Photos courtesy of IMS
Heading to the track for practice
The first day of Time Trials, now known as Pole Day, was the largest attended event during May for the into the early 1990s. An event that once attracted 200,000, making it the second best crowd in sports worldwide, steadily declined into less than 50,000 and that's where it remains.
Carb Day had always been popular among the locals, drawing about 35,000. It was a one-hour final practice, a systems check for the fresh engines that had been installed for the 500 miles, maybe some tire scrubbing and, for those who were Bump Day qualifiers, a chance to work on aerodynamic and mechanical grip. It was traditionally held on Thursday. Why, nobody could figure out. There were no cars on the track Friday or Saturday when the massive crowd was arriving.
In 2005, the light switch went on somewhere at the and they moved Carb Day to Friday. It transformed it into an exciting, fun and entertaining day that attracts somewhere between 75,000 and 100,000, making it the second best attended event of the month. It's now a national event.
Target Chip Ganassi team during the pit stop competition
The practice is still one hour, and the Izod Pit Stop Challenge, which has long been part of Carb Day, is held before packed grandstands from the Pagoda far down the pit lane and a smattering of fans on the outside. They've inserted the Firestone Indy Lights race, 40 laps, 100 miles, between the practice and the pit stop contest, and there's a rock concert to end the day. Lynyrd Skynyrd played Thursday.
Alex Tagliani and Ryan Hunter-Reay cross the bricks
The final practice was serious business. The heat has been rising, into the high 80s on Thursday, headed for 92 or 93 for Sunday's race. It will either tie or break the record, set in 1937, for the hottest race day in Indy 500 history. It was only slightly less on May 30, 1953, when driver Carl Scarborough was relieved by Bob Scott and later died of heat prostration. A total of 10 drivers had to be relieved that day.
Indy cars are very sensitive to temperature at Indianapolis, a few degrees up or down forcing a change of the wing and shock settings to adjust the balance. Thursday was the hottest day of the month and drivers were trying to dial in their as close as possible to what they thought would work on Sunday.
Dario Franchitti was fastest during practice
and Scott Dixon both made statements for the Ganassi team and Honda, running 1-2. Franchitti hit 222.360 mph and ran 42 laps; Dixon hit 222.274 and ran 51. It's the first time the Ganassi team was on top this month. Dixon is starting 15th, Franchitti 16th, in the middle of the 33-car field. They look like more serious threats to win the race now.
Scott Dixon in car
Apparently, Honda has delivered a motor with some extra horsepower for the race.
"The car is real good," explained two-time Indy 500 winner Franchitti. "It would have been nice to have that motor for qualifying. The forecast has been running into the high 90s. We've known that for weeks, so we know what we're going to be setting up for. It's definitely going to be slippery."
Start of Indy Lights race
Argentine Esteban Guerrieri won the Firestone Freedom 100 Indy Lights race, the seventh in 10 for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. The Lights series is producing high-quality drivers. Last year's winner of the race at Indy and the Lights championship, Josef Newgarden, starts 7th in the 500 Sunday.
Scott Dixon and his crew win the Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge
No. 9 team won the pit stop contest for Chip Ganassi Racing. It earned $50,000 and, typically, the crew shares the award. It's a nice bonus.
The next time there will be cars on the track is Sunday, for the 500 most famous miles in racing. There's one car of particular historical interest that will be on the track.
Esteban Guerrieri in Victory Circle
Mario Andretti will take the Duesenberg driven to victory at Indy in 1922 by Jimmy Murphy on a ceremonial lap. That's cool by itself, but it's also the car Murphy drove to victory in the 1921 Grand Prix at . It was the forerunner of the Formula 1 championship. It was a win by an American in an American car, just like Dan Gurney with his Eagle at Spa in 1967.
Cars on the track at Indy
In 1921, the French organizers decided to try to lure some American teams to the French Grand Prix by adapting the rules for the Indy 500. They were simple: a 3-liter engine and a 1760-lb. weight limit. Murphy's car was powered by a Duesenberg Straight-8. When Murphy won Indy the next year, the Duesenberg had the famous Miller engine.
The celebration of Indy's history is always a part of the prerace pageantry. Later Sunday, more history will be made.