Who’s hurt most by Indy 500’s curtailed build-up


Between pre-event testing and two days of practice for the Indianapolis 500, teams and drivers should have had more than 24 hours of time on their hands by now. But due to bad weather, they have so far managed to stay for less than six hours, and the forecast is expected to intervene again.

We are at a crisis point for some teams and drivers who are desperate to get out on track if they have any hope of winning the Indy 500.

In terms of laps, this year's grid – in addition to the much lower track time – managed 2,933 fewer laps over the same number of days. It's an unbelievable situation.

It shows no sign of improvement either, as while the weather forecast looks friendlier for Thursday, the most important training day of all – Speed ​​Friday – is at high risk of being choppy.

That's when teams get a huge boost of power to prepare for qualifying, and on Speed ​​Friday alone in 2023, teams completed more than twice as many laps than they did during two days of practice (the first day of running was wet) and open testing before then.

Since this is the “month of May” – so-called because training took place throughout the month – this represents a really low amount of track time. However, if you were neutral, this didn't add spice to things!

Below is a summary of the impact of much lower than usual rolls.

Try over-the-air updates

IndyCar's Aero updates would normally be available for open testing in April, but since that has been shortened to less than a few hours, no team will be able to get a proper read on any changes they've made, especially not across multiple track temperatures and conditions. Just like you need to prepare for it in qualifying and the race.

Racer.com has reported a series of parts changes that have not yet been rolled out by IndyCar, but that's not unusual.

Last year a new rear wing strut was introduced which allowed the rear wing angle to increase from two to five degrees. This year, the temperature is nine degrees – the maximum – which will give teams plenty of options in the race.

IndyCar also has what it calls winglets, which are ailerons under the sidewall that are attached to the ground. Last year it introduced a new one, on the side closest to the driver, but it has been dropped for this year.

At the rear of the car, in the diffuser, only the long lines running from top to bottom vertically that were introduced last year are now available, with the decorative lines closer to the frame no longer available.

Wing angle in particular will have a big impact on how a team manages its car setup during the race, so not practicing it could lead to some gambles, big wins and mistakes with less data available than usual.

Kyle Larson and the rookies

The weather really affects Kyle Larson on multiple levels.

Of course, all newbies in this field would struggle with a lack of time to adapt, but Larson has another problem: he can't give up his day job.

The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion is “doubling up,” meaning he will race in Charlotte's 600-mile NASCAR Cup Series race just hours after his run in the Indy 500.

While his NASCAR team Hendrick Motorsports has approved Larson's entry, partnered with McLaren, sponsored the car, and even put together a plane to ferry Larson back and forth from where he needs to go, it's still clear that NASCAR must take priority.

Any kind of delay in rain falling on Larson would be a problem.

His best scenario for qualifying is for him to finish somewhere between 13th and 29th, because that means his spot on the grid is set and then he can focus on the million-dollar NASCAR race being held in North Wilkesboro.

He will likely miss the All Star heat races on Saturday night with IndyCar qualifying, so he will start the All Star race at the back of the field apparently regardless.

If he qualifies in the top 12 or in the Bump Day positions, he will be back for more qualifying on Sunday and that will make getting to the All Star Race a little more difficult.

Then there's the race weekend, where The Race understands that Larson and his family are very eager to be part of Saturday's parade through Indianapolis and to the track. That usually starts around 12 p.m., but there is a NASCAR Cup practice in Charlotte just after 5 p.m. So he has to decide whether to travel from Indy to Charlotte twice on consecutive days.

Last year's race had three red flags and finished right in the window as it was difficult for Larson to get to Charlotte in time for the 600-mile race. So he'll be praying for an uneventful 108th Indy 500 entry.

None of these embarrassing scenarios actually involve any rain. So you can see how the delay affects this effort.

Hendrick, McLaren, Chevrolet and Larson have put a lot behind this and know it's one of the biggest stories in racing history, especially for the North American market where Larson is respected.

If they do well in either race at least, that will be impressive given what they've been through.

Other rookies in the field are also dealing with a year of minor testing as well as the cancellation of this year's Texas race, so no driver raced an oval the weekend before the Indy 500. That's a big ask for rookies in particular.

Five extra sets of tires made running easier in impromptu practices in the rain, but they didn't solve the problem of reduced time on track.

Newgarden crew

After the push-for-pass scandal rocked IndyCar and led to the disqualifications of Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, heads turned on Team Penske and a number of people were suspended.

This included Joseph Newgarden's winning engineer Luke Mason, strategist Tim Cindric (also the head of Team Penske) and chief data engineer Robbie Atkinson. Also participating was Team Penske managing director Ron Rosiewski — a strategist at Will Power — who is out of the Indy 500 race.


Penske submarines

Newgarden car
Jonathan Duguid, strategist
Raul Prados, race engineer

Wheel Power car
John Buslaug, strategist
Paolo Trentini Filho, data engineer


Newgarden worked with Prados at last weekend's Indy GP and knows Diuguid from engineering Scott McLaughlin in 2021, but having a little time to get used to working with these “new” guys isn't the ideal way to prepare to defend an Indy 500 win — or for a team trying to win Racing for the twentieth time.

It may not matter, but if you had the option of getting a new crew with a lot of running, and you had a new crew with very little running, I know what you would choose.

The shock of last year's bump day

Last year, Graham Rahal — who remains certain he should have won the 2021 race, as he was released from the pits with a loose wheel and crashed — was bumped off the grid by Rahal's Letterman Lanigan teammate, Jack. Harvey. For a team that won 2020 with Takuma Sato, it was unforgivable.

The team is more confident this year after discovering several mistakes it made in 2023 — including one that would have been comfortable in the race, which Rahal says he discovered just months after the Indy 500.

Drivers are more convinced that there is speed in their cars, but even so, a bit of proper qualifying preparation would have helped, and on Friday's fast one too.

Sato – who returns to the team this year after leaving at the end of 2021 – at least got some qualifying runs on Wednesday but there were a lot of cars on track which did not happen during Indy 500 qualifying.

Friday's loss will have everyone worried that Rahal might be in the same situation, but this time more due to his inability to check off all the changes he's made since last year, rather than being slow.

Quiet Wednesday drivers

2020 Polesiter Marco Andretti and the driver with the best average finish, Santino Ferrucci, have had a very quiet start to the month.

Ferrucci – who could set new Indy 500 records with a strong finish this year given his impressive record of seventh, fourth, sixth, 10th and third places so far – managed 25 laps, while Andretti made two more.

They were both trying out new setups and either didn't get the track space they needed to properly try out the elements or didn't like them, and because a lot of the big setup changes required going back to the garage area and taking some time, not to mention the intermittent rain on both days, time was limited.

Both drivers need some heavy running on Thursday.





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