05/20 15:37 CDT Pagenaud continues building momentum in Indy 500 practice
Pagenaud continues building momentum in Indy 500 practice
By MICHAEL MAROT
AP Sports Writer
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) --- Indianapolis 500 pole winner Simon Pagenaud devoted
Monday's practice to working exclusively in race trim. The result didn't change.
The Team Penske driver remained atop the speed chart for another day, this time
in the second-to-last practice for Sunday's race. His fast lap of 228.441 mph
in cool temperatures bettered that of teammate and 2017 series champion Josef
Newgarden at 228.273.
"It was really good to be able to run with so many people on track," Pagenaud
said. "It was almost like a race. The trick part is that it was so cold, every
car looks good. You want to see how your car is, but you want to see how
everyone else is, too."
Right now, Pagenaud has all the momentum.
After ending a 21-race winless streak by making it to victory lane in the
IndyCar Grand Prix, he celebrated his 35th birthday with the third fastest
four-lap qualifying average on Saturday, then returned to the 2.5-mile oval
less than 24 hours later and became the first French driver to take the No. 1
starting spot in 100 years.
But if Monday proved anything to the 2016 series champ it was this: Expect
things to be a lot different Sunday.
The gap appears to be closing between the Chevrolet engines that were so strong
in practice and qualifications and Honda.
The Team Penske duo was trailed by a trio of Honda drivers Monday as James
Hinchcliffe went 227.994, Scott Dixon was 227.951 and Alexander Rossi 227.660.
Dixon won the 500 in 2008, Rossi won it 2016 and Hinchcliffe was the 2016 pole
"Rossi was really strong at the end also and was really good in traffic, so
he'll be a force to be reckoned with as usual," Pagenaud said. "I think Dixon
will be strong as well."
One reason for the change is shifting strategies.
Many of the 33 drivers ran in large packs to see how the cars handled in
traffic. Some teams worked on fuel mileage calculations while others swapped
parts in and out on pit lane. Newer drivers worked on finding the proper
braking zones along pit lane and at one point, 2013 Indy 500 champ Tony Kannan
climbed out of his cockpit and into the car of teammate Matheus Leist to
determine which setup might work best on race day for A.J. Foyt Enterprises.
It was an action-packed two hours for everyone.
"We're still trying to learn everything we can," Kanaan said. "We wanted to
make a change that would be too much for one car only, so I jumped in his car
to try it."
There also were some complications.
Dale Coyne's crew members scrambled to fix an electrical problem on the car of
James Davison, and Marcus Ericsson's right-side tires tapped the outside wall
between the third and fourth turns when traffic forced the rookie to take an
unusually high racing line.
Both drivers have only one more chance to get it right --- Carb Day on Friday.
What's unclear is how much this practice will actually help.
Temperatures barely made it into the 60s on an overcast day. Sunday's forecast
calls for temperatures in the low 80s with significantly more humidity and a 40
percent chance of scattered thunderstorms.
"We chase the weather, we chase the race track and getting the balance right
for 25 to 30 laps for a run, which is what we are doing today, is really
critical for the race," said Mike Hull, managing director for Dixon's team,
Chip Ganassi Racing.
Things weren't just interesting on the track.
One day after two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso failed to qualify,
McLaren Racing's hospitality tent was locked shut with the televisions on and
the privacy shield the team brought for the month remained outside two
Meanwhile, Kyle Kaiser, the Californian who sent Alonso packing, continued
running the Juncos car without a primary sponsor after two companies pulled out
last week. Though negotiations continue and rumors of a deal swirled around the
track, no official announcement came before practice ended.
And two-time 500 winner Al Unser Jr. was arrested in nearby Avon, Indiana, and
charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated early Monday. He is a
consultant with Harding Steinbrenner Racing, which fields the car for rookie
Team officials posted a statement on Twitter expressing support for Unser, who
has acknowledged publicly he's battled alcoholism for years. Unser's attorney
declined to comment.
"Al Jr. is loved by the racing community," series and speedway officials said
in a joint statement. "Everyone at IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway is
with him and his family and stand ready to provide the support he needs."
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