Ominous skies and morning rainfall dampened the excitement surrounding the NTT IndyCar Series’ return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500, but the weather enabled enough running for Takuma Sato to land his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda atop the speed chart.
Originally intended to span three sessions — one for veterans, one for rookies and refreshers and a third for all cars — morning rain just after the 11 a.m. EDT start allowed for only 11 minutes of track time in the initial session, forcing INDYCAR to push the schedule back by more than four hours and eventually scrap the final session.
At 3:15 p.m., conditions had improved enough to give the veteran drivers 120 minutes of uninterrupted running. While Team Penske’s Will Power and owner-driver Ed Carpenter both looked to be strong, Sato ended the session with a chart-topping 226.993 mph lap. The fastest of the 707 laps turned by 20 drivers, Sato’s pace was a full tenth of a second quicker than that of Carpenter, who ended the day second fastest.
Spencer Pigot executed a late charge to join his Ed Carpenter Racing teammate near the top of the speed cart with a 226.325 mph lap that placed him third. Power’s 266.225 mph effort, good for fourth, was the only other lap above 226 mph.
Ryan Hunter-Reay was the fastest Andretti Autosport driver in fifth, followed by Scott Dixon, Ed Jones, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais and Alexander Rossi in the top 10.
Despite topping last year’s Open Test, Tony Kanaan was the only driver out of the 20 that participated in the veteran session to not set a representative time with just three total laps turned.
The two-hour session was paused at the 40-minute mark when Max Chilton’s No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet experienced a mechanical problem on track. The only other yellow flag came 26 minutes before the scheduled end for a track inspection that led to a hold for rain which lasted until the checkered flag.
Herta Tops Shortened Rookie Orientation
A mix of Indianapolis newcomers and grizzled veterans took to the track for two hours designated for rookie and refresher program completion and were led by Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta at 226.108 mph.
One of nine drivers participating, Herta turned 61 laps — third most after fellow rookies Felix Rosenqvist and Santino Ferrucci — and completed all three phases of his test program.
Three-time Indianapolis 500 victor Helio Castroneves was second fastest in his Penske Chevrolet, just ahead of 10-time starter Oriol Servia. Rosenqvist and Andretti’s Conor Daly completed the top five.
The drivers that placed sixth through ninth failed to crack 221 mph. Ferrucci’s 220.637 mph lap was the fastest of that group, ahead of Marcus Ericsson in seventh.
JR Hildebrand and Fernando Alonso occupied the bottom of the speed chart ahead of the session’s early conclusion. A yellow for debris with 34 minutes remaining turned into a checkered flag due to worsening conditions.
Alonso, whose 218.690 mph speed was slowest, brought out the session’s first yellow flag when his McLaren Racing-prepared Chevrolet required a tow after stopping in Turn 2 following a single minute of green-flag running. The two-time Formula One World Champion went on to turn 29 laps, matching the car number he carried when he made his Indy 500 debut in 2017.
Hildebrand’s No. 48 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet experienced a similar issue, stopping on the backstretch and requiring assistance from the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team. He was still able to complete 42 laps and slotted into eighth on the speed chart.
The session’s early end prevented Castroneves, Servia, Hildebrand and Alonso from wrapping up their refresher programs. INDYCAR will allow them to finish Phase 3 when “500” practice begins in May.
The series will return to IMS on May 10–11 for the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the facility’s 2.439-mile road course.