After a brief hiatus yesterday, Andretti Autosport were once again back on top and looking in commanding form at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, on day 6 of practice for the 97th running of the Indy 500.
A late group run by the team propelled Carlos Munoz to the top of the timesheets during happy hour, the final 60 minutes of on-track time on Thursday. His time of 39.9711s (225.163mph) on the 2.5-mile speedway was the fastest of anyone so far in 2013, putting him 0.0112s ahead of Marco Andretti who set his fastest lap of 2013 so far during Monday's session.
"The fastest lap was a tow, an unbelievable tow," said the Firestone Indy Lights driver getting his first shot at a spot on the Indy 500 grid this year. "This last run I felt really comfortable each time I ran behind people in racing conditions. Each time I felt more comfortable.
"We have a real strong car every time we test, and we can go back and make sure we have a pretty competitive car," he continued. "But tomorrow and Saturday is another thing entirely. We will have to prepare for qualifying."
Another beneficiary of the late group effort was IZOD IndyCar Series reigning champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who became the fourth man to break the 225mph/40s marks this week, Penske's Helio Castroneves being the only non-Andretti member of that elite group.
"We just keep working on the cars and inching in on where we need to be with limited practice days left," said Hunter-Reay. "I think we'll see some surprises in qualifying, we don't really know what to expect. We just need to concentrate on our program and being quick on Race Day - we need to peak in the race and not in qualifying."
But while it was looking good for Andretti Autosport, there was consternation in the AJ Foyt Racing pit as the #41 car of rookie driver Conor Daly hit the wall on the exit of turn 1. Rotated sideways by the force of the impact, the car went broadside-on to the direction of travel and was flipped up onto its right hand side, threatening to roll over entirely before the sidepod prevented it from tipping over any further and instead returning it to an upright condition.
Conor Daly was uninjured and climbed out of the car, and was subsequently cleared by the medical staff in the IMS in-field care centre.
“We had just made a change on the springs in the rear," explained the 21-year-old making his first appearance at Indianapolis. "I was just trying to experience a little bit more with the car, and there was a car in front and me. The wind, it feels like it's been gusting more, and the rear was leaning hard on the outside tyre, and it just kind of folded over on itself. I just lost it. Just not good."
Now the problem is getting the car repaired overnight so that Daly can continued his preparations on the final day of practice, and be ready to take part in Pole Day on Saturday.
"I'm just glad that the car wasn't as damaged as it might have looked flying through the air," he said. I tried to save it, and I would have saved it if we had about another 100 yards wider. But I know they're going to work hard and get it all prepared, and as long as we can get out tomorrow and shake it down and make sure she's pulling in the right direction, I think we'll be fine. I think it should be good.”
Daly insisted that he wouldn't let the incident affect his confidence going into the all-important qualifying weekend: "For me, I felt comfortable the whole time. It's all been reasonably good."
Daly's accident was the first this week at Indianapolis; all other stoppages have been for routine track inspections and for debris clearances. There was also a ten minute pause early in today's proceedings when light rain briefly past over the circuit just after the green flag had officially been waved. After that, there were two track inspections and three yellows for debris all of which required only a five minute hiatus.
Toward the end of the day it was finally time for the #91 Lazier Partners car to make its first run out on the track with 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier at the wheel. If the car's paint scheme looked reminiscent of something, then that would be because the fledgling team had only just finished painting over the distinctive Lotus gold trim of what last year had been Jean Alesi's entry in the Indy 500 but which has a Chevrolet engine in the back for 2013.
"We started the engine and everything yesterday, so everything is fine in that regards," said Buddy's father Bob, the co-owner of the team. "We want to get a little bit of time on it and dial it in to where we want it from that point on. You know, it's a process.
"Fortunately, we have a veteran driver," he added of his son's well-proven abilities at Indianapolis. "We've got a guy that's has driven 75,000 miles here, probably. So, we're very comfortable, and he is very relaxed. We're fine."
The car did make it out on track at the start of happy hour and completed what amounted to little more than an reduced-speed installation lap, but it was one step closer toward making a qualifying run at the weekend.
Friday is the final day of practice at Indianapolis, with qualifying taking place on Saturday which is known as 'Pole Day' and which should lock in the top 24 cars onto the grid. Sunday is 'Bump Day' and will allow the cars not yet to have made the grid to set a new round of times to decide the last three rows of the grid. If there are more than 33 runners over the weekend then some will end up 'bumped' off the grid by the end of the day.
Currently there are 33 cars and drivers at work at Indianapolis. However, the Schmidt-Petersen team has provisionally filed a second entry to run alongside Tristan Vautier; the #99 car does not have a driver listed and it has not made an appearance out on track so far.See pictures from the practice sessions so far.