Honorary starter Amos Brown (a popular local Indianapolis radio presenter) waved the green flag at noon on Thursday, and it was a sight many had started to believe they might never live long enough to see again at the 2011 Indianapolis 500 after a depressing week of weather. But finally, the grateful teams and drivers were able to get back to work at long last.
Unfortunately, the proceedings were under caution just 25 minutes into the session, after a major crash for Simona de Silvestro
. The suspension of her #78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy HVM car appeared to break going into turn 3, sending her into the wall. The car ended up sideways, and the aerodynamic elements then conspired to lift the car airborne on two separate occasions.
The second time was at the entry of turn 4, which resulted in the car getting flipped upside down by contact with the SAFER barrier and the catch fence. The car ground to a halt like that, leaving a trail of burning gas as the car started to catch fire.
Simona was able to extricate herself with assistance and walked away under her own power, but she had suffered second degree burns on the back of her right hand and superficial burns on the other which required hospital treatment. Her injuries will be reviewed in the morning by IndyCar doctors to see whether she is able to resume practice, or whether she will be sidelined - possibly for the whole of the qualifying weekend.
The team subsequently confirmed that the #78 was damaged beyond repair, so they will also have to prepare a new car for her to climb into assuming she's medically cleared. "We can build a good car, but it probably won't be as good as the original car because that was built specifically for [Indianapolis]," said HVM owner Keith Wiggins. "There are a lot of specialities about building a car for here ... So the question is will this car be as quick as the other one? That's the challenge."
Practice resumed before 1pm, and before the day was out there was a familiar name at the top of the time sheets: Penske's Will Power, the same man who has been on pole at each of the four IndyCar races we've seen this year. "We're happy with the race car and we want to be on top on Saturday," said Power, matter-of-factly.
The Australian is typically seen as more of a road course specialist and less comfortable on ovals, but his speed on the biggest Speedway of them all has belied that simplistic view: he looked very strong out there, as did both his Penske team mates Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves.
However, Power was quick to caution that "I don't think the speeds are very representative of where anyone is at. You go out and happen to get a really good tow, and you get a big number. That's what happened at the end."
"We ran a lot of laps and all of them were really about race setup," said Helio Castoneves. "My teammates, Will and Ryan, did some qualifying runs so we know what we need to do there, but we really just focused on getting our car right for the race."