Thursday, May 16, 2013

Day 5 -- Consider the Gauntlet Thrown

I was looking at my posts from May of last year (mostly so I don't incessantly repeat myself) and stumbled across my title from Thursday's practice: "Day 6 -- The Rise of Dixie". In it I spoke of how Scott Dixon had quietly worked on other things all week but on the sixth day he jumped to the top of the speed chart.

History certainly repeated itself this year, albeit for another (actually two) Target Chip Ganassi Racing drivers. After sitting way down in speed for the first few days while his team quietly worked on race-day setups, defending champ Dario Franchitti turned in the fastest speed of the day Wednesday when he clocked a lap of 224.236 mph.


Dario's time came during a Happy Hour free-for-all that saw at times nearly 15 cars working in a single draft in what could best be described as a full-out race sim. I don't think the teams and the owners like it much, but the drivers seem to be having a great time. I mean, three-wide in practice? Practice?
 
I think as long as nothing changes with the DW12, there will always be an intensity level to practices -- especially as the week goes on -- that we haven't seen very often before. Drivers are going at is so hard, and it looks like next Sunday's race will be as highly entertaining as last year's was.

So no doubt it was in a tow and more than likely Chevy will rule the day when qualifying starts on Sunday, but Franchitti is a master at working in traffic here so you can throw the speeds out on race day, because Honda proved last year it was a pretty stout motor.

Also stepping up for TCGR was Ryan Briscoe, who jumped to fifth-best at 222.803 in a quest for his second consecutive pole and fourth front-row start. Dixon made his first appearance in the top 10 this month with the day's ninth-best speed.

The surprise of the day surely came from Townsend Bell, who like Briscoe is here on his usual one-off effort. Bell, who started fourth two years ago and didn't hit the track until Tuesday afternoon, was second fastest on the day at 223.716. He was followed by Helio Castroneves (223.699) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (223.093).

As has been the case all week, Andretti Autosport put four cars in the top 10, with Marco Andretti ranking sixth, EJ Viso seventh and rookie Carlos Munoz 10th. Out of the Top 10 mix for the first time all week was James Hinchcliffe, who was 14th, but maybe Hinch was working on something else as his 113 laps run were second-most on the day to Conor Daly's 126. Marco was also over 100 laps on the day (101) but was in the turn it loose group late in the day which was where he popped his quick time.

Through five days pretty much every team on the grid has had its moment in the sun, with a driver from each garage putting in at least one fast time. Every team, that is, except for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, who with Graham Rahal and Michel Jourdain Jr. wheeling the cars have looked painfully slow.

There is usually a team that struggles here every year, and it looks like RLL is the team of choice in 2013. Wednesday Rahal was 30th of the 32 cars that appeared on the track at just over 219 and Jourdain was DFL with a speed of 218.0. Believe it or not, those were the best times of the week for both of those guys. Not sure where they go from here, but the clock is ticking.

Because believe it or not, it's Thursday already. With the weekend in sight, look for teams to start trimming out their cars in anticipation of the increase in boost that happens tonight. While there is a bit of rain in the forecast for the next couple of days, the temperatures are supposed to drop about 10-15 degrees from the last two days. A combination of cooler temps and maybe even some cloud cover could turn these cars into rockets by the weekend.


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