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Andretti tops pre-qualifying 'happy hour'

Marco Andretti declared himself ready for Indy 500 qualifying with the fastest lap of the week, as he became the only driver to exceed 232mph.
The last practice session before the start of qualifying for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 saw new fastest laps of the entire week as drivers made the most of their weekend boost in turbo power, and many of them also making use of new engines for the qualifying weekend.

All drivers were keen to get out on track on Saturday morning after Fast Friday was reduced to a 19 minute dash between showers and storm that passed over Indianapolis Motor Speedway and severely curtailed the fun. Rain wasn't an issue on Saturday morning, but the cold temperatures were with IndyCar forced to delay that start of the last pre-qualifying practice session for an hour to allow the track and air temperatures to warm up.

That finally happened by 9am local time and the drivers were quick to get to work, with the field split into two groups to minimise overcrowding out on the 2.5-mile speedway, with each getting half an hour of running time. There was a brief hold-up between the two groups when the start of the second was delayed due to the presence of geese on the track at turn 1 - but at least it wasn't rain.

Marco Andretti was in the first group and promptly set a blistering speed of 232.239mph (38.7531s), the fastest lap speed in practice since Scott Dixon in 2003. It's still some way off Arie Luyendyk's all-time single lap speed record in practice at Indianapolis, which is 239.260mph (37.616s) set in 1996 with very different chassis and engine specifications.

Second fastest in the morning practice - but running in the second group from 9.30am - was the 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan who was a tenth of a second back from Andretti with a speed of 231.598mph, while Ryan Hunter-Reay (also in the second group) ran a lap of 231.021mph (38.9575s).

Kurt Busch continued to impress with the fourth fastest speed of the morning (230.984mph), while eight other drivers also exceeded 230mph during their practice sessions - Townsend Bell, Takuma Sato, Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, Charlie Kimball, Jack Hawksworth, James Hinchcliffe and Juan Pablo Montoya.

However that's not to say that these sort of speeds will be attained in qualifying itself, since many of the drivers had an aerodynamic 'tow' from cars running ahead of them, which won't happen during the individual speed trials used for qualifying. Speeds of 228-230mph would be more along the lines of what fans can expect, but much depends on the weather conditions.

Last year's pole-winning speed was 228.762mph, set by Ed Carpenter.

Saturday's qualifying session does not determine any firm starting grid positions for the race itself, as everyone will be required to set new times on Sunday. However, today's session does determine which of the fastest nine drivers will be eligible to take part in the pole shootout phase that will set the first three rows of the grid. The rest of the field will be recording new qualifying times on Sunday to decide their places on the remaining rows of the grid from tenth position through to 33rd.

For the first time this year there will be significant championship points awarded according to qualifying performance. The fastest driver on Saturday will pick up 33 points (decreasing by one point all the way down to 33rd), while Pole Day will also award points to those in the top nine shootout (from nine points for the pole winner down to one point for ninth place.) That means that a driver who tops both weekend sessions could be on track to pick up 42 points in total - almost as much as for a race win on a road/street course.

Full practice times for day 7 at Indianapolis



Related Pictures

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Marco Andretti crosses the starting line (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Marco Andretti up to speed.  (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Juan Pablo Montoya, driver of the #2 Hawk Performance Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, races to an 11th-place finish Sunday, August 2, 2015, during the Verizon IndyCar Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Montoya retains the overall driver`s championship points lead with two races left in the season. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6, races to an fourth-place finish Sunday, August 2, 2015, during the Verizon IndyCar Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. (Photo by Michael L. Levitt/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Simon Pagenaud, driver of the #22 PPG Finishes Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, races to a third-place finish Sunday, August 2, 2015, during the Verizon IndyCar Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Simon Pagenaud, driver of the #22 PPG Finishes Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar V6, celebrates his third-place finish Sunday, August 2, 2015, during the Verizon IndyCar Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Graham Rahal leads a group through the Turn 2 Keyhole turn during the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Graham Rahal and his father, Bobby, celebrate in Victory Circle following their win in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Photo by: John Cote for IndyCar Media)
Podium celebrations for Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson after the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Podium celebrations for Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson and Simon Pagenaud after the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Graham Rahal sprays the champagne in Victory Lane following his victory in the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Photo by: Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Graham Rahal wins the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Photo by: Bret Kelley for IndyCar Media)
Graham Rahal begins the celebration as he wins the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Photo by: John Cote for IndyCar Media)
Ryan Hunter-Reay waits in his pit stand prior to practice for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Photo by: John Cote for IndyCar Media)
Ryan Hunter-Reay rolls down pit lane for practice for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6, celebrates having the fastest qualifying time Saturday, August 1, 2015, winning the pole for Sunday`s Verizon IndyCar Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Dixon set a track record of 1:04.5814/125.869 mph. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6, celebrates having the fastest qualifying time Saturday, August 1, 2015, winning the pole for Sunday`s Verizon IndyCar Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Dixon set a track record of 1:04.5814/125.869 mph. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)
Scott Dixon, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet IndyCar V6, qualifies fastest Saturday, August 1, 2015, winning the pole for Sunday`s Verizon IndyCar Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. Dixon set a track record of 1:04.5814/125.869 mph. (Photo by Phillip Abbott/LAT for Chevy Racing)

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