Indy 500 practice helps drivers prepare for race conditions

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INDIANAPOLIS – Busy but welcome.

That’s how some of the 33 drivers described today’s next-to-last practice before the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

The session offered the best opportunity to simulate a full race as any of the previous five practice sessions, and drivers took full advantage. All 33 cars participated; combined, they accumulated 2,705 laps on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s demanding 2.5-mile oval.

“You want to make sure you’ve got a car for the race,” said Max Chilton, who recorded the fastest lap of the session. “The last five days have been sort of focused on qualifying. It’s nice to get back in and get re-tuned for what really matters.”

101st INDIANAPOLIS 500: Practice 8 results; Combined practice results

Drivers will have one more hour-long practice Friday morning on Miller Lite Carb Day, but today’s session was the closest they’ll get to a full rehearsal of Sunday’s race. At times, it was wild, with cars going three-wide in the stretches and passing in turns.

“It depends on which drivers you’re around,” Chilton said. “Certain drivers act in certain ways. … It gives you a chance to learn and see what other people are up to and how your car is doing. In certain groups, I thought my car wasn’t working well. In other groups, you think, ‘Oh, we’re fine.’”

Chilton’s best lap was 228.592 mph in the No. 8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. He also was one of the busiest drivers of the session, turning 108 laps. Only Jack Harvey (124), Fernando Alonso (122), Helio Castroneves (121), Charlie Kimball (119) and Will Power (109) had more laps than Chilton.

In his second year with the Verizon IndyCar Series, Chilton says he’s still learning the ways of IMS and the 500.

“I still feel like I’m a rookie,” said Chilton, who finished 15th last year as a rookie. “I’m still learning a lot every time I get on the track. It’s the case with anything. (Teammates) Tony (Kanaan) and Scott (Dixon) have been in this 15 or 20 years, and they’re still learning. Tony says every year he treats it like he’s never been in one because it’s always so different. I get what he means.”  

One expected development in the session was the return to speed by Team Penske after a surprisingly poor showing in qualifying. Last year’s series champion, Simon Pagenaud, who will start 23rd in the 500, had the fastest lap by a Chevrolet driver in today’s session – 226.998 mph. That was fourth-best overall.

“We didn’t have the speed last week at all to compete,” Pagenaud said. “It was very unfortunate and a bit of a mystery, but the mystery is with Indianapolis sometimes. That’s what makes this place so legendary.”

The session also marked the first run for James Davison, who replaced Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing GEICO Honda. Bourdais sustained multiple fractures in his pelvis and a fractured right hip Saturday in a crash during qualifying.

Driving a road-course car that’s served as a backup to Bourdais’ primary car, Davison proceeded with caution as he recorded the 28th-fastest lap of the day (223.670 mph).

“We knew we weren’t going to be particularly quick, but we just needed to try to get the car to handle well with a lot of cars in front of us,” Davison said. “We’re all aware of what our situation is here. It’s obviously very compromised. We’ve just got to do the best we can with it and keep the car in one piece. There are no other spares, anything like that. There are no excuses for doing anything negligent.”

The session went without a crash, but Oriol Servia’s engine in the No. 16 Manitowoc Honda failed early in the day. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver didn’t return to the track.

“It’s never fun to blow an engine,” Servia said. “It’s a little worrying, but the good news is that I’ll just a fresh one – and I wasn’t supposed to get a fresh one – for the race. I talked to some Honda friends and I said, ‘Just give me the best one, please.’”

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