Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's rookie star Josef Newgarden was on impressive form again on Wednesday, topping the timesheets for the third time in five days with a lap of 222.785mph, once more with just a little help from the draft.

However, his day ended with a trip to the wall 15 minutes before the scheduled end of the session. The #67 grazed the outside wall on the exit of the outside wall coming out of turn 4, and then spun across the track to make more emphatic contact against the inside wall despite managing to control the spin so that he only made light contact with the front left of the car, resulting in some light front suspension and wing damage.

"You don't get many lucky breaks around this place, and I think I just got one!" said Newgarden, who was able to climb from the car unassisted and quickly released following the usual mandatory trip to the infield care centre. "It was definitely something that got my attention when it broke away in the corner.

"It's just difficult running in the tow, and obviously, being a rookie trying to figure that out, sometimes it bites you," he added. It's the first yellow caused by an accident or spin at Indianapolis Motor Speedway so far since practice started on Saturday.

"We were old on our tyre run and trying to run as far as possible to see how the car reacts," he said. "I'll try to learn what happened and why the thing got around on me. Everyone's trying to figure out the race car around this place, and obviously I have a little more work to do."

The session was missing the large scale pack racing trials that dominated much of the later half of the Tuesday session, but the Andretti Autosport contingent were once again looking strong and occupied the next three spots with Marco Andretti in second (222.108mph, 40.5208s), Ryan-Hunter-Reay third (221.763mph, 40.5839s) and James Hinchcliffe fourth (221.638mph, 40.6067s) just 0.0028s ahead of Ganassi's Dario Franchitti.

Franchitti - along with Newgarden and also Justin Wilson in sixth place - was one of the few drivers to post their best time of the week so far on Wednesday.

"We worked on a lot of stuff," said Franchitti after setting a best time of 221.623mph (40.6095s.) "Just finding our way around this car and just finding out what it likes. We ran in traffic for the first time, and it actually went pretty well. I caught a nice balance. We're just trying to zero in on what we need."

"I believe the wind speed and direction has changed the track slightly," Wilson tweeted during the day on his way to recording a best lap speed of 221.420mph (40.6468s.) "Healthy tail wind into turn 1."

Elsewhere on pit lane, there were growing concerns over the capabilities of the last remaining two Lotus cars aiming to make the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 27, after it was revealed that the big jump in performance shown by both Fan Force United's Jean Alesi and HVM's Simona de Silvestro wasn't all it appeared to be.

It emerged on Wednesday at IMS that track officials had allowed the two Lotus entries to run at an increased turbo pressure for a limited period of time in order for them to investigate some technical issues. Strangely, this special dispensation wasn't made known to anyone at the time.

"It is correct we allowed them a short period of running at qualification boost as they had boost pressure issues and needed to get on top of them," confirmed IndyCar's vice president of technology Will Phillips on Wednesday. The temporary 40-50 horsepower increase is the same as all teams will have during the upcoming qualifying weekend, starting with Fast Friday on May 18.

However, Phillips insisted that "it is not correct" that the Lotus cars will gain any further exception to be able to run the boost outside of the forthcoming weekend, and certainly not for the race itself.

The temporary turbo boost evidently coincided with Alesi completing his Rookie Orientation Program on Monday. If Alesi hadn't received the boost it's unlikely that the car could have made the necessary consistent 15 laps over 210mph required for a driver to successfully complete phase 3 of ROP: on Wednesday, without the boost, he was back down to just 205.389mph for his fastest time of the day.

Despite having successfully run at the boosted speed, it's clear that Alesi is still very worried about the state of his car now it's back to its normal turbo boost levels, which makes it in the region of 10mph slower than the next slowest car in the field. And Alesi has the experience to know the risks this entails.

"Right now, I feel very unsafe, being quite slow in the middle of the track," the former F1 driver said. "I am quite concerned for my fellow drivers, if we are not able to get the speed that we need. I am flat out and I have reached 205 as the maximum that I can see. So it is not a comfortable position right now."

For her part, de Silvestro could only manage a lap of 205.009mph (43.9005s), 5mph off the time she achieved on Tuesday, but she still felt that HVM were making progress despite the engine situation.

"We ran more laps today, and I think the car is getting there," she insisted. "But we're just really struggling on the engine side, and that makes it difficult to drive. When you do only 200 mph, you don't have enough downforce, which makes it a little bit trickier.

"The good thing on the team side is that everybody is being patient and really working through the things," she continued. "That's what we have to do this month - just be really patient about it and try to improve every time we go out there. Hopefully for qualifying and the race we'll have something that's race-able."

Another driver also still struggling to find pace is Rubens Barrichello, whose best time on Wednesday was 216.741mph (41.5243s).

"Today we ran a lot of miles," said a weary Barrichello at the end of 114 laps, the most put in by any driver on Wednesday. "I was able to experience how the car would feel in a race from when it is full of fuel to almost empty. We made some progress with some of the changes today, and hopefully we are going in the right direction."

If the Lotus cars do end up 10-15mph off the next-fastest cars then there is every chance that even if they qualify for the race and are allowed to start, they will have to be parked within the first few minutes of the race for being unable to maintain a safe pace. Such a visible failure on Race Day has the uncomfortable potential to steal media headlines from the Indy 500 the day after.

In news of cars not yet having had any time on track so far this week, Katherine Legge said that she would be out on track on Thursday morning between 8am and 9.30am to undertake her Rookie Orientation Program, which is mandatory before she can undertake qualifying for the 33-car Indy 500 grid. Chief steward Beaux Barfield confirmed that Legge would be allowed to run on Thursday in the special early morning slot, with Chevrolet expected to be supplying the engine. An engine was indeed heard firing up in the Dragon garage on Wednesday.

There are still questions arising from the acrimonious split between her team, Dragon Racing, and its engine suppliers. Dragon is suing Lotus for $4.6m over alleged breach of contract and currently does not have a replacement deal in place with either of Lotus' two rival manufacturers. It would be surprising if series organisers allowed Dragon to field a car while the Lotus dispute was ongoing, as this could leave the IZOD IndyCar Series itself open to a potential legal counter-suit by Lotus.

Legge's team mate Sebastien Bourdais is also in limbo, since with Legge bringing in most of the team's sponsorship money this season through her tie-in with automotive solutions provider TrueCar, the team's focus is on doing everything it can to ensure that Legge makes it into the race in ten days time. While Bourdais is not formally a rookie, he is supposed to complete a refresher course at some point before qualifying if he's going to try to make the grid.

Suggestions that owner Jay Penske would fold Dragon and start a new commercial operation to get around the legal situation were summarily dismissed. "Dragon will run," Penske said in an email in response.

In all, thirty cars took to the track on the fifth day of practice. Including Newgarden's accident, there were five cautions for a total of 41 minutes: three of the others were for debris, while the final caution 90 minutes into the six hour session was for the #14 of Wade Cunningham running out of fuel and needing a tow back to pit lane.

The weather continued to be very kind and ideal for the teams and drivers to work in, with sunshine and blue skies. It was slightly cooler and more humid than Tuesday, however, and the breeze had picked up a little overnight.

Full Wednesday practice 5 times available

Comments

Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment