Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Day 4 In Review

If you didn't catch the last half-hour of Tuesday's practice, you missed quite a treat as for the first time a large group of drivers seemed to take the car a little further out to the edge than they had before. At one point a train of about 12-cars, including Will Power, James Hinchcliffe, Helio Catroneves and Marco Andretti -- among others -- were running the cars really, really hard and putting on a great show.

What transpired was pure entertainment: lots of passing, some two-wide action into the corners and plenty of drafting, which led to huge swings in lap times. A fast lap would be followed by one 5-6 mph slower, and vice versa. This went on for quite some time, which was great for the fans and drivers, but probably tough to watch for the teams and especially the owners!

Crazy that this is going on and it is only Tuesday, which makes me wonder what the free-for-all will look like Friday afternoon. But again, it's a precursor to what could be an incredibly competitive race. Alex Tagliani, last year's polesitter who had the 11th-best time on the day at 220.703 mph, said he felt like there could be more than 20 cars still in the mix down the stretch on race day.

And why not, given the top 29 cars were separated by just over one second as the difference between Andretti's hot lap of 223.676 and Rubens Barrichello's 217.435 was just 1.1549 seconds.

Predictably, when the cars got going in large numbers, the bigger teams rose to the top of the speed chart. Andretti, part of Andretti Autosport, popped his big lap as part of that huge draft near the end of the day, becoming the first driver to crack 223 mph. He was also almost 1.6 mph faster than Team Penske's Castroneves, who had been a sleeper the first few days but announced his presence with a lap of 222.025.

Hinchcliffe was third quick at 221.864, while Graham Rahal (221.855) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (221.814).

So if you are keeping track, the top 10 was made up of all four Target Chip Ganassi racing members (Rahal, Charlie Kimball, Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon), three drivers from Andretti Autosport (Andretti, Hinchcliffe and Hunter-Reay) and two from Team Penske (Castroneves and Power). Takuma Sato was the party crasher, rolling in ninth best in his Rahal Letterman Racing machine.

Josef Newgarden, who had sat atop the speed chart for two of the first three days, did a lot of work early, and was 12th best on the day at 220.650. In all 14 drivers broke 220 mph.

It is still hard to get a finger on how the rest of the week is going to go. Andretti, Hinchcliffe and Newgarden are three guys that have been fast ever day, but as mentioned in this space yesterday, who is going out to post fast times and which teams are pacing themselves through the week? There is still plenty of data to record in terms of setups and fuel mileages, for example, so some teams have focused on that, and it is necessary since this is foreign ground to everyone.

I am not going to even think about making any Pole Day predictions until at least Friday afternoon, because everyone is running completely differently when they are on the track alone. But by then we will have an idea who is capable of what and see how things might shape up on Saturday.

A few other notes:

*Simona! Simona de Silvestro found some speed from her Lotus Tuesday and finally broke 210 mph on the 10th of the 45 laps she drove. Jean Alesi, driving the other Lotus, did not take to the track.

*By the numbers. The drivers combined for 1,602 laps on the day, giving them (I believe) 4,641 on the month. So far there have been no on-track incidents. James Jakes became the first driver this month to crack the 100-lap (250 mile) barrier for one session when he hit that on the number. Several other drivers were very busy, with Castroneves putting in 80 laps (200 miles), Sato turned 77 laps, Hunter-Reay 73 and Michel Jourdain 72.

*Finally, let's take a moment. To remember Gordon Smiley and Jovy Marcelo, who were both killed on this date in 1982 and 1992, respectively. I mention this because both occurred during the "era" (or lack of a better word) since I have been coming to the track, and that I was in the stands the day of Smiley's accident. Tom Carnegie's announcement a little while after it happened was haunting. I don't think I will ever forget that day.

So Day 5 is tomorrow. I will continue to try and post recaps and as a reminder will be at the Speedway starting on Friday and will be reporting from the Social Media Garage and will be supplying all sorts of great stuff all weekend long. Yeah, I live for this.

Also check me out on Twitter (@15daysinmay) as well as my Facebook group.

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