Felix Rosenqvist

The expanded practice session Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was filled with on-track activity. Over the course of the eight-hour session, 1,897 laps were turned around the 2.5-mile oval in preparation for the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 26.

Among the 34 car and driver combinations in Gasoline Alley, an abundance of those laps were turned to varying strategies.

With the forecast for Fast Friday’s practice session showing the potential for rain, many teams elected to complete four-lap qualifying simulation runs throughout the day.

The caveat to that endeavor is the turbocharger boost levels aren’t turned up until Friday’s six-hour practice session from noon-6 p.m. ET, adding 100 horsepower. How much data correlates from a mock qualifying run Thursday without the boost?

Depends on whom you ask.

“It always balances out,” Ed Carpenter Racing driver Rinus VeeKay said. “The faster you go, the more natural downforce.”

VeeKay’s ECR teammate for the second half of last season, 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, said his mock qualifying run in his No. 23 DRR-CUSICK Motorsports Chevrolet on Thursday was more about managing the balance of his car.

“The balance check is for when we go to the added boost, we’re ready for it,” Hunter-Reay said. “If you do have an imbalance in the car, like one side or the other is not exactly to your liking, that’ll be exaggerated with the added boost.”

Pato O’Ward, fastest driver of the day Thursday with a top speed of 228.861 mph in his No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, questioned the learning process of doing mock runs. He said the added horsepower can’t be simulated because the fourth lap of a qualifying run is too treacherous to attempt without the boost.

Reigning series champion Alex Palou, last year’s “500” pole sitter, was third fastest driver of the day Thursday in his No. 10 DHL Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. But his team never had a plan to do a mock run. He mentioned he’s never done a simulation run without the boost.

VeeKay: Split Personalities Needed for Indy

VeeKay embraces the feeling of going to bed Thursday night knowing the next time he’s in his No. 21 askROI Chevrolet, the power will be noticeably higher by upward of 100 horsepower due to the added boost of “Fast Friday,” which continues through PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying.

“It's a different kind of driving,” he said. “I feel like it completely changes the track between qualifying and the race. The race for me is so different. It's such a different mentality. You kind of have to awaken a different version of yourself. There’s qualifying Rinus and race Rinus.”

Qualifying Rinus has been great at the Indy 500. He’s qualified fourth or better in all four of his “500” attempts, with three consecutive front row starting spots.

The Dutchman said the reason the qualifying version of himself has been so good here is because it “just comes natural.”

“I've always had a good car, so I've always had the confidence to push,” he said. “I'm just very, very confident and comfortable in the car. It always takes half of a day for me to really get into that flow, and yesterday (Wednesday) when we finished our last run, I hit that like good point. So, I'm happy.”

“Race Rinus” has two top-10 finishes, with a best result of eighth in 2021. He’s finished on the lead lap in two of his four “500” starts.

First Wall Contact Thursday

With qualifying looming to set the field for next Sunday’s 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500, the 34 NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers participating in Thursday’s practice began pushing the limits of their machinery.

At 11:30 a.m. ET, Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Linus Lundqvist made right rear contact with the SAFER Barrier at the exit of Turn 2. The No. 8 American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda made secondary contact with the inside wall on the backstretch and did a full spin before coming to rest in the grass. Lundqvist was unhurt.

“It’s my mistake,” a dejected Lundqvist said. “I know exactly what I did. I touched the curb in Turn 2 and couldn’t hold onto it. It’s something that you talk about often at this place, but it’s just a mistake on my part and the team’s going to pay the price for it.”

At 3:49 p.m. ET, 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson made a similar mistake. Ericsson clipped the curb at Turn 4 entry in his No. 28 Delaware Life Honda and made contact with the SAFER Barrier at the exit of the corner.

His car continued to spin and made secondary contact with the inside pit wall with the front of the car and left-side contact with the pit lane attenuator.

Like Lundqvist, he climbed out of the car unscathed. But Andretti officials confirmed the team was moving to a backup car for Ericsson due to heavy damage.

“Obviously, a decent hit,” Ericsson said. “The safety of these cars are impressive, so I’m OK. I think I brushed the curb a little bit, and that’s probably enough to send it. Then you’re a passenger. Very disappointed.”

For a rookie driver and veteran to make the same mistake, that’s a testament for how much these drivers live on edge around the 2.5-mile track.

Ferrucci Lacking Comfort, Not In Panic Mode Yet

Santino Ferrucci was sixth fastest (223.369 mph) during the Open Test in April. With Opening Day on Tuesday of this week being a 23-minute abbreviated session due to rain, Ferrucci’s No. 14 Homes For Our Troops Chevrolet team elected to experiment with setups Wednesday.

That was a costly decision.

Ferrucci was 33rd out of 34 drivers on the speed chart with a top speed of 221.786. The team elected Thursday to go back in the direction that worked last month. For a variety of reasons, what worked in April didn’t work Thursday.

Ferrucci was relegated to 49 laps with a top speed of 223.448. He said the crew battled a loose-handling race car all day, and every change to the car made it worse.

“I just don’t want to drive a car like that,” he said. “We can’t afford to put it in the wall.”

Ferrucci said they have a “huge hill” ahead of them right now.

“Sometimes you get there, sometimes you don’t,” he said. “I had a car like this in 2020. We couldn’t get it right. I drove through the field in the race and finished fourth.

“We’re going to have to go into Fast Friday having to turn left and put your foot down.”

Ferrucci’s teammate, Sting Ray Robb, was 10th fastest at 221.862 on Tuesday but 30th at 223.215 on Wednesday. For Thursday’s practice, he was also frustrated with the handling of the No. 41 Goodheart Vet/Pray.com Chevrolet, completing only 14 laps with a best speed of 219.990 mph. That ranked last among 34 drivers.

Despite their troubles, the Foyt team knows it can deliver on Race Day. Ferrucci qualified fourth and finished third.

Starter Likens Unveils New Book

When former INDYCAR SERIES flagger Duane Sweeney gifted Aaron Likens a checkered flag, that moment sparked a journey where the young Likens wanted to follow in Sweeney’s footsteps. However, Likens was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 20. He said his doctor didn’t offer much help, and his life spiraled into depression because he thought his dream never would become reality.

Likens eventually fought back against the depression and vowed to buck the trend. He said racing kept him going in his journey. The Indiana native forged a path to his dream job and next Sunday will be in the flag stand as the official starter of the series for his fifth Indianapolis 500.

Thursday morning, he debuted his book, “Playing In Traffic.”

A big part of his message in the book is that whether someone does small things or big things in their individual life, they can make an impact. He hopes his testimony can help someone else enduring a life challenge to know hope can be found.

Firestone Adds New Materials to Indy Race Tires

Bridgestone Americas (Bridgestone) again is demonstrating and accelerating the use of more sustainable materials and technologies in motorsports at this year’s 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

As its Firestone brand celebrates 25 consecutive years as the exclusive tire supplier of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and Indianapolis 500, Bridgestone has produced a Firestone Firehawk Indy 500 race tire that incorporates two monomers sourced from the waste residue of palm oil processing.

The bio-styrene and butadiene monomers included in this year’s race tires are certified by the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) for the transparency and traceability of sustainable raw materials throughout the supply chain.

The Firestone Race Tire Engineering team and nearly 60 race tire production teammates will produce more than 5,000 Indy 500 tires for use in practice, qualifying and the race.

CGR, PNC Bank Announce Women In Motorsports Internship Class

Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) has selected its class of interns for the third year of Women In Motorsports Powered by PNC Bank.

The initiative was launched in 2022 to help inspire the next generation of engineers, mechanics and other career pathways in motorsports and is the latest collaboration between CGR and PNC Bank, building on a relationship that began in 2013.

Three students will receive fully funded internships that provide valuable exposure within the professional motorsports industry. They will receive hands-on experience and mentorship, operating alongside team leaders. While fully integrated into CGR’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES teams, including six-time champion Scott Dixon and the No. 9 PNC Bank crew, their projects will range from engine builds and electronic design, to race day duties and performance modifications, as a launching pad toward a career in motorsports.

The internship starts May 28 and will see the interns travel with the team to select races during the 2024 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season. After reviewing over 150 qualified applications, the following three applicants were selected:

  • Lucy Anderson, Indianapolis; Elmhurst University, Data Analysis
  • Erin David, Avon Lake, Ohio; Ohio State University, Fitness
  • Ali Jensen, Austin, Texas; University of Texas at Austin, Engineering

Odds and Ends

  • NBC Sports has announced its team of race and studio commentators for its comprehensive coverage of the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Host Mike Tirico and studio analyst Danica Patrick return to NBC Sports’ Indianapolis 500 coverage for the sixth consecutive year, joined by seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion and former Indy 500 competitor Jimmie Johnson. For the sixth consecutive year, “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” will be called by NBC Sports’ lead INDYCAR play-by-play voice Leigh Diffey and analyst Townsend Bell, with analyst James Hinchcliffe in his third consecutive. Marty Snider, Dillon Welch, Dave Burns and Kevin Lee will serve as pit reporters. Former NASCAR driver Jeff Burton and Kim Coon will serve as roaming reporters throughout the broadcast.
  • Andretti Global driver Ericsson is a former hockey goalie and NHL fan. He’s friends with Boston Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindholm. However, while he wants his buddy to win the Stanley Cup, Ericsson’s pick to win the coveted trophy is the Dallas Stars.
  • Kyle Kirkwood said his No. 27 AutoNation Honda for Andretti Global is the same car he drove in last year’s Indianapolis 500. Kirkwood climbed from a 15th-place starting spot to the top 10 before a spectacular crash on Lap 183.
  • Kyle Larson’s No. 17 Hendrickcars.com Arrow McLaren Chevrolet underwent an engine change before Thursday’s practice session. The swap was planned. Larson called the cadence of the day “frustrating” because he only completed 29 laps with a best speed of 222.805.