Andretti Autosport was true to its word on Tuesday, and focussed on some co-ordinated pack racing to see how their squad of five cars was able to work together on track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
As a result, Marco Andretti was the first man of the week to get over the 223mph mark, with a lap of 40.2367s (223.676mph) putting him well ahed of Penske's Helio Castroneves (40.5359s, 222.025mph) and Andretti's team mate James Hinchcliffe (40.5653s, 221.854mph) in the Go.Daddy.com car, and Ryan Hunter-Reay was fifth fastest (40.5746s, 22.814mph) just behind Ganassi's Graham Rahal.
"I'm really pleased with where we are at with the race car so far," said Marco. "I have just been really working on the car in a pack, and just trying to stay flat in traffic. We have the car to the point now that I am confident to say we would be the ones to beat if the race was today."
However, he warned: "The speed on its own, I'm a little concerned about." But he was optimistic for the race nonetheless, adding: "I've said it before, I'll say it again, if we start 33rd, we can still win this race."
"It was a pretty reasonable day for the GoDaddy car, we went out early and had some reasonable speed on our own and then focused on the race from there on out," said Hinchcliffe of the view of the day from the cockpit of the #27. "We're running in bigger and bigger packs now and learning more about this car because it's still so unknown in a proper race condition, but you can see by the end of the day where everyone has the same mindset compared to last year.
"We're running a lot more in traffic earlier in the week than we were," he continued. "It's just a function of everybody working to figure out what the car will do on Race Day. We have three cars in the top five, so we're clearly reasonable in traffic and on our own with a couple cars, so we'll just keep chipping away at it."
"I think we found some good speed," contributed Hunter-Reay, calling it "another productive day" for the DHL/SunDrop-badged #28 car. "The good thing about the Andretti Autosport cars is we're up toward the top when we're running alone and up toward the top when we're in a pack. Things are going as planned, and we still have a long week to go. I'd say we're 90 percent focused on the race and 10 percent on qualifying at the moment, and that will change on Friday."
Graham Rahal was the fastest Honda-powered car of the day with a lap of 40.5671s (221.855mph) although he was less thrilled about how hard and fast everyone was pushing in packs so early in the Indy 500 practice week.
"It was incredibly hectic, but I don't know. Maybe a sign of things to come ... To me, it was almost a little too much for a day like today," he said. "I got a good run put up there early, and I had a couple of more I could have put up there that would have been better than that, but there were a lot of bold moves out there, especially for a practice session, that's for sure.
"The other problem was, I jumped up there at the front of the line, and I'd lift to let everyone by and they'd all lift," he pointed out. "What do you do? No one wanted to lead."
The new DW12 chassis being used for an oval race for the first time at Indianapolis is definitely having an effect on pack racing on the 2.5-mile speedway, Rahal pointed out: "These things punch such a big hole. It's so easy to get a massive tow. I got behind Tagliani for a few laps and I just didn't have a gear big enough. We thought we were geared too long. For sure, they suck up quite a lot."
But being near the top of the timesheets was still a nice boost for the Ganassi driver, after a quiet first three days at IMS.
"It was great for us, particularly coming off the last couple of day - we felt the car was good all along; we just couldn't figure out where the speed was," he admitted. Part of the problem must have been an engine at the end of its life, which finally let go during Monday's practice: "We put a new Honda engine in it last night, and boom. Pretty pleased with the car today."
Rahal was also looking ahead to the increase in turbo power that the IZOD IndyCar Series organisers were bringing in to spice up the show this weekend, starting on Fast Friday.
"You will be going into the corners 10mph faster, or whatever it's going to be. We expect the boost change to be a 4-5 mph lap average speed difference. That's a lot. That's a big change," he admitted. "Hopefully the handling won't change too much because we've worked hard to get out car where's it's comfortable and fast. But I would think it would be a little bit different.
"I think it's going to be a hell of a race," he added. "More boost, no boost. Whatever. I think there has been great racing this year."
Meanwhile, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Indy 500 rookie Josef Newgarden was in 12th place on Tuesday, having been top of the times for two out of the first three days of practice.
"We did more of our own thing today," said the youngster who has impressed everyone on pit road at IMS already this week. "We also got to step through some qualifying stuff, which was good. With limited running, we won't be as high on the time sheets as we have been previous days, but that's fine. We're not going to be the quickest every day. We'll just pick back up tomorrow - we've got a new engine going in tonight."
Simona de Silvestro buoyed the Lotus camp by following Jean Alesi's footsteps and improving the performance of her car by some 10mph over her previous best lap time, after having opted to sit out Monday's track session while HVM Racing sat down and studied the data and worked out the best approach.
"It was a pretty good day," said the Swiss driver. "It was good to run today and improve on things. We have a lot of work on the engine side, but we just need to go through the program. I'm looking forward to getting back out there tomorrow."
De Silvestro was still 7mph off the next-slowest time of the field, which on Tuesday belonged to Rubens Barrichello.
"We are still trying different things but just can't find the speed," admitted the former F1 driver. "However, what was good today was learning to run in traffic, which I haven't really been able to do much of, and working out my lines. We have another day of practice tomorrow, so we will see what it brings."
There was still no sign of Dragon Racing being able to join the fray, after their recent acrimonious split from engine suppliers Lotus left them sidelined once again. It's been provisionally scheduled that Katherine Legge will attempt to complete her mandatory Rookie Orientation Program in a special 90 minute track session first thing on Thursday morning, but this may just be notification of the last chance available to her to attempt ROP rather than a realistic expectation of the team finally having an engine for her to actually do so. There did seem to be more promising activity around the Dragon garage area on Tuesday, and there were whispers that a Chevy engine deal could be announced on Wednesday.
It was another fine day of weather for practice, which saw sunshine and blue skies that put the air temperature up to 87F mid-afternoon and the track surface measured at 126F, and a pleasant light north-northwest winds breeze.
There were a total of five cautions during the fourth afternoon of practice, for a total of 45 minutes. Two were for debris removal, and the remaining three were all for routine track inspections. There were no incidents involving car accidents or technical failures. Thirty drivers joined the line-up on Tuesday, with Lotus Fan Force United's Jean Alesi joining the Dragon duo of Legge and Sebastien Bourdais on the sidelines for the day.Full practice 4 times