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