Full practice times for day 5 at Indianapolis
After two days wrecked by rain, the weather proved only a minor frustration on Thursday as all 33 drivers entered in this year's Indianapolis 500 got in at least some time on the track for the first time this week.
Conditions had still been misty, cold and damp in the morning with a light drizzle at times, but the weather eventually improved and ultimately only 45 minutes of the scheduled running time for the fifth practice session were lost to the track drying process. That meant there was no need to extend the session beyond the planned 6pm local time finish, as had happened the previous day.
After topping the timesheets for much of the afternoon, Penske's Helio Castroneves went out and unequivocally sealed the deal with a final effort for the day of 227.166mph (39.6186s), the best time of anyone so far this week which put him 0.1591s ahead of 2013 Indy 500 pole winner Ed Carpenter who was second-fastest in the #20 car.
"I feel very confident in the Pennzoil #3 machine, so right now we will keep going and keep working," said the three-time Indy 500 race winner after the session ended.
"We make a little progress every day, it's a lot of fun," reported Carpenter. "Helio nipped us at the end, but a good day at the speedway. It was nice to get a lot of running in finally and have some more track time available, especially since tomorrow kind of doesn't look so great again."
Castroneves' team mate Will Power was also fast on Thursday in third place with a lap of 225.899mph (39.8408s) his best so far of the week after a quiet day yesterday which saw him only put in one installation lap during the rain-curtailed session.
"The #12 Verizon Chevrolet had a good day today," Power agreed. "After our engine change yesterday, we went out there today and a had a few good couple of qualifying runs today. The weather created some tough conditions with it being so cold, but we got what we needed done and we're getting where we need to be for qualifying."
In total, only five cars broke the 225mph mark - Townsend Bell and Ryan Hunter-Reay were the others, with Hunter-Reay also the fastest Honda driver behind four Chevrolet cars. 30 drivers in total were within one second of Castroneves' new benchmark time, and AJ Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato managed to complete an impressive 150 laps of the 2.5-mile speedway during the day, with Ganassi's Ryan Briscoe lose behind on 136.
The big news in the paddock was that James Hinchcliffe had been medically cleared to resume driving duties following his concussion last weekend (see separate story
.) He had been hoping to take over from substitute driver EJ Viso and get out on track for the first time later in the afternoon, but those plans were somewhat derailed when the #27 United Fiber & Data Andretti Autosport blew an engine and the team had to spend the rest of the afternoon making the necessary repairs.
Once the new engine was installed, Hinchcliffe had just enough time remaining in the session to got strapped into the car, run a couple of around the garages to ensure that he suffered no dizziness, and then carry out one partial installation lap which wasn't completed before he pulled back into the pits as the chequered flag came out.
Also hitting engine problems on Thursday was the #7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports car driven by Mikhail Aleshin. Like Hinchcliffe's car Aleshin's is a Honda-powered entry, but in the Russian's case the problem was described as minor and it was possible to fix it without the team needing to swap out the entire unit.
Elsewhere, Thursday saw the first runs out on track for KV Racing Technology's James Davison and Lazier Partners Racing Buddy Lazier. The morning weather conditions that had delayed the start of practice also meant that Davison did not get the track time he needed to carry out his mandatory Rookie Orientation Program, and so officials had to reserve two separate periods during the afternoon where only he and Lazier (undergoing a refresher program) would be able to be out on track.
The #33 was initially shaken down by Davison's KV team mate Sebastien Bourdais before being handed over. Given the limited running he was able to do, Davison then went on to complete two of the three rounds of ROP quickly, efficiently and without drama. He will now be allowed to complete the third phase in general practice sessions on Friday, and once that is done he will be able to participate in the qualifying sessions at the weekend.
“I can go to bed resting easier knowing we got through our first day at IMS smoothly," said the Australian after reaching a best speed for the day of 217.052mph (41.4648s) after 63 completed laps. "We got up to speed conservatively. In the end, we trimmed the car one stage and I was happy with the balance. In terms of speed, we know where we're at since we didn't run in traffic or with a tow."
1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier ran only 18 laps during the day but still finished his first session of 2014 with a top speed of 218.277mph (41.2321s). "It was much easier that being in the car last year," reported Lazier. "I'm enjoying starting the process with our engineering and the race car, and bottom line I'm just thrilled to be here."
Also on track on Thursday was Jack Hawksworth, who suffered the first crash of the 2014 event yesterday when the #98 Bryan Herta Autosport car snapped round on him in turn 3 and hit the wall. The team worked overnight and well into the day repairing the damage, and the British racer was able to take out the reassembled ar for an installation lap before the end of the day.
There were no crashes on Thursday, with the only interruptions being for the two engine issues, Pippa Mann losing drive on two separate occasions, and two yellows for track inspections as well as for three intermissions for ROP activity for Davison.
Friday sees the first day when drivers will have extra power boost at their disposal for the qualifying weekend, meaning that even higher speeds can be expected as long as the weather doesn't interfere with the proceedings.
"I really like what I have, but tomorrow we will go to the boost and you are going to see big numbers up there," agreed Castroneves. "We are really looking forward to tomorrow to see those numbers keep going higher.”
Reporting from trackside by Lynne Huntting of PressSnoop.com
Full practice times for day 5 at Indianapolis