SPEEDWAY, Ind. — 32 drivers took to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval on Wednesday to shake down the cars they hope to qualify for the 106th running of the Indianapolis 500.
But, the story at the end of the day would be the track conditions; specifically in the warm-up lanes of the track.
With cloudy skies, a green track from a morning rain shower, and cold air temperatures, it was poised to be a tough day’s work for the drivers to get a taste of what they have to work with for the month of May.
When the green flag dropped to open the opening session reserved for veteran drivers, it took just one turn for things to get interesting as Alexander Rossi, with cold tires on a cold track took a spin in the south chute, reminiscent of Danny Sullivan’s spin and win in the 1985 Indianapolis 500.
But, the spin would be a foreshadowing of a bigger issue to be discovered later in the day.
“It’s the first time anything like that has happened,” Rossi jokingly said of the spin. “Every day is an adventure. I don’t really know what happened, but we got away with one.”
After a quick check behind the wall, Rossi returned to the session as if the spin never happened, clocking several laps with a best lap at 221.192 mph. Though he got his feet under him, it was still well off the pace set by Scott Dixon with a blistering top speed of 225.622 mph.
Dixon was the only one to go north of the 225 mark as the track warmed up with clearing skies giving way to sunshine and warming up the racing surface.
Jimmie Johnson continued reigning in his car as he gets his superspeedway legs underneath him in this first season he is running ovals. He was the sixth-fastest for the session at 222.255 mph.
The mid-afternoon had perfect racing conditions and continued the day with veterans refreshers and rookie orientation programs. Devlin DeFrancesco, David Malukas, and Kyle Kirkwood breezed through their ROPs, while it took Christian Lungaard a bit longer, but he too completed his program.
“We got our ROP done, that was kind of a straightforward procedure,” said DeFrancesco, who ran in Indy Lights in 2021. “This is all new, a completely different ball game. I’ve definitely studied up.”
“Not too bad,” added Callum Ilott. “Had to go through the rookie program which surprisingly is more difficult than going north of 220. After Texas, it makes this a lot easier. So far throughout the week it’s been a good start and I want to keep that momentum.”
Juan Pablo Montoya, Marco Andretti, and Sage Karam, were among the veteran refreshers. Andretti uncorked a 220+ mph lap right out of the gate before he had to slow down and run his program, which he passed. It took Karam and Montoya more laps to do, but they also got the job done.
The conditions changed again heading into the late afternoon session with both rookies and veterans together. Halfway through the session defending Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves spun exiting the pits and slammed into the outside wall exiting Turn 2.
“I don’t know,” he said of the wreck. “We made a change to the car and wanted to test it. It was strange. Maybe the temperatures dropped. I don’t know. Very unusual.”
Not long after going back green Will Power did the same in Turn 1 and in tandem Colton Herta also spun in the South Chute.
“It just lit up,” Power said perplexed. “It scared the absolute daylights out of me. I had zero warning. I don’t understand what happened. I’ve been off that pitlane hundreds of times. I’d been taking it easy. It just surprised me big time. I thought I was going into traffic.”
The sequence of spins in exiting the pits caught the attention of race directors and IndyCar president Jay Frye and IndyCar race director Kyle Novak, who both personally inspected the warm-up lanes in Turns 1 and 2 for several minutes to make sure everything was proper.
Evidently, it was not proper as IndyCar officials decided to end the test session early so they could get a “closer look at the surface.”
“The track is fine,” said Tony Kanaan after the session. “It’s the apron. Something is wrong with it. It was slick in the morning, but as the day went on it didn’t get any better.”
Dixon would finish the data still atop the speed chart with a speed of 227.187 mph. More testing is slated for Thursday.