Full practice times for day 4 at Indianapolis
It was a long wait, but when Indianapolis Motor Speedway finally dried out late afternoon it proved to have been worth the wait, with an immediate flurry of some of the fastest laps yet run in practice for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500.
After persistent rain and light drizzle kept pushing back the planned noon start, the 2.5-mile speedway was finally declared ready for action at 5pm local time with organisers having already announced that the track would stay open an extra hour until 7pm.
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports' rookie Mikhail Aleshin set a new fastest time of the week just ten minutes and nine laps into the delayed session when he posted a speed of 225.310mph (39.9449s), but that was soon edged by Helio Castroneves reaching 225.340mph.
Over the next 45 minutes, three drivers went even faster: Aleshin's team mate Simon Pagenaud ended 'happy hour' with the best lap of 226.122mph (39.8016s), which was just under five hundredths of a second faster than Ed Carpenter Racing's JR Hildebrand who just edged out Scott Dixon for third place, the Ganassi driver ending up with a best time of 225.494mph (39.9123s).
“Obviously, the conditions are very good for a fast lap," said Pagenaud. "The density of the air is a lot stronger so you can run in a little less wind for the same amount of downforce as Monday and that creates lap time and the engines work better with a stronger density in the air.
"That's why you see big laps today," he added. "It's always enjoyable to get close to 230. Hopefully we can break that in qualifying." Drivers will get extra engine power for Fast Friday and the qualifying sessions over the weekend.
In total, whereas only one man had previously topped 225mph before Wednesday, in a single hour there had been no fewer than nine drivers who broke through that threshold, including previous pacesetter Ryan Hunter-Reay who marginally improved on his own earlier best lap to 225.110mph (39.9804s) as the eighth fastest driver of the day and the week so far.
However the push to higher speeds to came to an abrupt end just after 6pm, when Jack Hawksworth got loose and lost control of the #98 Bryan Herta Autosport car and ended up shooting up into a heavy hit with the SAFER barrier at turn 3 that did extensive damage to the left hand side of the car. Hawksworth himself was able to climb out of the car unaided and was quickly evaluated by the in-field medical centre and passed fit to continue driving.
"I have no idea what happened to be honest," he said. "We just went into 3 and it just snapped, so we'll have to look into it. Honestly, I wouldn't want to comment just yet because I have no idea. Suddenly it just snapped."
Hawksworth's crash - the first of the week - did mean an extended yellow flag, and during the time the safety news worked on repairing the barrier where the #98 had impacted the skies overhead darkened once more. There was a brief resumption of green flag racing, but after a few minutes the rain was falling again and the officials waved the flag to signal the end of the fourth day of practice.
Despite the seriously truncated practice for the second day in a row, many teams focused on long fuel runs for the 200-lap race May 25 and completed 1040 laps between them in the 58 minutes of available running time in total. Penske's Juan Pablo Montoya alone managed to put in 61 laps on track on Wednesday.
"There are so many things that are within our control, but the weather isn't one of them," said Montoya. "We didn't need to see that rain today, but it is what it is. The #2 Verizon Chevy team is sticking to the plan. The good news is the car continues to show speed out there. Hopefully tomorrow is drier than the last couple of days."
AJ Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato almost matched Montoya's tally with 59 laps and EJ Viso completed 55 laps standing in for James Hinchcliffe in the #27 Andretti Autosport car. The Canadian driver is still not cleared to return to racing, but will be evaluated again by IndyCar medical staff on Thursday.
Also in action on Wednesday for a solid 41 laps was KV-AFS Racing's Sebastian Saavedra, with the #17 car not only fully rebuilt after its trauma on the starting grid for Saturday's Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but also now completely repainted overnight in the proper red-and-yellow livery.
Of the drivers that did not take part in Wednesday's brief session, Kurt Busch took the opportunity of the poor forecast to fly back home to spend a day with his NASCAR Sprint Cup team Stewart-Haas Racing in Charlotte, North Carolina but he will be back at the Speedway on Thursday.
KV Racing's Townsend Bell also decided to sit out this session, while Buddy Lazier and James Davison are still biding their time to make sure their budget can run to race day. Davison is expected to make his début on track on Thursday morning when he due to tackle his mandatory Rookie Orientation Program.
Full practice times for day 4 at Indianapolis