Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud, who won the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course May 10, caught everyone’s attention May 14 on the 2.5-mile oval with the fastest lap of the month in practice for the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.

Pagenaud, driving the No. 77 Lucas Oil-sponsored car for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, recorded a lap of 226.122 mph (39.8016 seconds) in the session limited to 56 late-afternoon minutes because of rain and clean-up of the first on-track incident of the month.

Twenty-nine driver/car combinations totaled 1,044 laps, with nine topping 225 mph. Midway through the session, the No. 98 BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian car driven by rookie Jack Hawksworth, who qualified on the front row for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, made contact with the Turn 3 SAFER Barrier. He was checked and cleared to drive.

Click it: Practice 4 results || Combined practice results 

“Obviously, the conditions are very good for a fast lap.  The density of the air is a lot stronger so you can run in a little less wind for the same amount of downforce as (May 13) and that creates lap time and the engines work better with a stronger density in the air,” Pagenaud said. “That’s why you see big laps today. It’s always enjoyable to get close to 230. Hopefully we can break that in qualifying.”

JR Hildebrand, runner-up in the 500 Mile Race as a rookie in 2011, posted the second-fastest lap (225.854 mph; 39.8488 seconds) in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer car, while reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion and ’08 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon was third (225.494) in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car.

“I don’t care about putting up a big lap time, I care about how the car feels,” said Hildebrand, who is driving the Ed Carpenter Racing car that earned the pole last May with Carpenter behind the wheel. “It’s great to see that the car has the speed in it because at the end of the day you rarely go through practice with guys that are capable of setting those fast times, they end up being the guys that have the quicker cars.

“Certainly our focus is trying to make sure not that we can put in a big tow lap, but that we can catch up to that guy and pass him, and leapfrog through the next few guys ahead of him. So that’s what we’re working on right now.”

Many teams focused on long fuel runs for the 200-lap race May 25.

Practice, scheduled May 15 from noon-6 p.m. (ET), will be preceded by James Davison starting the three-phase Rookie Orientation Program in the No. 33 KV Racing Technology/Always Evolving Racing entry. Kurt Busch returns to the Speedway for the session after spending the day with Stewart-Haas Racing in Charlotte, N.C.

Busch, who will attempt to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 on the same day, also contends with multiple trips this week. After qualifying the No. 26 Suretone car May 17, he’ll head to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the NASCAR All-Star Race before returning to Indianapolis May 18 for the second round of qualifying and practice May 19.

Busch, making his Indianapolis 500 debut, posted the second fastest lap speed in practice May 13.

“It definitely wasn't on my radar. But what I've been able to do as a student is each day progress at a strong rate, and progressing is being able to digest the information and then being able to apply it the next day,” he said. “Each day out, the Andretti Autosport team has helped me with a game plan on what's next, so it's nice when you can have a solid forecast of what to expect.

“As far as guys getting tows and posting those good laps, some of my drafting experience helps from what I've seen at Daytona and Talladega; Indianapolis has a little bit of Darlington characteristics into it. What I mean by that is you have to be single file and you have to know which corner you are approaching at all times, and it's a matter of give and take with the other drivers out on the track.”

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