MADISON, Illinois – Just when it looked as if Sebastien Bourdais was having a reasonably strong practice session, his rookie teammate came along and topped it.
Pietro Fittipaldi recorded a lap of 182.294 mph late in Friday night’s final practice for the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline at Gateway Motorsports Park. The lap was the third-fastest of the 90-minute session, topped only by Saturday’s front-row starters, Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon.
The lap was a significant statement by the 22-year-old grandson of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and two-time Formula One champion Emerson Fittipaldi. This is just the fourth Verizon IndyCar Series race for Pietro Fittipaldi, who sustained broken bones in both legs during a sports car crash in May during qualifying for the 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium.
After his fastest lap in the No. 19 Paysafe Dale Coyne Racing Honda briefly topped the speed chart Saturday night, Fittipaldi credited Bourdais and the team.
“They have a lot of experience, of course,” Fittipaldi said. “It’s a different aero package than we had last year, but the base that we started with is very good. Sebastien was quick in Free Practice 1 and also in Free Practice 2, so the car is very good. The whole team is doing a very good job.”
Fittipaldi wasn’t the only one who held the fastest lap for a time. Bourdais’ lap of 180.924 mph in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda held the top spot midway through the session before sliding to ninth best – which, ironically, is the spot from where the Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan driver will start the race.
Bourdais, who had the third-fastest lap during a rain-shortened afternoon practice session, said he and his engineers were experimenting with different setups.
“We’re just doing some full-tank runs and trying to find something that works for traffic, but we really haven’t found anything,” he said. “We’re just holding station behind people and can’t really go anywhere. We really haven’t found anything that helps the situation. We tried one or two things, but they weren’t really the answer.”
Qualifying was canceled Friday because of the ever-shifting track schedule due to rain, giving way to a much-needed longer night practice. Only eight of the 21 drivers in Saturday’s race had experience on the 1.25-mile oval with the universal aero kit that’s new to the Verizon IndyCar Series season this year.
Instead, cars will be lined up for the start of the race by entrant points, putting Dixon on the pole and Rossi next to him on the front row. It puts Fittipaldi at the end of the 21-car field. Bourdais, who will start inside the fifth row when the green flag waves at about 8:40 p.m. ET, indicated he hasn’t found what he wants.
“We’re a little bit perplexed for tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t really see how we’re going to get by anyone, which isn’t a good sign because we’re starting P9 on entry points. We’ll look at what we’ve tried and see if we can come up with something.”
The problem isn’t with standalone stability, Bourdais said. The instability surfaces in traffic.
“The car is really good alone; you can get really comfortable,” he said. “But as soon as you get into traffic, you lose the downforce. As much commitment as you need around this place, it’s really hard to find anything that keeps you moving. It’s going to be an interesting day tomorrow.”
Live race coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.