It rained overnight at Indianapolis Motor Speedway leading to a delay in getting the final half-hour warm-up practice session underway on Saturday morning ahead of over six hours of official qualifying time for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500.
CLICK: Full times from practice 6 for the Indianapolis 500.
Unfortunately the showers kept on coming - not enough to seriously threaten losing the track and rarely more than a few minutes at a time, but enough to cause brief hold-ups for track drying and clean-up and ultimately to cause an early end to the one-hour practice session.
The drivers had been split into two groups for the session to avoid overcrowding and traffic problems on the two-and-a-half mile oval. The first group got its full allotted hare of the session, but the second group lost ten minutes because of the fickle weather.
Penske's Helio Castroneves, showing no signs of any ill-effects from his mid-week aerial excursion, was in that second group. Yet despite losing a third of the practice time the three-time Indy 500 winner showed that he was more than ready for the day's work ahead as he recorded a lap of 38.5482s (233.474mph) to go top of the timesheets albeit with the help of an aerodynamic tow down the long straights.
That's the fastest lap since Eddie Cheever Jr.'s hit 236.103mph in the 1996 race, the same year that Arie Luyendyk set the long standing one- and four-lap qualifying records (237.260mph and 237.498mph) that still stand to this day.
Penske drivers occupied four of the top five positions. The cuckoo in the next was the presence of CFH Racing's JR Hildebrand in second position with a lap of 232.985mph, 0.0809s behind Castroneves. After him came Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsport's James Hinchcliffe in sixth place the fastest of the Honda runners.
Saturday morning's cooler conditions saw 11 cars exceed the week's previous best top speed of 230.698mph set by Pagenaud on Friday. In total, 19 drivers managed to top the 230mph mark on Saturday morning, showing that everyone had their full qualifying set-up in place and ready to go for today's session which will see 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 lap. First man to head out on track will be Dale Coyne Racing's Carlos Huertas.
However the Saturday outcome does not set the grid, but sets up three distinct groups that will fight for position on Sunday's session. Those finishing Saturday in positions 10 through 30 will fight over rows four through ten from 10.15am through to 12.15pm on Sunday, while the bottom four today will be left to fight for a place on the back row from 12.45pm until 1.30pm. Sunday's action will climax with the Fast 9 pole shoot-out from 2pm until 2.45pm.
With only 33 grid spots available for the race and 34 cars entered, one driver will be ending their Indy 500 early tomorrow. The money looks to be on Buddy Lazier in the #91 Wynn Iowa Visio Research Lazier Racing Chevrolet, who continues to be the driver in the most jeopardy on what used to be called Bump Day. His fastest time in or out of a tow on Saturday morning was 225.890mph, pitting him over a second off the next-slowest time of Bryan Clauson in the #88 KVSH Racing/Jonathan Byrd's Racing Chevy.
In 2014, Ed Carpenter took his second consecutive Indy 500 pole with a four-lap average speed of 231.076mph. In total, 11 drivers have taken back-to-back pole positions for the race, but none have made it hat-trick so Carpenter is bidding for a place in the record books today.
Twenty drivers have won from the pole, most recently Castroneves in 2009 when he claimed his fourth pole and went on to his third Indy 500 title. If he wins again this year then he'll join the select ranks of AJ Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only four-time winners in the event's history.
The 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 itself will get the green flag on Sunday May 24.
See full times from practice 6 for the Indianapolis 500.