 

And that is not mentioning Christian Rasmussen’s felling of a snake on track, bringing out an early caution…

Penske the pick of the field

It took mere minutes into the first day of boosted running for breaths to be taken away as, on his first flying lap, Newgarden found himself running an average lap speed in the late 233 mph range with only a minor tow. Teammate Scott McLaughlin, who held the fastest lap of the week (229.493 mph) beforehand, soon eclipsed this.

The Penske pair laid out statements with four-lap averages exceeding 233 mph straight out of the blocks, with Will Power completing an all-Penske top three that was only scarcely interfered with through the day’s running.

The most ominous sign came as Newgarden notched the first 234 mph lap of the month mid-session, without a tow in some of the least favourable conditions. He dropped into the 233.9 mph range for his second lap before going faster on his third and back into the 234s for the final lap. This resulted in his chart-topping 234.063 mph four-lap average.

After multiple more runs as Newgarden concluded his day early after only 15 laps - almost lost for words and struggling to contain his words on Peacock - McLaughlin, who ran 33 laps, got closest with a 233.623 mph four-lap average. The Kiwi’s fastest no-tow lap had a 234.102 mph average speed. 

With a fastest average lap speed of 233.864 mph, Power’s quickest no-tow lap was slower than Newgarden’s four-lap average. But a 233.451 mph four-lap run for the driver of the No.12 Chevy, who ran 30 laps, was still enough for third on the four-lap average chart.

Most impressive was the consistency of the Penske drivers’ runs, which often saw increases in average speed lap by lap rather than the drop-offs observed by many.

Newgarden: Penske “built fast cars”

Newgarden attempted to play down expectations when asked about whether he is now favourite heading into qualifying. But the mention of Sunday as part of his and Penske’s plans show where their hopes lie.

“I think we’re in a good spot, there’s no doubt,” he said. “I just wouldn’t consider ourselves a favourite. I think we’ve just shown up prepared and ready, and now we need to execute tomorrow and Sunday.”

Penske has not had a front-row start at IMS since Simon Pagenaud’s pole position in 2019. But defending winner Newgarden did concede Penske are “definitely in the mix” as teammate Power has suggested should be the case on multiple occasions since April’s open test.

“We’ve been working the last four years to try and get back into the mix in qualifying,” Newgarden said. “I think they’ve built fast cars. That’s what happens when you’re quick in qualifying here… It doesn’t matter how good you are. You can’t will the car faster through ability. It is a team effort at Indianapolis. 

“The race is one deal but qualifying really shows the true nature of the build quality. I think everybody at our shop should be really proud.”

Newgarden remains without suspended race engineer Luke Mason and strategist Tim Cindric, though Penske has plenty of depth to plug those holes.

“We’ve got a lot of really good people,” Newgarden said. “It’s also bigger than one person - we preach that at Team Penske. It’s a group working together trying to get the most out of each other. And when one person either moves on or we lose somebody, we try and fill it in with our strength.”

“A cheap way to hire Cannon”

Continuing on the topic of personnel, Colton Herta made a quip about Penske’s technical alliance with AJ Foyt Racing, who had Santino Ferrucci finish third at the Speedway in 2023. This has led to the perception that Penske can use the expertise of veteran engineer Michael Cannon, who currently resides at Foyt.

“What a cheap way to hire Cannon, right?” Herta joked. “Get a deal with Foyt and get all your Speedway secrets for free? I don’t know… It probably helped a little bit.”

Larson: Boost “didn’t feel different”

Larson may have vast experience in NASCAR and sprint racing among other things. But he has never gone quicker in a race car than with the tow lap that saw him second on the overall speed chart on Friday. The acceleration is “different” to anything he has experienced.

“I feel like the acceleration in an IndyCar is pretty incredible for what I’ve gotten to ever feel on a two-and-a-half mile track,” he said. “Just like going through the gears, it accelerates way faster than a stock car does. That’s fun, feeling that.”

But despite the speed, Larson continues to remain calm and somewhat unfazed by all of the fanfare surrounding his attempt at ‘The Double’ by running the Indy 500 and NASCAR Cup Series’ Coca-Cola 600. The extra horsepower ahead of qualifying did not overawe him.

“It didn’t feel as different as I was expecting it to be,” he said. “It’s obviously different. You can tell you’re going faster and you’re a little bit more on the limit of things. But the commentators do such a great job of making it seem like it’s: ‘Boom, you’re going 100 miles an hour faster.’ It didn't feel way different so I was happy about that. 

“I think our car balance was in a comfortable spot too. That allowed me to be a little bit calmer in the car. I think if I would have gone out there and felt on the limit of the rear tyres, then I would have felt like I was probably going way faster.”

Larson had been enduring a frustrating week of running, not even notching half-race distance ahead of Friday. This partly owed to rain but, on Thursday, he was pegged back by an engine change, which hindered Arrow McLaren’s intended run plan. Friday was much better.

“Today went a lot smoother, just more so as planned where yesterday did not,” Larson said. “I thought with the forecast being good, I would get lots of laps. But I did not. Was pretty frustrated with things yesterday. Was good to just get some reps with the boost.”

He ultimately rounded out the no-tow speed chart in 15th and had the 10th-best four-lap average, which would put him into Sunday’s Fast 12 shootout if repeated on Saturday.

“I don’t do very good multitasking”

Part and parcel of Indy 500 qualifying is that drivers have to use their ‘tools’ inside the cockpit. That is not something Larson is used to in NASCAR.

“I don’t do very good multitasking at all,” he said. “It was okay when I went out there and just ran sixth gear the whole time, I could just worry about the weight-jacker and my balance was in a good spot. I didn’t even feel like I needed to adjust the car at all. 

“But then there were other runs where I had to adjust the bar, then I hit the weight-jacker, then I adjusted the bar, then I went down the straight… ‘Oh s**t I have to hit the button again.’ And then I’m about to the corner. It's just more than what I'm used to doing. But I think each run I got a little bit more comfortable.”

Larson is still learning and likely will not stop discovering things into the race. Monday and Friday’s practice sessions, providing he maintains pace and makes the field, will be important to nail down some more traffic running.

“I’ve missed out on some good opportunities of people drafting,” he said. “I know there will be more chances hopefully if weather cooperates. I think my optimism was too high… I just thought that I was going to run a lot more. But it’s nobody’s fault. I wasn’t mad at anybody. I was just mad that I didn’t get to run more.”

Milking a cow?

Part and parcel of being an Indy 500 rookie is the tradition of milking a cow given the association between the event and local dairy. Larson only found out about this when speaking to the media after Friday’s running.

“What? Is that a thing?” he said, somewhat exasperated. “What? Where is this? 

“Oh, my gosh. I guess I will… Do we get to glove up?”

Chevrolet ousting Honda

A Honda car may have topped the overall speed chart but no-tow times are gospel when looking for reads on a possible qualifying outcome. And it will be Chevy that is most encouraged after the early introduction of the horsepower boost.

“It does seem like the Chevys are a little bit stronger but not too much stronger,” Herta said. “I think Kyle [Kirkwood] had some good laps today. He ran a 233.7 without a tow… Josef’s fastest was a 234.2. So half mile-an-hour… we can work with that, we can fight with that.”

The Andretti Global driver did still concede that Chevy “definitely seems stronger” ahead of qualifying than in recent years. And their overall dominance showed through superior trap speeds as well as the speed chart.

The top six no-tow speeds came from Chevy cars, with 14 of the top 20 also Chevy entries. Only two Honda cars infiltrated the top 10 of the four-lap average chart. The most glaring of the struggles for Honda entries came at Chip Ganassi Racing, whose best-placed car was 23rd in the no-tow speed chart.

Ganassi looking for more

“The Ganassis were a weird thing. Not too sure what happened there. They obviously got the pole the last three years.”

Herta was as surprised as anybody to see Ganassi dwindling at the bottom end of Friday’s order. Alex Palou was pole-sitter last year, with Scott Dixon leading the field to green the two years prior. The latter admitted on Peacock that he was not particularly hopeful of even replicating even a Fast 12 appearance.

Dixon noted that you sometimes have simply “got what you’ve got” at Indy and cannot get any more from it. He finished a lowly 24th in the no-tow chart from 33 laps - one place above teammate Palou - and had the 19th-best four-lap average.

Palou’s day was impacted by an engine failure. He was struggling to reach above 235 mph before his Honda motor let go and saw him sit out most of the session, restricting him to only 18 laps. The Spaniard put together the 17th-best four-lap average at over two miles per hour slower than Newgarden - a lot of speed to find.

Ganassi’s Indy 500 rookie trio could find themselves under a little bit of pressure come qualifying. Oval debutant Marcus Armstrong was best-placed of the Ganassi squad in 23rd in the no-tow rankings. But Linus Lundqvist could only manage 29th after his Thursday crash, with Kyffin Simpson 32nd.

Simpson was also inside the bottom four and 32nd in the four-lap average chart, with Armstrong 24th and Lundqvist 25th. 

Siegel goes airborne in crash

Fast Friday saw the third crash of the opening week - making it three more incidents than last year’s Indy 500 campaign saw up until Monday post-qualifying. And it was the second rookie bitten by the Speedway in as many days as 19-year-old Siegel saw his No.18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda snap late and into the Turn 2 SAFER barrier.

It was unlike Linus Lundqvist and Marcus Ericsson’s crashes after getting low on kerbs on Thursday, with Siegel losing the car higher up the track. He ultimately spun and made wall contact with the left side of his car - front then rear. This contact sent him airborne before landing back down heavily on the left side of his machine.

It was Siegel’s first day with the qualifying horsepower boost and he had bailed on a prior run after not liking his car’s balance. Thankfully, after crashing shortly over an hour-and-a-half in, he emerged from his upside-down car unharmed.

The aeroscreen did its job and the robust Dallara DW12 stayed relatively intact. But a chassis change has been required and a reset will have to occur for the No.18 team. Ericsson, who required a new chassis after his Thursday crash, struggled to get up to speed and lift himself off the bottom of the speed chart across the entirety of Friday practice.

Unfortunately for Siegel, he is driving a car without a sponsor etched on its side pods for a lower-resourced team than the likes of Andretti. Any incidents will be tougher to bounce back from, especially amid a struggle for parts in IndyCar.

Coyne had been struggling for pace already, with Siegel heading into Friday 33rd in the combined practice speeds for the week. Siegel is short of qualifying runs with the horsepower boost and will have a brand new race car for only a short pre-qualifying practice session ahead of trying to avoid having to return for Last Chance Qualifying.

There is also the factor of Siegel having to re-find rhythm and build his confidence back up. He told Peacock he “threw it away” and was kicking himself. More than anything, as was the case with Lundqvist, he appeared eager to get back on track to do his best to avoid bumping.

Who else is in good stead?

It appears that Penske is the pick of the field, followed by Arrow McLaren. Alexander Rossi was next-best in the four-lap average rankings and had a quicker no-tow lap than Power as the only non-Penske driver to break into the 234 mph range without a draft. 

O’Ward felt his car was inherently not as quick but was still fifth in the no-tow and four-lap average charts. Callum Ilott, in the No.6 Arrow McLaren Chevy, was down in 21st in terms of four-lap average but was eighth in terms of best no-tow speed.

Andretti and their allies at Meyer Shank Racing seem to be the strongest Honda outfit, with Felix Rosenqvist seventh on the four-lap average chart for MSR and Andretti’s Kyle Kirkwood one back. Tom Blomqvist may have more to find across four laps to be safe, with Ericsson still needing to find speed after his Thursday crash.

“Seemed to be lacking a little bit of speed I think on our own,” Herta, 10th in the no-tow chart, said. “Obviously the fast lap was a tow lap - nice to be quickest but doesn’t really mean much for qualifying. We have a little bit of speed to find but I think there’s a chance, if we do everything right, we should be able to make the Fast 12.”

AJ Foyt Racing recovered well from some rocky race running, with Santino Ferrucci inside the top 10 for both no-tow speed and four-lap average. Sting Ray Robb was an encouraging 13th for four-lap average and 14th for no-tow speed. 

Rinus VeeKay was marginally outside the top 10 on both counts but still seems content with his Ed Carpenter Racing machine. Ed Carpenter sat 20th in terms of four-lap average and four spots higher for his quickest no-tow speed. Rookie Rasmussen may be somewhat more on the brink after a 26th-best four-lap average but should be safe.

Who may be under more threat?

Beneath the lead group, it is very tight. And naturally, given the loss of track time through the week, rookies do come under pressure, whether the Ganassi crop, Rasmussen or Blomqvist. Siegel is at the forefront of this after his crash, coupled with Coyne’s general underperformance.

And the speed issues for Coyne put Katherine Legge in a spot of bother; she sat only above Siegel in both of the representative rankings for Fast Friday and had runs where she was clocking below 220 mph in some speed traps.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing do not appear out of the woods. Graham Rahal and Pietro Fittipaldi were among the slowest eight cars across four laps and in terms of no-tow speeds. But after a long time of set-up searching, Takuma Sato did rank seventh in terms of no-tow speeds and Christian Lundgaard sat 16th in terms of four-lap average.

While Agustin Canapino was inside the top 10 for his best four-lap average, his best no-tow time was only good enough for 26th. His Juncos Hollinger Racing team should be safe, with Romain Grosjean 19th in these same rankings. But they could still be dragged into the fight to avoid Last Chance Qualifying.

Similar applies to Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, who had Conor Daly unhappy with his car and 31st in both the no-tow and four-lap average charts. Ryan Hunter-Reay was somewhat safer tucked inside the top 20.

Most dramatically, 2022 winner Ericsson could be under some threat for Andretti. He only lifted himself to 30th late on in the no-tow charts despite running 44 laps.


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