Simon Pagenaud finished Friday's one-hour engine shakedown practice session with the best laptime of the 33 card and drivers, after the Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsport driver completed a circuit of the 2.5-mile superspeedway at an average speed of 225.827mph.

That put him less than a tenth of a second ahead of Andretti AutoSport duo EJ Viso and Ryan Hunter-Reay, in a session intended to allow teams to check whether their newly-installed race engines have been fitted correctly and are fit for purpose for Sunday's 97th running of the Indianapolis 500.

In a positive sign for Honda, which was comprehensively beaten in last week's qualifying weekend, five of the remainder of the top ten on Friday were from their line-up with Scott Dixon (Ganassi) in fourth, his team mate Dario Franchitti in sixth ahead of James Jakes (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), Katherine Legge (Schmidt-Petersen Motorsport) in eighth and Alex Tagliani (Bryan Herta Autosport) in tenth.

"Honda has done a lot of work before qualifying and after qualifying," confirmed Pagenaud. "Honda's racing mentality is to go racing and that's exactly what they're doing. They provided us with an engine that is clearly a lot better, so it's a good sign for the race."

The other Chevrolet runners in the top ten on Friday were Dragon Racing's Sebastian Bourdais in fifth and Marco Andretti in ninth.

Drafting (or 'tow') practice dominated the time the cars spent on track, especially in a fast and furious final 15 minutes. Indy 500 pole sitter Ed Carpenter seemed content to take a leisurely approach to proceedings and ended up 17th.

"We were going to run 20 to 25 laps today. The car felt good so we did a couple of pit stops and parked the Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet after 18 laps," Carpenter explained afterwards. "It would have been fun to go out and play longer but it isn't necessary. The smart thing to do is just put the car away and prepare for Sunday."

Andretti's super-star rookie Carlos Munoz had Dale Coyne Racing's Ana Beatriz run into the back of his car at pit entry during the session, while Ganassi's Ryan Briscoe suffered a small engine fire at the end of the session which needed to be doused by a safety team out on the backstretch of the track.

Competition Committee members announced

Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles and incoming IndyCar President of Operations and Competition Derrick Walker revealed the inaugural line-up of the new IZOD IndyCar Series competition committee this week, in a press conference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Thursday.

Walker will chair the committee which will also comprise Honda's Roger Griffiths and his Chevrolet counterpart Chris Berube, as well as Dallara's head of R&D Andrea Toso and Firestone's Dale Harrigle.

Dario Franchitti and Ryan Hunter-Reay will be the driver representatives, and Penske Racing president Tim Cindric and Bryan Herta Autosport's Bryan Herta will represent the team owners. Rounding off the committee will be IndyCar's senior vice-president of operations Brian Barnhart, and vice president of technology Will Phillips.

Walker also said that it was is job to ensure that IndyCar as once again setting the pace in innovation and raw speed in motor racing.

"In a way, we're going back to the future," he said. "Indy cars have always been about innovation and speed, and our goal is to open the door for that again. We'll start with our current car platform and give our teams and suppliers more ability to affect how they race. We always have to be mindful of costs, but that doesn't mean we can't manage improvements to create more exciting racing and at the same time do it safely."

Speed records at Indianapolis have remained static since Arie Luyendyk set the current benchmark of 237.498mph in qualifying 17 years ago.

"By managing improvements in certain components, speeds will gradually increase, and we could break the Indianapolis Motor Speedway track record by our 100th running in 2016," added Miles.

Zanardi presentation

Earlier in the day, former IndyCar driver Alex Zanardi received a special presentation on the front stretch of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the world-famous yard of bricks at the start-finish straight. (See separate story.)

His former team boss Chip Ganassi gave Zanardi the Reynard 96I/Honda Indy car in which the Italian won the final race of the 1996 season at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca after pulling off a risky move on race leader Bryan Herta.

"It was a very special moment and special because it happened at Indy after such a long time since I joined this environment," said Zanardi, who went on to win CART titles in 1997 and '98. "The car does not have an engine so what I can do is sit in it and struggle with my fantasies of the days driving.

"When you accomplish something that is very special, it will stay forever," he added. "I can't more than three steps before I get recognized and stopped by somebody and welcomed and cheered by fans. It's fantastic. I just came here to enjoy a great race Sunday."

Double-header qualifying format set

IndyCar has announced that the starting grid for the second race of its three double-header events at Detroit, Toronto and Houston will be decided in two groups running for 12 minutes, rather than the original one session of 30 minutes previously planned.

Group 1 will be for those cars that finished the previous day's practice in odd-numbered positions, and Group 2 for the even-numbered finishers. Times from the two groups will be combined to form the overall grid. The grid for the first race of the double headers will follow the usual three-round format seen at road and street course events.

"Splitting qualifications for the second race will give a premium to the amount of track time available to each competitor," said IndyCar's race director Beaux Barfield. "It will improve the ability for competitors to get a clean lap and post a true lap time."

Iowa sponsor named

The presenting sponsor of next month's Iowa Corn Indy 250 will be sponsored by Monsanto's DEKALB brand of seed corn when it takes place at Iowa Speedway in Newton on June 23.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to work closely with the Iowa Corn Growers Association and Iowa Speedway, as well as feature the DEKALB brand's commitment to powerful innovation and performance," stated Jason Hoag, DEKALB Brand Lead.


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