Marco Andretti leads first day of Indy 500 practice, Alonso best rookie in 19th

MotorNews.co.nz

The first full day of Indianapolis 500 practice was completed under sunny skies today with Marco Andretti leading the field. The Andretti driver ran a total of 47 laps with a best average speed of 226.338mph, which was nearly a full mile-per-hour faster than P2 Scott Dixon.

The test, in which 1,305 laps were completed by 32 cars, was the first in a week of preparation for Indy 500 qualifying this weekend. All competitors except Buddy Lazier were on track, running anywhere from 75 to just six laps (Charlie Kimball and Gabby Chaves, respectively).

While the test was punctuated by ten yellow flags, just one of those came as a result of a crash. Jack Harvey, a rookie driving for Michael Shank Racing and Andretti Autosport, struck the Turn 2 wall while exiting the pits, long before he had a chance to come up to speed. Early indications were that he lost control on the warm-up lane (on the infield below the track).

On Twitter, Harvey offered little more. “Was coming out of the pitlane in the warm up lane going through T2 and the car just went straight. Being a passenger is the worst!” he tweeted. The Briton was uninjured in the incident, which also appeared to inflict only minor damage to his car.

Many eyes were also on the papaya-orange McLaren of Fernando Alonso today, fresh off of a 12th-place finish at his home Grand Prix yesterday. The two-time Formula 1 World Drivers Champion flew with McLaren CEO Zak Brown to Indianapolis and ran 20 laps on Monday.

At one point the Spaniard was firmly into the top ten, consistently running upper 219mph laps, but a flurry of late runs by others pushed him down to P19.  He would finish with a best speed of 223.025mph.

The earliest part of the day was for fellow rookies to complete their Rookie Orientation Programme, something Alonso finished in 57 minutes during his private test on May 3. The track was also open this morning for non-regular IndyCar competitors to get a refresher of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5 miles of tarmac.

One of those was former 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya. Also an ex-F1 driver, the Colombian finished 12th after 26 laps. This comes off of a moderately successful Grand Prix of Indianapolis on Saturday afternoon where Montoya captured tenth place. It was the first time he had competed in an IndyCar race since last year, at the end of his full-time Penske drive. He was replaced by Josef Newgarden, who finished outside the top 20 today.

After the orientation and refresher session, the field was free to run, with the exception of nine yellow flags throughout the day for track inspections.

Ed Carpenter took a turn up front along with Dixon, but it was a late push by Andretti that knocked the two off the top spot. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has traditionally hosted a yearly resurgence of the third-generation IndyCar driver in what has otherwise been a disappointing last few years.

The 30-year-old came fourth, third and sixth in the 500 since 2013 before a 13th-place finish last year, but he hasn’t won a race in six years. Despite finishing in the top ten in the standings in 2014 and ’15, Andretti only managed P16 last year and is currently 18th after four races in 2017.

Andretti’s time was aided by drafting another car, though, while Dixon’s was not.  Even Alonso’s best time differed by nearly four miles-per-hour over his speed in clean air.

Sébastien Bourdais came fourth behind Carpenter, narrowly ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal. Last Saturday’s race winner, Will Power, was next in seventh, just 0.03 second in front of Tony Kanaan and Mikhail Aleshin. Takuma Sato rounded out the top ten.

Testing continues tomorrow.

Marco Andretti leads first day of Indy 500 practice, Alonso best rookie in 19th

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