Two-time champion Takuma Sato led a strong showing from the Chip Ganassi Racing quartet in final practice for the Indianapolis 500 on Friday, while Graham Rahal and Katherine Legge worked feverishly to get up to speed before race day.
Sato turned a fast lap of 227.855 mph early in the session, and teammate Scott Dixon was right behind with pole sitter Alex Palou fourth on the speed chart. Marcus Ericsson, the defending race winner, wasn’t far behind for the Ganassi stable, which is trying to give its team owner his sixth victory in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
“We’re better than most,” Ganassi said before the two-hour Carb Day session. “Hopefully it’ll be that way in the race.”
The 33-car field turned 2,355 laps on a warm, sunny day, though many pulled the plug early as things got a little spicy on the track. At one point, Santino Ferrucci ran out of patience behind Alexander Rossi on the warm-up lane and went around him, then watched Rossi go so low to pass him on the track that his left-side tires were in the grass.
“The intensity was up. Everyone was race-running today, kind of practicing what it will be like,” Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden said, “which is good. But there were probably some moments you don’t want to run into.”
Felix Rosenqvist from the powerful Arrow McLaren team, which has pushed the Ganassi team the past two weeks, was among those that shut it down early. Rosenqvist was happy with his car but unwilling to put it in unnecessary peril.
PHOTOS: Sato paces strong Ganassi contingent in final Indianapolis 500 practice
“We’re feeling good,” said the Swedish driver, who was fourth a year ago and will roll off third on Sunday . “It was getting a little dicey with people out there going on the grass, so we’re like, ‘Let’s park it.’”
Turned out to be a good idea. It wasn’t more than 10 minutes later that Devlin DeFrancesco had a tire go down, sending sparks spewing out the rear of his car. He managed to keep it out of the wall and escape further damage.
“It was an old set,” DeFrancesco said of the tires. “We’ll be fine going into the race.”
Legge, who was in a practice wreck with Stefan Wilson on Monday, continued to have problems. She was granted a special 15-minute session Thursday along with Graham Rahel, who replaced the injured Wilson in the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing entry, and experienced a “chunking” sound in the car. Then on Friday, a loose tire brought her to a halt on the backstretch.
Rahal was buried deep on the speed chart, though raw numbers can be misleading as drivers fine-tune their cars in different ways. Some never get a clean lap as they practice getting through traffic for the final time before the race.
Still, it was a crucial session for Rahal, who failed to qualify his own Rahal Letterman Lanigan car last weekend. The longtime Honda driver was getting his first laps in as long as he could remember in a Chevrolet-powered car, and Rahal had a long list of things to check over. He also spent plenty of time working on pit stops with an entirely new crew.
“I feel like we have a very strong chance at it,” Rahal said. “I just need some laps to get a sense of it. I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t think it was a good chance to win it. I don’t need participation trophies, right? I want to go win this.”
CLEAN UP, AISLE 3
Ryan Hunter-Reay had to pit midway through the session as fluid began to spray from his car. His crew determined that it was a relatively minor gearbox leak that had to be cleaned up, but IndyCar apparently did not allow the car back on the track.
“The guys are kind of shocked they shut us down for it. We haven’t had one problem all month,” Hunter-Reay said. “We lost an hour of practice but I was really happy with the 23 car. Better that it happened today than Sunday.”
Marco Andretti posted on social media that he was OK after news filtered out that he had been involved in a car accident the previous night on 16th Street, which runs outside Turns 1 and 2. His Lamborghini Urus was totaled, though.
On the track, Andretti had a fast lap that was on par with Ericsson, Rosenqvist and several of the race favorites.
RC Enerson, who is in a one-off ride for Abel Motorsports, got some much-needed track time Friday. But the rookie also got important experience in the pits, and it appeared to be needed. Enerson came in one time and nearly stopped in the wrong pit stall, swerving back out at the last moment and finding the correct box.
“I think we have a strong car. It’s just going to be more learning for me,” said Enerson, explaining he had trouble telling apart multiple teams in red uniforms. “I have to get in the habit of looking earlier for the box.”
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