Ryan Hunter-Reay on track at Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS – The boost was turned up, but the suspects remained the same during “Fast Friday” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Andretti Autosport ended Friday with all seven of its cars or affiliated cars in the top 15 during the final full day of practice before Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying for the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

There are six drivers racing out of the Andretti Autosport stable for this event. Meyer Shank Racing, which has Jack Harvey as its driver, is a satellite team sharing and engineering alliance with Michael Andretti’s organization and counts as the seventh for the “500.”

RELATED: Andretti Blazes Fastest 'Fast Friday' Lap since 1996

Friday, Marco Andretti ran the fastest lap at IMS since Arie Luyendyk in 1996. Andretti ran 233.491 mph in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda entered by Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco & Curb-Agajanian. Luyendyk turned a lap at 239.260 mph on May 10, 1996.

But Andretti’s lap was only fourth on the all-important “no tow” list. That means Andretti’s car was getting an advantageous draft from another car 10 seconds or less in front of him.

The driver with the fastest speed on the “no tow” list was 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. The 2012 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion ran a lap at 232.124 mph in the No. 28 DHL Honda. That lap was not aided by another car.

The reason the “No Tow Report” is important? It gives a truer indication of what to expect in this weekend’s qualifications, when cars are running around the world’s most famous racecourse without another car on track to provide a draft.

“Right now, we are trying different things on the car,” Hunter-Reay said. “It’s really a different feeling car right now with the Aeroscreen. It’s something as a team that we are throwing different things at it and seeing where it sticks. I’m pretty happy with the race car and pretty happy with the car in qualifying trim.”

Relative to the 33-car field, Andretti Autosport has been fast since the track opened for practice on Wednesday. Each car was given additional boost on Friday, which meant an extra 50 to 75 horsepower, and that will continue through qualifications. However, just two Andretti-affiliated cars (Alexander Rossi and Harvey) drew in the first 12 qualifying positions, when conditions are expected to be best.

Hunter-Reay, who will roll out 14th, has been solid and steady all week, even before showing the strength of his car on “Fast Friday.”

Andretti Autosport team manager Paul “Ziggy” Harcus works on Hunter-Reay’s timing stand as the race strategist. He collaborates with engineer Ray Gosselin.

“When we went out this morning, we had cloud cover, nice, cool track, so that ‘no tow’ looks really good right now,” Harcus said. “He’s fairly happy with it. I’m not sure we have the best race car right now, but we have a good car.

“We’re in the hunt for the pole tomorrow. We are looking good. We have had no issues so far with Ryan. It’s one of those ‘no panic’ months. We’ve made good decisions and had a very successful week so far.”

If the Andretti Autosport cars are able to back up the speed they have shown in “Fast Friday,” the team could have the most cars in the “Fast Nine” of qualifications.

Qualifying begins at 11 a.m. on NBC Sports Gold and the INDYCAR Radio Network. NBC begins its coverage at 3 p.m.

Unfortunately, Hunter-Reay and his mates are competing without the usual buzz coming from the spectators. The track is closed to fans because of the COVID-19 outbreak, and the winning driver from 2014 admits the drivers have noticed the unusual atmosphere.

Despite that, Hunter-Reay continues to race for the fans, even if they can’t be on site.

“Our fans are really with us,” Hunter-Reay said. “We are all in this together. We are without spectators, but our fans are with us, and we really appreciate that. These are unprecedented times we are going through together. We are all in this together. 

“Indy isn’t Indy without the energy of the fans. That is what really brings this place to life. You come through the tunnel; you feel that you are in a certain place that is somewhere special. 

“When this place fills up and has that energy, there is nothing else like it in all of the world.”

Race Day is Sunday, Aug. 23 and will be one of the most unusual Indianapolis 500s in history. Despite the fact there won’t be the usual throng of between 250,000 to 300,000 fans in the grandstands, once a race driver flips his helmet visor down and the green flag waves, each driver will race as fiercely as ever.

“It’s still the Indy 500,” Hunter-Reay said. “You are racing at Indy in an Indy car for a spot on the biggest, most important trophy in all of sports. That’s how I feel about it. It’s still the Indy 500.”

For the driver that gets to pull into Victory Lane, the only cheers he will hear will come from his crew members. Fans will have to watch the race on television.

“No doubt, it’s going to be different,” Hunter-Reay said. “Getting out of the car without 300,000 people screaming, it’s going to be different. But there are others in this country and around the world going through tougher times because of this pandemic than we are.

“We are lucky to be out here getting to do what we love to do.”

As Hunter-Reay was explaining the unusual scenario, he was wearing a face mask in this era of COVID-19. 

If he should win this race, he will pull it down for one of the most cherished drinks in all of racing.

“The mask is coming off so I can take a swig of the milk,” he said.