The eagerly awaited Fast Friday dawned at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the day in which all drivers get extra turbo power boost to play with and in many cases swap in brand new engines for the upcoming qualifying weekend. That means new top speeds are virtually guaranteed, as long as the weather co-operates.
This year, the weather didn't co-operate, but we got at least a brief taste of the new high speeds anyway.
There was a prolonged delay to the start of proceedings in order to get the track dry after morning showers, meaning that the speedway wasn't ready for drivers until nearly three hours after its scheduled opening time. Finally at 2.50pm local time the green flag came out and cars piled out onto the track to get some flying laps in.
The effects of the extra boost were immediate, with James Hinchcliffe straight up into the 227mph bracket on his return from injury after being medically cleared on Thursday to return to the cockpit after suffering a concussion in last weekend's race. Faster laps quickly followed across the board, and by the time the dust settled fully 17 drivers had managed to post times in excess of that benchmark.
Top of the pile was last year's pole sitter Ed Carpenter in the #20 car, who broke across the noteworthy 230mph mark on his fifth lap of the day. Carpenter's lap was the fastest lap speed in practice at Indianapolis Scott Dixon ran 233mph in Pole Day practice in 2003.
"That was a tow lap that wasn't totally honest there," said Carpenter after his 230.522mph (39.0418s) effort, which was helped for half a lap by getting aero advantage from Sebastien Bourdais up ahead. He said that with all the weather interruptions it was impossible to say how everyone was looking compared to each other or what Saturday might hold.
"We will find out tomorrow," he said. "I really think it's going to be close. I think it's going to come down to a lot like last year the conditions and who gets it right for the conditions on that given run. With tomorrows format and the ability to make multiple attempts without pulling a time and 33 points being available for the quick time I think we could see a lot of attempts just because those points are valuable.
“The car is definitely up to speed this year," he added of his own chances. "When it comes to predicting the pole, I think a lot of it will be figuring out what the weather is. If it warms up enough and the air gets a little thinner, certainly I think 230s are realistic, even up to 232 and 233."
Carpenter was 0.1153s faster than Penske's Helio Castroneves who recorded a best lap of 229.843mph (39.1571s), while Marco Andretti was the fastest of the Andretti Autosport stable after being clocked at 229.419mph (39.2296s.)
"I don't really know where we stack up. I really don't," said Andretti. "This is like the first year of my career. It's a big unknown for me and I think it's the limited run. I don't know if we're going to be ready for pole or just trying to get into the top 9 or not. I don't know."
Jack Hawksworth who was tenth fastest and best rookie in the #98 Bryan Herta Autosport car, showing that his accident on Wednesday hadn't done anything to dent his courage in the race car.
"We were quicker than the other day," he said. "We have a pretty solid baseline and a good direction. I feel pretty good about the prospects about the weekend. I feel really good about going out because we hit 228. I think we're not where we should be [but] it should be quite easy to improve the speed with just a few changes. We can make it quite quickly. I'm quite confident for tomorrow."
In total, the top 21 entries in the combined timesheets were posted on Friday, which is even more remarkable because just 19 minutes into the delayed session the yellow flags came out for rain falling over turn 3. Moments later and the rain had intensified, and storms followed that brought chunks of ice falling as hail on pit lane. It was soon clear that the track was once again soaked and that there was no chance of drying it in time to get action underway again before 6pm, and to the speedway called it a day.
The weather forecast for the weekend looks significantly drier although showers can never be ruled out. Saturday is expected to see partly cloudy skies with a high temperature of 60 degrees, with highs in the mid-60s for Sunday.
Drivers will have one final chance to practice before qualifying, with a 60 minute practice split into two groups preceding qualifying set to start at 8am on Saturday morning. Some drivers such as Marco Andretti have already said they plan to sleep in and skip that opportunity.
Saturday qualifying itself runs from 11am to 5.50pm which see the fastest nine cars advance to a pole shootout on Sunday, while the rest of the field will still have to run again to decide their starting positions from 10th through to 33rd.
Away from the race track, Jonathan Byrd's Racing confirmed that it will be returning to Indy 500 competition in 2015 - a year earlier than previously announced - and would be fielding an entry for three-time USAC National Driver's Champion Bryan Clauson. The team first entered the Indy 500 in 1985 with Rich Vogler, and its most recent entry was with Buddy Lazier in 2005.
“Though we had originally intended to return for the 100th running of the Indy 500 in 2016, which would also have been the 20th anniversary of our track record with Arie, the announcement of our plans was met with such enthusiasm in so many different ways and from so many different directions, we decided that it did not make any sense to wait until 2016 and that we needed to move our program forward by a year,” explained Ginny Byrd.
“I'm extremely excited to be headed back to the Indy 500," said Clauson, who made his one and only series start in the 2012 Indy 500 with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing. "Getting back on track at IMS is something I've been working toward since the end of the 2012 race, and I can't thank the Byrd family enough for giving me this opportunity."
Full practice times for day 6 at Indianapolis