Of course the cars were running for the first time with increased boost levels, resulting in an estimated 50 horsepower increase over what the teams had been running with earlier in the week.
So concerned were IndyCar officials last week that the new DW12 race car might not top the 220 mph barrier no matter what power plant it carried that they quietly announced an increase in boost levels for Fast Friday and the two days of qualifying. And while the cars have been testing all week comfortably above 220 mph, there was good reason for their concern.
Much of the running has been done in groups, the drafts lifting speeds by an estimated 3-5 mph. The Andretti team, in particular, has been running together during practice. That has helped the team post the top speeds and should help in the race, but those numbers may not translate into a coveted pole position.
Marco Andretti posted the top speed on Friday of 227.540 mph. It’s been an amazing turnaround for Andretti Motorsport from last year, when the team struggled to get its drivers qualified. All four Andretti Motorsports drivers were among the ten fastest drivers on Fast Friday, Marco joined by Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Ana Beatriz. Penske Racing also was looming with late Happy Hour runs by Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves pushing their speeds to second and third on the charts.
Chevrolet continues to dominate, posting ten of the top 12 speeds, with only the Honda-powered Ganassi Racing duo of Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti breaking into the Bow Tie domination. But don’t count the Hondas out. They’ve been running on their own and could challenge for the pole.
The best guess is that the pole will go somewhere between 223-225 mph. That’s off the four-lap qualifying average posted last year by Alex Tagleana of 227.472 mph and light years away from the all-time qualifying record set in 1996 by Arie Luyendyk, who ran four-laps at 236.986 mph.
The other question to be decided this weekend: will there be a full field for the race? Not since 1947 has the Indy 500 started with fewer than 33 cars. There are enough cars. Will there be enough drivers? Thirty-three unique driver/car combinations have taken part in practice, but the Lotus powered cars of Jean Alesi and Simona de Silvertso are well off the pace, more than 10 mph behind Andretti. There are at least another nine back-up cars available, should the teams decide to take a chance on untested drives.