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Indy 500: Newgarden tops Opening Day times

12 May 2012

Anyone fearing that the new Dallara DW12 and new specification Honda and Chevrolet engines were going to result in much slower cars on track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year will have been cheered by an impressive lap of 220.250mph recorded on the very first day of track activity by race rookie Josef Newgarden.

"It's not really a big deal to be quick on this day, but it speaks well for the team," said the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver. "I think the team deserves that credit. I'm really happy for them that they get the credit because they do deserve it. They do a good job, and I'm proud to be with them."

To back that up, SFHR's other rookie recruit for the Indy 500, USAC national drivers champion Bryan Clauson, was himself in third place in the timesheets at the end of Saturday with a lap of 219.632mph.

"I don't know that it could have gone much better - those SFHR boys prepared a fast Honda race car for us for this month. We were really quick out of the gate," he said. "Josef and I were very quick all day."

Clauson made the point that the raw time sheets could be deceptive, however, as many of the best times were set by cars drafting along in the wake of others.

"The fastest laps can be misleading because of the tow you catch," he said. "It will be interesting to see as the month goes on where guys end up. It's hard to tell whose flat-out at this point and who is not. But I felt really good about our car and the program we have in place for the rest of the month."

Certainly team owner Sarah Fisher was pleased with the way the session had gone, after having spent the day acting as Clauson's spotter to pass on her own oval racing experience to the newbie.

"Today is very encouraging, but it's still a very long month and we still have a lot of room to grow and room to learn," she said. "Having two rookies and it being their first experience, we need to make sure we have an even month so that when we arrive on both Pole Day and Race Day we're as prepared as today."

Last year's Indy 500 runner-up JR Hildebrand was in second place on 219.693mph sandwiched by the SFHR duo, while Britain's James Jakes was the highest non-American driver on the practice 1 timesheets with a lap of 218.286mph as he continued a strong start to his second bit to make the Indy 500 starting grid after falling short in 2011.

"We haven't done a lot yet. I guess everyone is waiting around because nobody really wants to show their hand at the moment. We'll see how it goes," said Jakes. "Today we were trying to work a little bit on the Race Day setup. I think we've got a pretty good car here. We weren't looking at qualifying stuff yet, we'll probably try to do that in the midpoint of next week. During the shakedown, we wanted to make sure everything was how we thought it would be, and it was - I'm pretty confident."

With engines and tyres still limited, some drivers like James Hinchcliffe opted not to run on the first day and wait instead for later in the week before getting going.

"It was definitely a bummer to not run the Go Daddy car on Opening Day, but it's all part of the bigger plan and the bigger picture," said Hinch, who was looking rather different this weekend after having to shave off his trademark beard as the result of losing a bet.

"With the number of tires we have for the month, we decided to save them for when the track is a little more rubbered-in," the mayor of Hinchtown continued. "One of the benefits of having a five-car team is that we had teammates on track today to get a little data for us. So we have some data from the cars and engines and have something to start getting to work on and can build on that right off the bat before we even turn a wheel."

Jean Alesi continued to get settled in to the IndyCar way of life and turned another 32 laps on the 2.5-mile speedway. He did not attempt to finish phase 3 of ROP on Saturday, and his best lap of the day was 209.438mph.

His fellow former F1 graduates Takuma Sato and Rubens Barrichello were also in action, although in Sato's case he only took a newly-built car out for a quick shakedown tour.

"It was a short day of work with a long amount of time waiting, which is natural," said Sato. "It was the very first day of practice, and we obviously rebuilt the car for the oval, and the boys did a fantastic job. I am so pleased to see all the functions working really well."

Barrichello out in more laps, but was left scratching his head at a lack of pace by the end which saw his best time capped at 215.340mph.

"We didn't have the speed for some reason [even though] I had the same setup as my teammates," he said. "However, it is very good we have had this at the beginning of the week, so we can analyse and see what's wrong.

"I felt comfortable in the car and improved my speed from ROP on Thursday, but it is not as fast as what we had expected," he added. "We have a lot of work to do for tomorrow and the rest of the week."

Ryan Briscoe had the honour of being the first driver out on track on Opening Day and he was joined by his Penske team mates Will Power and Helio Castroneves running three-wide down the front straightaway on their first laps out.

There were six cautions during the afternoon for a total of 32 minutes, all of them routine affairs to allow debris to be removed and for period track inspections.

Full practice 1 times available


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