INDIANAPOLIS — official release — Chris Young photo — A few days after winning the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Simon Pagenaud caught everyone’s attention May 14 on the 2.5-mile oval with the fastest lap of the month during practice for the 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race.
Pagenaud, driving the No. 77 Lucas Oil-sponsored car for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, recorded a lap of 226.122 mph (39.8016 seconds) in the session limited to 56 late-afternoon minutes because of rain and clean-up of the first on-track incident of the month – a crash by rookie Jack Hawksworth.
“I’m very, very happy so far,” Pagenaud said at the end of the day. “Obviously the conditions are very good for a fast lap. The density of the air is a lot stronger so you can run in a little less wind for the same amount of downforce as yesterday and that creates lap time and obviously the engines work better with a stronger density in the air. That’s why you see big laps today.”
“It’s always enjoyable to get close to 230. Hopefully we can break that in qualifying. That would be great, but the car is fantastic. I’m very happy. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is really, really doing a great job this month. Our Honda engine seems to be very competitive. So, so far so good.”
Twenty-nine driver/car combinations totaled 1,044 laps, with nine topping 225 mph. Midway through the session, the No. 98 BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian car driven by Hawksworth, who qualified on the front row for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, made contact with the Turn 3 SAFER Barrier. He was checked and cleared to drive.
“I have no idea what happened to be honest,” Hawksworth said of his incident. “We just went into [Turn] 3 and it just snapped, so we’ll have to look into it. I don’t know if it’s – honestly, I wouldn’t want to comment just yet because I have no idea. Suddenly it just snapped.”
JR Hildebrand, runner-up as a rookie in the 2011 Indianapolis 500, posted the second-fastest lap (225.854 mph; 39.8488 seconds) in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer car, while reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion and ’08 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon was third (225.494) in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car.
“Obviously we’d rather be on the sharp end of the stick than not,” Hildebrand said after his run. “I think there’s two takeaways I guess from looking at this, one, the Chevys and Hondas seem to be quite evenly matched, which I think is a good thing generally for the series. Two years ago when the engine competition first started, there was a pretty definitive difference that the Hondas were better on race day, the Chevys were better in qualifying. Last year the Chevys had a little bit of the advantage across the board. It seems like we’re in for a bit of a fight, so that’s always good to make sure that everybody’s in contention out there.”
Verizon IndyCar Series teams focused on long fuel runs for the 200-lap race May 25.
Practice, scheduled May 15 from noon-6 p.m. (ET), will be preceded by James Davison starting the three-phase Rookie Orientation Program in the No. 33 KV Racing Technology/Always Evolving Racing entry. Kurt Busch will return to the Speedway for the session after spending Wednesday with Stewart-Haas Racing in Charlotte, N.C.
Busch left anticipating rainy conditions and was not disappointed.
“I think it’s a nice point…sometimes to just have a reset and have a day when we’re not continuing to feed information and just have a day to digest,” Busch expressed about losing the day to weather. “Once the track is good to go, we’re going to have cooler conditions and it’s going to be more ideal for qualifying trim anyway. We’ll have qualifying Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday and then come back around and work on race trim again Monday.”