TMS Media Relations | May 12, 2014
The first four races of the Verizon IndyCar Series season all have been road course events and the average winning speed has been just over 91 miles per hour. That mark is about to rise by a substantial amount in the next few weeks.
Following the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis this past weekend, IndyCar will stay at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to prepare for the Indianapolis 500 and then just two weeks later on Saturday, June 7, the Firestone 600 will take place at Texas Motor Speedway. The Indy 500 and Firestone 600 are two of the six oval races that are on the 18-race schedule this season.
If the first day of practice for this year’s Indy 500 is any indication, fans of both races can expect to see speeds almost two and a half times faster than those earlier winning speeds on the road courses.
The day after Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis, two dozen drivers were out on the 2.5-mile oval running at full speeds for the first day of practice for the 500, which is scheduled for Sunday, May 25.
The top 14 drivers all exceeded 220 miles per hour Sunday, led by Verizon IndyCar Series points leader Will Power who topped the list at 223.057 miles per hour. He led a trio of Team Penske drivers as Juan Pablo Montoya was second and Helio Castroneves was third.
All of the teams spent most of Saturday evening and Sunday morning preparing their cars from a road course set-up to an oval course one.
“It was just weird waking up the day after a race and having to get straight back into the car and on a different style of track,” said Power, driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet. “But you know, as soon as I finished up today, like as soon as I got into it today, I just felt normal again, back to back, focus on the 500 and get the most out of the car. Can't believe we actually raced yesterday, had totally forgotten about it.”
And it took no time at all to literally get back up to speed on the oval.
“No, it didn't take long,” Power said. “It's such a different discipline. The oval is so different from the road course, tires are different. Just get back into the swing of the oval feel, basically.”
Montoya (No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet), who is making his first appearance at Indianapolis since winning in 2000, was pleased with his initial return to the 2.5-mile oval.
“It’s day one and we are second on the board, so it is a good start,” he said. “It felt good to go around here. I feel like we have a pretty good car. I'm going a helluva lot faster here today than I was the last few times I ran here, so it takes some adjusting, but I enjoy it."
A familiar name was back on track in the first day of practice as owner/driver Ed Carpenter was behind the wheel for the first time in seven months.
“Yeah, I've been looking forward to it,” said Carpenter, the owner and driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet. “Obviously like I said, I don't think it would have mattered, really, if I had been running all the races up to this point. The start of the month of May is always special and it's always exciting to get it started, so happy that we had weather that cooperated today and let us run all day.”
Carpenter is running the oval races for his team while Mike Conway is driving the road courses and already tallied the team’s first win of the season last month at Long Beach. But fans may remember that Carpenter was last year’s polesitter for the 500-mile race.
While Carpenter has not been in the car for a while, he said it was similar to the other drivers who have been on road courses for the first four races of the year.
“I don't know that it's any different for me than guys coming from the GP yesterday to this,” Carpenter said. “It's so different. The car feels so different from road course spec to oval spec.
“I don't think that I was at a disadvantage at all. I've done as much oval testing since the last race at Fontana as anybody. You know, we did two days at Texas and two days at Fontana. So I don't really – I didn't feel any rust. I'm always so excited to get back out on this track, you know, so just glad being here.”
Another driver that had a busy weekend was NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Kurt Busch, who is preparing to compete in both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte later that evening.
He began his weekend finishing 29th in the NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas on Saturday night before making his way to Indianapolis for the first day of practice.
Busch, who is driving the No. 26 Suretone Andretti Autosport Honda, has taken part in the rookie orientation that all new drivers are mandated to go through and Sunday’s practice session was his first time on the track in an open-wheel car with other cars around him.
“It was a nice rookie day to go and play in traffic,” Busch said. “When your parents tell you to go out as a kid and play in traffic, they try to get rid of you. The Andretti Autosport guys said it's time to ramp up where we are with your level and that's to get into some dirty air and feel the car behind other cars.
“The third time out was I followed around (Andretti Autosport teammate) Ryan Hunter-Reay, a champion. That's helping me. It's really nice to have his lead. Carlos Munoz was in our pack, as well as E.J. Viso. It's nice to have the teammates looking back in their mirrors for me and to help out.
Busch also knows with one Sprint Cup Series win this season, it takes a little of the pressure off and allowing taking the time to get acclimated to open-wheel racing again at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“Yeah, that was huge,” said Busch, who won a Sprint Cup Series championship in 2005. “You know, we all hoped and thought we would have a better start to our season in the Haas Automation Chevy and the NASCAR world, and it has not been a good start. We've been hot or we've been ice cold. Kansas last night (Saturday) was ice cold again. So it's great to have that win, to have that security. We've got 10 winners already, though, and there's only 16 slots for winners. This Charlotte/Indy double will be tough to give it full focus, but once I get to Dover the first of June, we're going to be all over that 41 car.”
The Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway, just the second oval race of the year for the series and “America’s Original Nighttime IndyCar Race,” takes place Saturday, June 7, with a 7:30 p.m. CT start. Tickets are available at texasmotorspeedway.com or by calling (817) 215-8500.
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