The final day of Indy 500 practice before qualifying is known as "Fast Friday" - and for good reason. Not only have the teams all fitted the new engines they intend to start the race with, manufacturers are also allowed to increase turbocharger boost pressure from 130 kPa to 140 kPa to generate more horsepower and higher speeds than earlier in the week, track conditions permitting.
Sure enough, Ganassi trio Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Sage Karam together with Andretti Autosport's Marco Andretti all quickly went to the top of the timesheets with speeds in excess of 230mph early in the six-hour session, while the Penske contingent left it relatively late to show their hands.
When they did, it was worth waiting for: Simon Pagenaud duly shot to the top of the times for the second day running with a little under half an hour remaining. His lap of 39.0121s (230.698mph) was the fastest time of the week, 0.0072s quicker than the lap recorded by Dixon. The Frenchman's speed compares with last year's pole effort of 231.076mph set by Ed Carpenter, which was the second year running that he had clinched the top spot for the Indy 500.
CLICK: Full times from practice 5 for the Indianapolis 500.
"I don't feel like I'm the favourite," insisted Pagenaud in the end-of-day media interviews. "The whole team is doing well. But there are lots of factor tomorrow – temperature, qualifying draw number, which aero number for the temperature. Goal is to be in the Fast Nine, and then try for the pole Sunday.
"It was a very good day. Tonight we four drivers are discussing everything for tomorrow. Once we knew Helio was okay [after Wednesday's accident] we moved on. His accident didn't set us back at all.
“Definitely the wind was quite difficult in turn two," Pagenaud added. "Very unpredictable sometimes. Turn four was right on the nose. Unpredictability is sometimes difficult in the car. I had to look at the track wind socks each lap. If it's colder, we can trim the car more. If it's this warm tomorrow, it will be 230.6mph. If it's colder Saturday, maybe you'll see a 233mph. Today was warm, windy and greasy, so I'm not surprised speeds weren't faster."
Pagenaud's team mate and the reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power also ended the day with a time of 39.0954s (230.206mph) to finish fifth just ahead of Karam whose lap of 39.1022s (230.161mph) was still fractionally faster than the previous high water mark set by Carlos Munoz on Wednesday. The Colombian was only 14th fastest on Friday.
"The Verizon Chevy ran well today, despite the heat as it took us a bit by surprise," said Power. "We did a backtrack and have a better understanding of what to run. We'll take another good look at everything tonight for tomorrow. But overall, we feel comfortable with the way we ended the day."
"We knew that early in the morning or late in the afternoon would be the best conditions," contributed Karam. "In the middle there, you didn't see a lot of track running just because of the wind and how hot the track was. It was very slippery.
"In qualifying trim in general, the cars are very sketchy," he noted. "Every lap I was out there, I felt like I was going to crash. Tomorrow's going to be the longest five laps of my life. The car is really, really fast, but it's on edge. I think we have a good shot at the Fast Nine, which is the goal."
Bryan Herta Autosport's Gabby Chaves just missed out on topping the 230mph mark and was seventh fastest of the day ahead of Helio Castroneves (Penske), Takuma Sato (AJ Foyt Racing) and Juan Pablo Montoya in the final Penske entry rounding out the top ten on a day with no significant incidents, the only cautions during the six-hour session being for routine track cleaning and debris recovery.
"I think we had a very positive day today," said Chaves. "We made some good changes. The car was working well. It's definitely been the hardest day out there for me. I think here, today, tomorrow and Sunday will be the hardest days. I think once we get back to race trim downforce configurations it will be a lot easier.
"I think the track conditions weren't very favourable," he added. "Very strong winds. The track was very greasy, as well and it definitely made for some tough times out there. But I was very happy with the car. We made great progress all day. Made some good changes that allowed me to post some quick speeds."
Unusually for the final day of practice there was still a considerable amount of experimentation between the teams when it came to car set-up and configuration, especially relating to the new oval-specification aerodynamic bodywork components. There was much early focus on the Chevrolet one-piece low-drag sidepods being sported by the Penske cars, while over at Honda the Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports team was toying with the idea of replacing some aero parts on Conor Day's car with equivalents from last year's standard-issue Dallara kit. Overall it seemed that all teams were having their work cut out for them as they strove to work out which combination of parts and settings to go for to achieve optimal performance.
Lynne Huntting of PressSnoop.com reports from trackside on the fourth day of official practice at the two-and-a-half mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway:
The weather turned changeable on Friday morning, sunny and warm with no breeze at seven in the morning but a rainbow over the grandstands hinting at something wicked this way coming on the horizon. Sure enough, a split-second hit-and-run shower passed overhead, catching out Ganassi's Tony Kanaan who was out for an early morning training ride on his bicycle and getting soaked for his pains. Fortunately that was it as far as the rain was concerned - forecast storms ended up bypassing the area today - and the rest of the day was equal parts sunny and grey and increasingly hot. The most notable feature of the day was once again the wind: it picked up from different directions at different times, and ebbed and flowed in intensity leaving the flags over the Panasonic Pagoda looking very confused indeed. As a result there were fewer early heading out on track during the afternoon than might usually be expected for the last day before qualifying.
In the CFH Racing garage, the crew for Josef Newgarden's #21 Century 21 Chevrolet was back at work early after having stayed to 11pm the previous evening, busy finishing building up the the backup car for Newgarden to take out on track for 52 laps in the afternoon after his primary car was wrecked in a scary aerial flip after a spin caused by a puncture on Thursday. No one who saw the crumpled state of the Newgarden's wrecked car yesterday will be surprised by the verdict from a CFH team member that it is "junk - it will make a good showcar ... someday."
"The guys did an amazing job," said Newgarden. "They prepared another car really quickly and got us ready to go. We've been out here today just getting up to speed and we are relatively back in the game.
"Qualifying will be tricky because it's slippery when it's hot," he pointed out. "Looking at the heat, I think whoever draws the first spot is going to be the luckiest guy. It's only going to get worse as the temperature comes up so you want to draw early if anything.
"I like the Fast 9 and obviously you want to get into the fast on Saturday and go for the shootout for the pole on Sunday. We got a lot of good data today, as did my teammates, so I'm looking forward to tomorrow."
The Dale Coyne Racing team was also hard at work getting Pippa Mann's #63 car ready for the driver to get out on track today for the first time since her spin on Wednesday. DCR has just one backup car for all three entries, and since the #63 didn't suffer fundamental structural damage in its three-wall impact the team has opted to repair the primary. Mann was eventually able to take the car out for six shakedown laps toward the end of the day once the repairs were complete.
"Words cannot describe how proud I am of the Dale Coyne Racing crew for getting this car built and getting us back out on track today for an install lap and a shakedown," said Mann at day's end. "I'm so thankful to them for all the work that went into this and it is so great for us to have that baseline going into tomorrow for the qualifying effort. I am hopeful going into tomorrow that I'll have a strong qualifying effort."
Qualifying for the Indianapolis 500 will now take place this weekend on Saturday and Sunday. Drivers have a half hour pre-qualifying warm-up practice (with the cars split into two groups to avoid problems with traffic) before qualifying starts at 11am local time and continues through to 5.50pm. Cars take it in turn to run four laps (plus a warm-up and cool-down lap) in pre-determined random draw order, with the four-lap aggregate speed taken as their posted qualifying effort.
The Saturday outcome determines which nine cars will fight it out in the Fast 9 battle over the first three rows. However it does not set the actual order at this point, which instead happens on Sunday. Positions 10 through 30 will be determined from 10.15am through to 12.15pm, while the final row compromising positions 31-33 will be decided from 12.45pm until 1.30pm. Finally the Fast 9 will determine who wins pole from 2pm until 2.45pm.
The 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 itself will get the green flag on Sunday May 24.
Additional trackside reporting by Lynne Huntting of PressSnoop.com.
See full times from practice 5 for the Indianapolis 500.