Monday, May 13, 2013

Day 3 In the Books

It looks like the weather is starting to warm up, and with the mercury rising this week, speeds will probably begin to do the same. But even though the high temperature only reached 63 degrees Monday, things still began to get a little racy.

Monday is really the first day everybody starts to get serious, and 32 drivers hit the track today. At this point in the week, though, it's hard to say what everyone is doing. You've got three Andretti Autosport drivers and three Penskes in the Top 10, yet a team like Ganassi is lagging down the speed chart as Charlie Kimball in the 14th position is the fastest of that stable's four cars.

Then again, Ganassi didn't begin to flex its muscle last year until Wednesday when Scott Dixon made a sudden rise to the top of the chart, and according to a couple of Twitter posts from Mike Hull, they were working on full-tank runs and pit stops today. Everyone is working off of a different schedule, but as the week rolls on teams will begin getting into full-on qualifying mode.

Though it's still early, it seems like there are a few trends already developing.

*The two is strong with this one. The story last year was the way the DW12 ran in traffic...when you got a few cars together it punched a pretty big hole in the air that gave drivers extra speed. That contributed to the most competitive and memorable 500-mile races we have maybe ever had, and it looks like that same thing will be on tap again this year. Cars that are running in the 220-221 mph range all alone get way more than that when they line up.

In fact, Marco Andretti's top speed of the day (225.100) came when he was working with about a half-dozen cars, and Helio Castroneves' best time was 225.075 while running in the same group.

*Andretti rules. Not just Marco, who is picking up where he left off last May when he was a factor every day in practice and led a race-high 59 laps during the 500, but Ryan Hunter-Reay (224.386 Monday), James Hinchcliffe (223.075), EJ Viso (who went 222 on Sunday) and rookie Carlos Munoz (222.239) also look good.

Munoz has been a front-runner since the cars rolled out on Saturday, and his teammates all have Top 5 runs through the first three days.

*The rookies. Again, the 21-year-old Munoz has looked fast so far this week, and three of the four "rookies" have done well for themselves so far. I put that in parenthesis due to the experience level of a couple of them, but they are first-timers at the Speedway so it all counts.

Penske driver AJ Allmendinger has the top rookie speed through the first three days, going 223.264 in the tow Monday afternoon, while Munoz is 11th overall. Conor Daly, who raced overseas this past weekend, made it onto the track this morning and breezed through his Rookie Orientation Program and was at 219 by the end of the day.

Tristan Vautier is the only rookie who seems to be struggling, as he is just 35th fastest at 217.5, but that may also be a bit by design too. If you remember from last year Schmidt Motorsports brought Simon Pagenaud along slowly and he got better as the week went along and finished as the last car on the lead lap in 16th place.

Though thanks to his Indy Lights experience he has lots more oval time than Pagenaud did -- and finished P4 in the Freedom 100 last year -- there really isn't a rush.

*Knocking off the rust. Townsend Bell got back into an IndyCar today for the first time this year and needed just six laps to get over 220 mph, while Pippa Mann took her first tours around the Speedway in a DW12 (and her first laps since 2011) was 24th fastest at just over 220.

So what do you think the rest of the week will bring? It's going to be 15 degrees warmer Tuesday, so speeds should climb again. Still, if you put a side-by-side comparison to Monday last year, the top speeds are just over 2 mph faster.

I'm going to be optimistic and say when the boost is turned up on Friday we could see some near-230 mph laps this weekend. Either way, it's going to be interesting.

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