It proved to be an eventful day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the third day of practice for the 99th running of the Indy 500, with big crashes for Helio castroneves and Pippa Mann and a scorching new top time of the week set by Andretti Autosport's Carlos Munoz.
Munoz became the first driver of the week to go over 230mph on the two-and-a-half mile oval circuit, clocking in at 39.1098s (230.121mph) around 20 minutes before the end of the day's track activity. Munoz' time was almost two tenths faster than Townsend Bell in the Dreyer & Reinbold/Kingdom Racing #24 car.
CLICK: Full times from practice 3 for the Indianapolis 500.
Munoz' time was set in the tow of other cars is is probably around the sort of pace that will be seen on Saturday in qualifying once manufacturers are allowed to increase turbocharger boost pressure from 130 kPa to 140 kPa to generate more horsepower and likely higher speeds, track conditions permitting.
"We were not looking for a tow, we just made a change and said, 'Okay let's go in the group and see if we can just cop a tow and feel the car in traffic a little bit,'" said Munoz after the session ended. "I went back to the pack and it's practice, so whoever gets the best tow is the one who is going to finish first.
"The positive thing is that I feel really comfortable with the car, the car feels okay," he added. "In traffic and by my own, I feel fast. We have to continue working, we have still two days of testing so we have to try some stuff."
Bell was also happy with the way things were going, especially as budgetary constraints mean that he's not able to put in the same amount of laps this week as the big, multi-car teams can.
"We're staying in a tight little box, being a single-car program, only event of the year so far with the team," he said. "Trying to be pragmatic and just stay focused on the fundamentals. So far, so good."
Bell put a lot of the credit down tot he initial shakedown and set-up work performed by team managing director and former Indy car driver Davey Hamilton. who covered for Bell on opening day when Bell had a prior racing commitment in a sport scar race in Monterey, California on Sunday May 3. "Davey did a nice job to just work out the bugs for us and we were able to hit the ground running when we got here."
Also looking strong on Wednesday were the Chip Ganassi Racing trio of Tony Kanaan, Sage Karam and Scott Dixon who were third, fifth and sixth fastest. However it was the driver in fourth place, Dale Coyne Racing's late signing James Davison, who was a particular surprise: the 28-year-old Australian driver was only confirmed in the car on Tuesday and had just completed his refresher programme on Wednesday morning but then went on to clock a lap at 228.043mph (39.4663s) to put him 0.3565s after 86 laps in total during the day.
Lynne Huntting of PressSnoop.com reports from trackside on the third day of official practice at the two-and-a-half mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway:
However the headlines of the day were comprehensively stolen by three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves, for whom Wednesday was almost a case of adding insult to injury. Shortly after word came down that the Brazilian had been penalised for causing a first turn accident in last weekend's road course race at IMS - the day's insult - the three-time Indy 500 winner was involved in a scary crash on the speedway that he was very lucky indeed to emerge from without injury.
Less than an hour into the six-hour long practice session, and on just his second lap of the day, Helio bobbled seconds after clocking a maiden lap of 219.183mph. He hit the concrete wall backwards at the end of turn one, the rear of the #3 then flipping up sending the car into the air for a full somersault before landing back on its wheels. Castroneves walked out of the car and taken to the in-field medical centre, which reported that Castroneves had been checked and evaluated and "was uninjured"; meanwhile his crumpled car was being towed away on a flat bed truck.
"The car was really good and I am very blessed," said Castroneves, who was later able to briefly get back out on track before the chequered flag to shake down a spare car newly built up by the Penske team. "Unfortunately I still do not understand what happened. I got loose in turn one and spun out. The good news is the impact wasn't very strong and the landing was smooth as well.
"In all aspects, I have to say I was very lucky there was no big shunt," he admitted. "The accident was most impressive, but the good news is I am feeling very good. This just set us back one day since it is Wednesday. The good news is we still have Thursday and Friday before qualifying. I'm counting on my guys, my boys, to put the car back together and go back to work."
"It looks like the car got backwards, air got underneath it and the car flipped," said team owner Roger Penske, confirming that the wrecked car would not be used again this week. "Obviously, it got airborne which we were surprised [about].
"We're playing with new areas from the aerodynamic standpoint, and of course, going backwards at that speed, you don't know what kind of lift it had," he admitted. "We'll take a good look at it."
Penske also confirmed that all was well physically with his driver: "He's just resting in there," he said, gesturing at the team's garage area. "Not an issue. No broken bones. Nothing. He's alert. In fact, I talked to him right after he hit the ground. He'll be fine."
Castroneves wasn't the only driver in the wars on Wednesday, with Pippa Mann having a nasty accident late in the afternoon despite having had a generally impressive day getting good speed out of the Dale Coyne #63 entry. However, on her 65th lap of the day the car spun coming out of turn 4 and made rear-end contact with the inside retaining wall before then sliding into the edge of the wall at the entrance to pit lane which snapped the car around like a spinning top back across the track, scattering carbon fibre debris as it went.
Mann was helped out of the car and taken to the in-field care centre where she was checked, released and cleared to drive, although the same couldn't be said about the car which had suffered heavy damage. "I'll have a few bruises, but I'm good," Mann said on Twitter an hour later. "I hate this for my crew guys more than anything."
"Guys in front of me in the big pack checked up and I saw them check up. I got on the brakes, but unfortunately I just got in the gray and made a mistake," she said later. "When you're not in a race car week in and week out, sometimes you make mistakes.
"The car was running great and now they have to go fix a race car. We were having a good day and we had a good race car," she sighed. "I got away with a couple of bruises, but I think my crew chief will have a few more for me when I get back to the garage after that one."
On a more positive note, for the day, James Jakes was back in action on Wednesday after suffering an engine failure on Tuesday, and put in 102 laps in the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports #7 with its new Honda unit after the team installed a new engine overnight. A crew member said it was too bad as the one that had failed was a new engine with only 100 miles or so on it. The newly installed engine will be engine #3 for Jakes with drivers only allowed four for the entire season, with each engine required to run 2500 miles with penalties for early changes.
Practice continues all week, with the next session set for noon on Thursday, May 12 and due to last for six hours in total, weather permitting. Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 will then take place this weekend on Saturday and Sunday, and the race itself is the following week on Sunday May 24.
Trackside reporting by Lynne Huntting of PressSnoop.com.
See full times from practice 3 for the Indianapolis 500.