Story by Patrick Reynolds. Photo by Brian Spurlock- USA Today Sports ORG.
Indianapolis, IN- Final practice for the 2015 Indianapolis 500 on Carb Day was approached with some anxiousness.
Car rollovers following crashes by Helio Castroneves, Ed Carpenter, and James Hinchcliffe had observers keeping a close eye on the Indycar teamsâ€™ last on-track session prior to Sundayâ€™s race.
The drivers showed no fear as they were aggressive in traffic and three wide at times. The thought of keeping the car out of a group and safe, does not apply as that does not duplicate race conditions for the 500. Close packs of cars with drivers darting in between each other were common during the one-hour, Friday morning session.
Fortunately the only caution periods were for track inspections and they were few.
Will Power, who will start the 500 from the front row, paced the final period with a speed of 229.020 mph. His thoughts were not of crashes but of race strategy and winning on Sunday.
â€œIt means nothing,â€ said Power of his quick time. â€œItâ€™s just a big draft. Itâ€™s more about how you get through traffic than anything.â€
Chassis set up and race day situations were part of the Team Penske driverâ€™s work list.
Power said, â€œat that point (The Final Practice) youâ€™re pretty well set on how you are going to run. Youâ€™re just kind of doing little tweaks here and thereâ€¦ and pit stop practice. Practice coming into the pit off (turn) four. Itâ€™s just getting in the groove for the race.â€
Power explained that leading the Indy 500 is not the best strategy to win, neither early in the race nor heading into the last lap.
â€œNo oneâ€™s going to want to lead,â€ Power said. â€œYou canâ€™t get away. The old car, you could get away. Track position was really important. Now, you sit half-throttle on the front straight- on the straights last year- and no one will pass me. Leading felt like one of the biggest mistakes of the race because then you had to pit earlier (because of more fuel consumption).
â€œYou get shuffled back. Thatâ€™s the game until lap 150â€¦ until literally one stop to go,â€ Power said. â€œUntil one more stop, youâ€™re going to be playing that game, which is a real pity, because it used to be about car speed and driving well.â€
Power indicated that second place is the preferred position when Sundayâ€™s white flag waves as he will try to â€œgear for one car ahead of you.â€
â€œThe further back you get in a train the harder it (passing) is,â€ Power said. â€œIf youâ€™ve got a good car you can actually do a good job and pull away in the old days. Now- youâ€™re just a sitting duck if youâ€™re leading basically.â€
In recent years, the Indy Lights race has traditionally been one of the most exciting races and finishes of the weekend. However, the 2015 edition ended under caution.
Indy Lights series points leader as the race began, Ed Jones crashed in turn four with 37 laps complete and the remaining circuits were completed behind the pace car.
Jack Harvey won from his second starting position over pole sitter Ethan Ringel. They duo were the only leaders in the 40-lap race with Harvey out front for 30 laps to Ringelâ€™s 10. Harvey also leapt to the series championship lead with his victory.
Scott Anderson, RC Enerson, and Kyle Kaiser rounded out the top-five. Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports cars swept the top-four positions.
Past Motor Week LIVE! show guests Sean Rayhall finished sixth and Spencer Pigot was ninth.
Pit Stop Competition
Helio Castroneves and Team Penske defeated Charlie Kimball in the Final Elimination. 12.561 to 13.017. Castoneves beat Graham Rahal, Ryan Briscoe, and teammate Power to face Kimball in the Final.
â€¢ Carlos Huertas has been ruled out of 2015 Indy 500 with an inner ear condition. He will need medical clearance to return to Indycar on-track competition. Huertas was scheduled to start 18th in a Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Tristan Vautier will substitute for Huertas and the car will move to the last row on the grid as per Indycar Series regulations. Vautier was 18th in final practice.
â€¢ Briscoe was 30th quick in the final test session with his first and only on-track time before the 500. Briscoe is substituting for the injured Hinchcliffe after his practice crash.