Happy Hour at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway held both good and bad Wednesday for rookie Josef Newgarden while practicing for the Indianapolis 500.
In a span of just a few short minutes, the 21-year-old had the hot lap of the day at 222.785 mph and then created the caution for the first contact incident of the month. Newgarden’s car bobbled in Turn 4, did two complete spins and struck a glancing blow on the pit lane retaining wall.
“You don’t get many lucky breaks around this place, and I think I just got one,” Newgarden said. “The guys have done a great job putting together such a good car, and I don’t want to hurt the thing. I’ll try to learn what happened and why the thing got around on me. Everyone’s trying to figure out the race car around this place, and obviously I have a little more work to do.”
Again the Andretti Autosport team of Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliff were three of the top five on the speed chart, with Andretti pulling a 222.108, Hunter-Reay with 221.763 and Hinchcliff with a 221.638.
“I would say we are a change or two away from being the one to beat on May 27th,” Andretti said. “We have some more work to do when it comes to the car’s speed on its own. Once we get the car right, it won’t matter where we start.”
Andretti has been confident since practice began that his car would be a definite contender even if he had to start 33rd.
With the new DW12 design, the cars have created such a draft, that the top speeds have come as a result of a tow, but Hinchcliff worked Wednesday to see what the car could do.
“We tried to eliminate tow laps, so you get a little of a bit better sense of not just ourselves but what everybody’s doing. But ultimately, between our cars and the timing data that we can get, there’s so much data to pore through, and you know on top of that we’re dealing with the new cars, so we’re learning it off a lot more than we have the last couple years.”
Dario Franchitt’s lap of 221.623 was fifth quick, while Justin Wilson, who was sixth fastest, had one of his best days since practice began with his lap speed of 221.420.
Jean Alesi and Simona de Silvestro struggled again to find speed from their Lotus-powered cars. Alesi is very concerned.
“Right now, I feel very unsafe, being quite slow in the middle of the track. So I am quite concerned for my fellow drivers if we are not able to get the speed that we need. I am flat out, and I have reached 205 as the maximum that I can see. So it is not a comfortable position right now.”
de Silvestro was a little more optimistic. “We ran more laps today, and I think the car is getting there. But we’re just really struggling on the engine side, and that makes it difficult to drive. When you do only 200 mph, you don’t have enough downforce, which makes it a little bit trickier. The good thing on the team side is that everybody is being patient and really working through the things.”