There’s a Ganassi problem brewing for other teams in Indianapolis.
Chip Ganassi Racing was the class of the field at the Indy 500 Open Test, placing all five cars within the top 10 on the combined, two-day speed charts, led by 2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan in third with a top speed of 228.767 mph in the No. 1 The American Legion Honda.
2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon was fourth with a top speed of 228.689 mph in the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda, defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou was seventh at 228.059 mph in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda, and Jimmie Johnson was eighth at 227.900 mph in the No. 48 Carvana Honda.
The Ganassi driver who arguably drew the most attention over the two-day test was Marcus Ericsson, who spent some time atop the Scoring Pylon before finishing 10th fastest with a top speed of 227.785 mph. On Wednesday, he showed impressive skill with his last-minute, evasive move to avoid the spinning cars of Colton Herta and Helio Castroneves in separate incidents.
Ericsson said his No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda team is using the exact setup that helped him drive to an 11th-place finish in last year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
“We have a really good, solid baseline car from last year that worked really good, and we are sort of fine tuning on that car,” Ericsson said. “I think so far yesterday and today, I've been really happy in the car and been comfortable in traffic. That's been our main focus.”
Ericsson said he feels like he’s riding a wave of momentum after finishing third in the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES oval race of the season in March at Texas Motor Speedway. He was the highest-finishing Ganassi and Honda car.
Oval racing is a craft that Ericsson said he’s been trying to hone over the last couple years, and his Texas result coupled with his speed in the Indy 500 Open Test have him confident for the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 29.
In addition, Ericsson feels bullish about CGR’s chances to score its first Indy 500 win since Dario Franchitti won his third Indy 500 in 2012.
“I’m very confident,” he said. “I’ve been working a lot on trying to improve my oval strength, and Texas was a good result for me and my confidence, and that’s something I’m bringing into the month of May.
“We have an extremely strong organization right now, especially with (Tony Kanaan) joining the team. It’s definitely a privilege to be teammates with all these great drivers.”
Ed Carpenter Racing Picking Up Where it Left Off Last May
One of the top Chevrolet teams coming out of the Indy 500 Open Test proved to be Ed Carpenter Racing, which will field three cars in this year’s race for Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly and Rinus VeeKay.
All three drivers spent time in the top 10 on the speed charts Thursday, and while Chip Ganassi Racing cars proved to be a strong organization in race trim, an ECR driver led the no-tow speed chart that is more representative of qualifying.
Without the advantage of an aerodynamic tow, ECR placed two cars in the top three: VeeKay’s No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet was first with a top speed of 221.314, while Daly’s No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet was third at 220.793.
“We weren't really in qualifying mode by any means, but yeah, we did a little bit of trim just to get a read for when we come back,” Carpenter said. “It’s just to make sure what we were doing was still working. So yeah, I think we're in a good spot.”
The single-car speeds were reminiscent of ECR’s strong qualifying prowess at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Team owner/driver Carpenter, who will enter this year’s race in the No. 33 Alzamend Neuro Chevrolet, has won the pole for the Indy 500 three times, in 2013, 2014 and 2018.
Last year, VeeKay led the organization with a third-place qualifying effort for the Indy 500, when he became the youngest front-row starter in Indy 500 history at 20 years, 254 days old. Carpenter was right behind him in fourth, his sixth top-five start in the last 10 Indy 500s.
Carpenter said he doesn’t push his team to focus specifically on qualifying, but instead to have fast cars, because more often than not it seems like at the Indy 500 comes down to a sprint. Therefore, he sees speed as a double benefit.
“You need to be quick here,” Carpenter said. “We spent 95 percent of these past few days working on the race car and making our car better. So, I think when you have a good car, it usually is also quick.”
INDYCAR, IMS Officials Make Swift Repairs to Track Surface
After Day 1 of the Indy 500 Open Test ended early as a precaution so INDYCAR and IMS officials could inspect the acceleration lane inside Turns 1 and 2, overnight work to increase grip proved successful during Day 2 of preparation for 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
After spins by Alexander Rossi, Helio Castroneves and Will Power on Wednesday, there was extensive tire dragging and brushing Wednesday night using two 800-pound tractor tires to put down rubber and remove any extra Rapid Penetrating Emulsion (RPE) treatment.
Series and track officials worked until nearly 1 a.m. Thursday morning, and the overnight work resulted in improvement to the grip level Thursday.
2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan was impressed with series and track officials’ swift reaction and was confident Wednesday was the last of these issues.
“We use the track with the two-seater a lot and other events throughout the year since they put the (RPE) product down, but nobody had run on the warm-up lane,” Kanaan said as to why the track surface was unaffected by this problem. “This is not going to be an issue. I think we’ll be OK.”
IMS President J. Douglas Boles said officials believe the issue stemmed from the RPE sealing treatment used on the 2.5-mile oval during the offseason. In 2017, track officials hand-sealed cracks in the racing surface. Then, in 2018, RPE was applied to the racing surface and pit lane for the first time.
The racing surface received RPE treatment again in 2019. This past offseason, RPE was applied to both the racing surface and pit lane.
In 2004, the IMS oval was resurfaced with fresh asphalt, and a majority of the original 3.2 million bricks that made up the track’s surface in the fall of 1909 remained underneath the asphalt. The freezing and thawing of Indiana’s seasons mean the bricks under the surface move, which allows moisture to get into the surface and lead to “weepers,” places where moisture seeps through the track surface.
The RPE treatment penetrates the surface to seal the cracks in the surface where moisture can build up, preventing weepers.
Grip level on the racing surface is nearly identical to what it was in 2021, Boles said.
Odds and Ends:
- Speeds in this year’s Indy 500 Open Test are up significantly over the 2021 Open Test. Last year, Josef Newgarden also topped those speed charts on the final day with a top speed of 226.819 in the No. 2 Shell Team Penske Chevrolet. On Thursday, he was faster by nearly 3 mph with a top speed of 229.519.
- How representative is the Indy 500 Open Test to the real deal come May? Last year, three drivers that posted top-10 speeds in the final day of the Indy 500 Open Test converted that speed to Indy 500 Race Day: race winner Helio Castroneves was 10th in the Open Test, while fifth-place finisher Pato O’Ward was ninth in the Open Test and ninth-place finisher Juan Pablo Montoya was third in the two-day test.
- Sage Karam and Juan Pablo Montoya finished the last requirements of their veteran refresher programs within the first 30 minutes of Thursday’s session. All expected rookie and refresher programs have been completed heading into the Month of May.
- Seven-time INDYCAR SERIES race winner Ryan Briscoe was on pit lane during the Indy 500 Open Test serving as Dalton Kellett’s driving coach. Briscoe said he’ll help the driver of the No. 4 K-LINE / AJ FOYT RACING Chevrolet all May long.
- Only 31 cars participated in the Indy 500 Open Test on Thursday, as Helio Castroneves did not turn laps Thursday after sustaining too much damage to his No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda yesterday. His Meyer Shank Racing team returned the car to the shop to make repairs.