Fast Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
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Fast Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Fast Friday sets the stage, but Mother Nature could be Saturday’s biggest story

By Corey Elliot
Saturday’s Bump Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway won’t lack drama, nor will it fall short of delivering excitement and suspense. For the first time since 2011, qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 are going to send drivers home.

Simply put, with 35 entrants vying for 33 spots, Bump Day will actually include – you guessed it – bumping.

But the biggest question heading into Saturday has less to do with speeds and the field of 33 and more to do with a giant question mark looming in the minds of every team, driver and fans: is the weather going to allow track activity?

Fast Friday arrived with similar concerns, but the rain managed to hold off and the track stayed busy for most of the afternoon.

Marco Andretti took advantage of the opportunities and put together the fastest lap on Friday, reaching 231.802 mph. But if there’s anyone who understands tough luck and hardships at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it’s the Andrettis. The month of May can be just as unforgiving as it is rewarding.

After Fast Friday came to a close, one of the first observations Andretti made was his understanding of how up-and-down the month can be. On Thursday, Graham Rahal turned one of the fastest laps of the day. On Friday, Rahal was the 33rd fastest driver. Things can change quickly around 16th and Georgetown.

“It is very important to win the race, but the month is a rollercoaster. If there’s one thing I learned in my 13 years here it’s that you have to be prepared for the roller coaster,” Andretti said after receiving a $10,000 check for being Friday’s fastest driver.

On Friday, Andretti benefited from the draft on the track that’s created by traffic from multiple cars. Andretti acknowledged that his Andretti Autosport machine is on the fringe of making the Fast Nine and having a shot at the pole on Sunday. Penske Racing’s Will Power turned Friday’s fastest lap without the tow at 229.780.

“The car is fast in the tow. But I’m not sure how fast it is on its own. We’re going to have to absolutely nail (set up) in order to get in (the Fast Nine),” Andretti said.

Fast Friday’s fastest six with the tow looked like this: Andretti, rookie Robert Wickens, Ed Carpenter, Oriol Servia, Power and Sebastien Bourdais.

Wickens, who is the teammate of fellow Canadian James Hinchcliffe, has been one of the most consistent drivers this season. Wickens was less than five laps from winning the opening race of the season at St. Petersburg, and he gave Penske’s Josef Newgarden a strong challenge at Phoenix before Newgarden took the lead from Wickens with less than 20 laps to go.

To nobody’s surprise, Wickens is catching on quickly at Indianapolis and has positioned himself as a threat to be the first rookie to win the Indy 500 since Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi did it in 2016.

“Honestly, I have such a good team around me that they’re kind of preparing me for everything. I’ve never felt out of my comfort zone,” Wickens said after practice ended on Fast Friday. “It’s been a good day, but I’ve been fortunate to have a pretty good car underneath me (all month). We have a lot of work to do, but tomorrow is the time to show it.”

Wickens and each of the other 34 entrants will be a part of a unique new format at IMS, the likes of which we’ve never seen. On Saturday, after each car has attempted to qualify for the Indy 500, teams will be allowed to withdraw their time and re-attempt their four-lap qualifying run. With Mother Nature throwing her hand into the mix, withdrawing a qualifying run could be a massive gamble. If a run is withdrawn and rain comes, that driver may not have a chance to qualify before the track closes, effectively failing to make the field of 33.

“Hopefully things work out weather wise,” Andretti said. “I think (bumping) is cool. It wasn’t fun being a part of it in 2011. But I know the fans will enjoy it.”

Saturday’s track activity will secure the field of 33. On Sunday, positions 10 through 33 will qualify again before the top nine drivers battle it out for the pole position.

Emptying the notebook

  • James Davison’s accident in the turn two wall during practice on Friday puts his team in a tough predicament heading into Saturday. Davison’s team will now have to scramble to repair his car for Saturday’s qualifications. Davison was cleared by IMS medical staff and said he has a sore knee from the crash but will be good to go on Saturday.

  • Scott Dixon’s wife, Emma Davies Dixon, tweeted that Dixon was limited in practice on Friday and didn’t turn very many laps do to a migraine. Dixon, who won the 2008 Indy 500, was last year’s pole sitter.

  • Danica Patrick was 20th on the speed chart during Fast Friday, with her quickest lap logged at 228.284

  • Jack Harvey was the slowest driver on Friday. Based on Friday’s practice, both Harvey and Davison would fail to make the field of 33.

Saturday, May 19th at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

  • 7:00am – Public Gates Open

  • 7:00am – 06:00pm – IMS Midway Open

  • 8:00am – 08:30am – Indianapolis 500 Group 1 Practice

  • 8:30am – 09:00am – Indianapolis 500 Group 2 Practice

  • 8:30am – 10:30am – 500 Festival Breakfast at the Brickyard

  • 9:00am – 09:30am – Indianapolis 500 Practice ALL drivers

  • 11:00am – 05:50pm – Indianapolis 500 Qualifications (Positions 1-9 Advance to Fast 9)

  • 6:00pm – Public Gates Close

Corey Elliot is a freelance journalist who is an accredited member of the media.