Marco Andretti posted the quickest lap on Fast Friday in his No. 98 Andretti Herta Autosport Honda, recording a 233.491mph with the help of an aerodynamic tow early in the 6.5-hour session.
The focus on the day, however, was running without a tow as teams received qualifying turbocharger boost – approximately 700hp – to prepare for this weekend’s run for pole position at the Indianapolis 500.
Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly shadowed Andretti by going second fastest in the No. 47 Chevy (232.337mph), but like Friday’s leader, the lap was produced with a tow, and during the cooler opening hour. As temperatures rose throughout the day towards undeniably hot conditions, the late morning speeds set by Andretti and Daly went unchallenged as teams actively avoided placing their drivers in a tow.
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“It’s been steady, as far as pace goes,” Andretti said. “And that’s the number one hurdle when you think about qualifying. The U.S. Concrete boys gave me a good car, and that’s all you can ask for. And tomorrow the goal is to be top nine. So, the first thing you need is speed, and from there, we just need to put the four laps together. But we have the luxury of speed, so we’ve got to put the four laps together now.”
On the all-important no-tow list, which gives an accurate representation of individual qualifying speeds without an aerodynamic draft, Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest on the day (232.124mph) in his No. 28 Honda.
“This morning we were pretty dialed in,” the 2014 Indy 500 winner said. “This afternoon has been pretty difficult for everybody. I think we found a pretty good balance on that run, but we just lost a little bit of speed. So it’s anybody’s guess now. This morning’s car was hooked up, though.”
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon was second (232.027mph) among no-tows, and behind the championship leader, Andretti’s Alexander Rossi (231.859mph) was third in the No. 27 Honda, Marco Andretti was fourth (231.754mph), Ganassi’s Marcus Ericsson was fifth (231.488mph) in the No. 8 Honda, and Andretti’s James Hinchcliffe was sixth (231.397mph).
Adding to the theme, Andretti’s Zach Veach was seventh in the No. 26 Honda (231.190mph), and the Andretti-affiliated Meyer Shank Racing No. 60 Honda piloted by Jack Harvey (230.970mph) was eighth. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing with Citrone/Buhl’s Spencer Pigot was ninth (230.898mph) in the No. 45 Honda, and in 10th, the first Chevrolet representative, A.J. Foyt Racing’s Charlie Kimball, capped the top 10 (230.861mph) in his No. 4 entry.
If there was one big takeaway from the final preparations for qualifying, it was the large disparity in speed between the Honda and Chevy camps. The motors prepared by Honda Performance Development captured the top nine no-tow speeds, and added RLLR’s Takuma Sato in 11th, to couch Chevy’s Kimball in 10th and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden in 12th.
“We got to be realistic in looking at our speeds from a no-tow, pure lap pace,” Newgarden said of his No. 1 Chevy. “I think top 10 is going to be a fight, but we’re going to fight with the Shell car.”
In the heat of the day, drivers made performed more four-lap qualifying simulations, and while speeds were predictably slower, Hunter-Reay and others were still able to register laps in the 230-231mph range. With the draw for qualifying taking place shortly after practice concluded, drivers were praying for low numbers, which would send them out in the earlier, cooler ambient conditions predicted for Saturday.
As Friday’s late afternoon runs demonstrated, a high lottery draw could make qualifying inside the Fast Nine – which gets locked in on Saturday and gives those nine drivers a shot at the pole on Sunday – little more than a formality.
“I think tomorrow’s going to be pretty similar (with heat),” Hunter-Reay said. “Unfortunately, it’s going to come down to the lottery of picking the right number. If you pick early and go at 11 a.m., it’s going to be a totally different race track than the guys that go later at 2:30. Hopefully we can pick a low number. Now it’s down to Lady Luck.”
According to IndyCar, Andretti’s 233.491mph lap was the best delivered on Fast Friday since 1996, when Arie Luyendyk managed a lap of 239.260mph in his Reynard-Cosworth that went on to set the qualifying record average of 236.986mph.
Of additional interest with Andretti’s top lap, he posted the fastest Turn 3 trap speed in the No. 98 Honda, using the tow and high boost to generate 239.725mph before turning into the corner. In 2019, on medium boost, Conor Daly hit the highest speed entering Turn 3 in his No. 25 Andretti Autosport Honda with a 237.361mph peak.