The build-up to this year's Indianapolis 500 has finally begun, although the first official day of practice saw the expected six hours of track time shortened to less than half that duration thanks to a combination of rain showers and time set aside for rookie orientation and refresher courses.
Eventually, 30 of the confirmed 33 drivers took part in the session with Sage Karam setting the pace for Chip Ganassi Racing ahead of his team mates Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan. Karam ran 41 laps, while CFH Racing's Josef Newgarden recorded the most laps with 83 in the books on Monday which saw him finish tenth fastest.
CLICK: Full times from practice 1 for the Indianapolis 500.
"It's only the first day, so it's not about how fast you are today," admitted Karam. "It's about how fast you are on Sunday in two weeks. It definitely feels good though. It's the first time I've ever been P1 at the Speedway so, you know, it's a good feeling.
"We have a lot of work to do, the car's not anywhere near where we want it to be for race day or qualifying," he continued. "[But] I've got a great team. They worked really hard. They are making it a lot easier on us drivers by being as prepared as they are."
"It was an okay day," offered Newgarden. "It was good to get some running in. Fortunately the weather let up and we were able to get a lot of good running with all three cars. I think we got through a lot of good stuff, the engineers seem pretty happy for today. We just need to have another five solid days and then see where we qualify. I think so far it's looking pretty good, happy to be running with this whole CFH Racing team."
Lynne Huntting of PressSnoop.com reports from trackside on the first day of official practice at the two-and-a-half mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway:
It was dry and warm with an active breeze ruffling the flags around Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday morning ahead the first day of practice for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500. In Gasoline Alley, the teams were putting the final touches on the cars; in the case of the teams competing in the full 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series championship, the cars were being changed over to the new speedway bodywork components following Saturday's Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the in-field road course. The Indy 500 is the first time that the cars will be using the new kits in race conditions.
Unfortunately as noon approached and the teams prepared for the one-hour Rookie Orientation Programme and Refresher Practice session that was to open the day's track activities, some light rain decided to make its appearance and cause a delay in proceedings.
IndyCar had earlier announced that KV Racing Technology's Stefano Coletti had been deemed an oval racing rookie and would need to undergo the full mandatory ROP process. That requires Coletti to run three different phases maintaining consistent racing lines at progressively higher speeds. Phase one requires ten laps run between 205-210mph, phase two consists of 15 laps at 210-215mph and the final phase three sees 15 further laps at speeds greater than 215mph. The plan was for Coletti to complete two phases today after which the final phase could be completed during general practice through the rest of the week.
Gabby Chaves, the 2014 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion who is driving the #98 Bowers & Wilkins/Curb-Agajanian Bryan Herta Autosport Honda, had already completed completed his rookie orientation during the oval open test last week on May 3, which had been the field's first opportunity to test the new superspeedway aero kits from Chevrolet and Honda at IMS.
Other drivers not racing full-time in 2015 and making a one-off appearance at this year's Indianapolis 500 include Oriol Servia at the wheel of the #32 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Pippa Mann in the #63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda and Bryan Clauson driving the #88 Jonathan Byrd's/Cancer Treatment Centers of America Chevrolet along with Townsend Bell in the #24 Robert Graham Special Chevrolet
A number of other drivers are taking part in the Indy 500 as part of a limited season of IndyCar appearances. JR Hildebrand in the #6 Preferred Freezer/CFH Racing Chevrolet, Sebastian Saavedra in the #17 AFS Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and Carlos Huertas racing the #18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda all took part in the road course race on Saturday, while Simona de Silvestro will be back in the #29 Andretti Autosport Honda for the first time since Long Beach. Conor Daly also had a last minute outing at Long Beach at very short notice with Dale Coyne, but this week will be driving the #43 FUELED by BACON Special Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
There are 34 cars entered for this year's race with only one driver still to be announced. So far this season the #19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda has been in the hands of Francesco Dracone but there are a number of drivers to be found in the garage and pit lane looking to pick up last-minute rides, including Jamie Davison of Australia and France's Tristan Vautier, who ran the 2013 IndyCar season for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after winning the 2012 Indy Lights championship.
Once the initial rain cleared away, Coletti finally got the chance to start his ROP session only 20 minutes behind schedule. With some coaching from Arie Luyendyk, Coletti completed the first two phases successfully with the session being extended by five minutes to allow him to finish. Luyendyk is also coaching Coletti's teammate this week, but Clauson was not required to undertake ROP and did not run in this initial session.
Jimmie Vasser, co-owner of KV Racing Technology, was able to keep watch on Coletti's progress from upstairs in the dry media centre where he had time to reminisce about his own ROP back in the day. “I was in awe at being at the Speedway," he said. "I'm sure it's good for Coletti, but being an American, it was very special to me.
"It can be daunting, especially when it's windy like today,” Vasser noted. "I'm sure it's getting his attention. He's got a learning curve but he's not the first guy and won't be the last."
“I have been waiting for three months to get on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval," said Coletti, sounding no less excited about the prospect for having been born in Monaco, one of the few venues that can compete with IMS for being one of the most historic and prestigious motor sports settings in the world. The 26-year-old is bidding to be the first Monagaesue driver to take part in the event since since Louis Chiron in 1929.
"I've always watched it since I was a kid and I've always wanted to race in the 500," said the GP2 Series veteran. "The atmosphere and all the people here looks incredible on TV, and being here is a dream come true."
"I didn't get to do the first ROP because I was stuck in Europe because of my visa," he explained. "I finally got to go out on track and I am very happy. It is very fast. I'm also happy because I got through the first two phases of my rookie test." Coletti's best lap of the session clocked in at 214.077mph.
"I still have one more phase to go, which I can now do with the other drivers on track. I am very excited to be at Indy. It is my first time on an oval and I want to thank all the guys at KV Racing for helping me. I also want to thank Arie Luyendyk. He took me around the track this morning and gave me some tips, which really helped today."
“When I coach somebody it's almost as exciting as driving yourself because it's nice to see somebody pick up the pace quickly and pick up the lines around the track quickly,” said Luyendyk, a two-time winner of the Indy 500 - the first of them 25 years ago. "So far, I'm happy with the lines he's taken because that's really important here."
JR Hildebrand took part in the session as a refresher, shaking down not only his own car - in which he set the fastest lap of 220.074mph - but also that of his team mate Josef Newgarden, the #21 entry, in which he was third fastest. Townsend Bell made short work of his own refresher session and his best lap of phase two slotted in neatly in second place between Hildebrand's with a speed of 218.752mph. Also running the session were Sebastian Saavedra who was fourth overall at 217.166mph, and Carlos Huertas who ran in fifth at 216.152mph.
After the break, the entire Indy 500 field had been scheduled to practice for five hours, but there was a conspicuous absence of cars heading out onto the 2.5-mile speedway thanks to an impending rain storm moving through the area - one brief lightning flash was observed in the distance. By now the clouds had crowded in and the wind had picked up to a brisk breeze, although it was still a pleasantly mild 71F (21C).
Fortunately the threat of rain eventually lifted and the drivers were able to come out to play, although the expected five hour test was now trimmed to just two hours and 45 minutes. Even so, 30 drivers took part and turned a total 1094 laps by the time the chequered flag came out to call an end to the day's fun. Sage Karam, seeking to make his second Indy 500 race start, ended fastest at 225.802mph (39.8579s) in the #8 Comfort Revolution/Big Machine Records Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Karam was nine hundredths of a second faster than his team mates Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, while Marco Andretti was fourth fastest and the quickest Honda-powered driver with a best lap of 225.184mph (39.9674s) just 0.0059s behind Kanaan. Hildebrand finished the day with the fifth fastest time just ahead of Ed Carpenter in the #20 Fuzzy's Vodka/CFH Racing Chevy.
"We got through a lot of test items on our list today," said Andretti, driver of the #27 Snapple Andretti Autosport car. "We needed to mileage out the engine and for only having one set of tyres, I'm pretty pleased with where things progressed to for the Snapple team, but I think there's still a lot of speed coming."
In total, 23 of the drivers were within a second of Karam's top time. Of the remaining seven cars, the three Penske drivers of Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya only went out for shakedown laps and therefore did not post representative times on day one.
Practice continues all week, with the next session set for noon on Tuesday, May 12 and due to last for six hours in total, weather permitting, now that the ROP business is out of the way. Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 will take place this weekend on Saturday, May 16-17 and the race itself is on Sunday May 24.
Trackside reporting by Lynne Huntting of PressSnoop.com.
See full times from practice 1 for the Indianapolis 500.