Getting Up To Speed For Indy

Practice for the Centennial running of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 has seen four days of scheduled track time already cut in half by rain and a big dose of cold, windy weather.

So, nothing new there, since rain, and the lack of quality track time always seems to be an issue at the Speedway. Back in the long-ago era when the “Month of May” was truly a Month, a few days of rain weren’t usually a problem. But several years ago, in the interest of saving teams money, four weeks became two, and qualifying is now held after just seven scheduled track days. When only 33-35 entrants were in the garage area, a few rainy days weren’t much of an issue. After a few crashes and blown engines, basically everyone made the show. But with forty cars having been on the track already this year, and Saturday/Sunday time-trials just three days of practice away, sunny skies and good track conditions are on everyone’s wish list.

The saving grace for all of this may be the thing that so many have complained about for so many racing seasons: Dallara chassis and Honda engines that have been around for so long that getting up to speed for most of the teams probably won’t take more than a few good days of practice. It’s like knowing what your wife is going to say after forty years of being married. These cars are fairly predictable.

Yes, for the eight rookies most of this is new and different, but with teams like Dale Coyne, Newman-Haas and Chip Ganassi backing them, even those first-year drivers should have an easier time of it in this final year of the well-tested equipment.

Penske, Ganassi, Newman-Haas usually have an advantage, having worked with these cars for so many years. But early practice results tell us that this may be a more balanced field than has been seen in several years.

Sure the red cars that usually dominate are among the fastest so far, but Ed Carpenter (Sarah Fisher Racing) was quickest last Saturday, and Alex Tagliani (Sam Schmidt Motorsports), was fastest on Monday’s full practice day. That portends a more wide-open field than we’ve seen recently. That can only be a good thing, despite the rain.

• For those of you driving down to Indy for the run for the pole this Saturday (and there used to be 100,00 + of you back in the day), a bonus will be a display in the infield of more than 250 vintage Indianapolis 500 Pace Cars, including the Stoddard -Dayton that paced the first 500 in 1911. These cars will take a ceremonial lap around the 2.5 mile oval after 6:00pm on Pole Day.

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