INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti are getting dialed in at Indianapolis.
Actually, the whole Andretti Autosport team is finding speed on this historic 2.5-mile oval.
Hunter-Reay, the 2012 IndyCar champ, and Andretti, the 2006 Indy runner-up, claimed the top two spots in Indianapolis 500 practice Monday.
“It’s nice leading practice. It’s a nice little consolation prize,” Hunter-Reay said after turning a fast lap of 225.025 mph. “I wish it paid. I was out there pushing like it was paying.”
The real dividends could come this weekend, when the pole winner will determined in a new two-day qualifying format, and the next. The 500 is scheduled to be run May 25.
But it wasn’t just the two American Andretti drivers doing well.
Colombia’s Carlos Munoz, last year’s Indy runner-up, was sixth on the speed chart at 223.172. Kurt Busch, the 2004 Cup champ who is attempting “the double” was 10th fastest at 222.770.
EJ Viso followed Sunday’s impressive season debut by locking up the No. 11 spot at 222.695. Viso is driving the No. 27 Honda while full-time driver James Hinchcliffe continues to recover from a concussion.
Hunter-Reay and Andretti – the only drivers to top 224 this week – insisted those were not inflated speeds, either.
“I did that one by myself,” Hunter-Reay said, explaining there was no tow.
“Mine, too,” Andretti said.
If true, the two-team battle that’s played out over the first two days of practice could resurface in qualifying.
Roger Penske’s drivers swept the top three spots in Sunday’s opening practice. Three-time race winner Helio Castroneves of Brazil was third Monday at 223.635 and 2000 Indy champ Juan Pablo Montoya of Colombia was fifth at 223.395.
“I think everybody is getting draft so that they understand what their car is doing in traffic,” Castroneves said. “But at this point, the name of the game is the same for everyone. We’re just trying to put some mileage, especially on the engine and go for it.”
Here are five more notable things about Monday’s practice.
TWO CLEAN: The first two days of 500 practice have looked nothing like the crash-marred Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Nobody has hit the wall, and Ed Carpenter is the only one who seems to have had any trouble at all. He pulled off the track with 72 minutes left in Monday’s practice session because his car was smoking. Afterward, Carpenter simply noted there were some “issues” with the car. He did not elaborate.
WINNERS STRUGGLE: So far, Simon Pagenaud’s road-course momentum hasn’t translated into much on the oval. The first Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner is ranked 14th overall with a best lap of 221.862. But on Monday, he still finished ahead of 1995 Indy champ Jacques Villeneuve (23rd at 221.101). Defending champion Tony Kanaan and defending series champ Scott Dixon both posted slower speeds, too, but those came in their backup cars. The primary cars for Kanaan and Dixon were 12th and 10th.
RACE AGAINST THE RAIN: Perhaps the most interesting angle to watch this week will be strategy. Drivers are worried about the potential for rain Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. If that happens it could really force teams to scramble Friday. And because pole qualifying will be held both Saturday and Sunday, teams may have to spend more time working on qualifying setup than race setup. One saving grace: Organizers added a practice session next Monday to help teams prepare for the May 25 race.
BALLARD COMES BACK: Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard returned to the track Monday and showed reporters the ramifications of what happened at the start of Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Ballard was struck in the arm by debris following the scary crash when the race started. The former Marine had a bruise on the inside of his elbow joint and cuts on the elbow but no other discernible injuries. Ballard is a big fan of the Indianapolis 500 and is expected to attend next week’s NFL owners meetings in Atlanta as the city bids for a second Super Bowl.
BULLDOG ADDITION: Butler University is again backing one of its school’s alums. Carpenter will reveal the new decal that will appear on his helmet and the No. 20 Chevrolet on Tuesday. That partnership has become a regular feature in May. Carpenter, who owns his team, is racing only on ovals this season. Last year’s pole-winner took his first laps in an IndyCar in seven months Sunday. On Monday, he was 27th out of the 30 cars on the track with a fast lap of 219.647.