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INS-N-OUTS OF EARLY PRACTICE DAYS

by
Jeff Olson
| May 17, 2011

 

As opening days go, this one was fairly routine, right down to the rain. The bigger teams rolled out their T-cars first, performing typical first-day shakedowns and completing checklists. The biggest surprises were some of the names at the top of the speed chart at the end of the day – Ed Carpenter and J.R. Hildebrand among them – but to those who’ve been paying attention, they really weren’t that surprising at all.

After all, Carpenter is one of the best oval specialists in the IZOD IndyCar Series, and Hildebrand’s Panther Racing has a proven track record at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Carpenter shrugged off his P1 status on opening day, simply calling it a “fun day.”

But then it was back to rain, which also wiped out Sunday’s practice and portions of Tuesday’s session. But that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing for some of the one-off participants. For drivers like Tomas Scheckter, rain keeps the full-time competition from getting too far ahead.“We're about seven (sets of tires) behind what the full-time guys get,” Scheckter explained, “so for us, rain is good because it doesn't allow them to get so much more running in than what I would.”

Rain and how much practice time it erases is as much a part of the strategic realm at Indianapolis as the number of caution periods during the race. With tire allotments and engine miles under close scrutiny, teams guard their practice hours like gold bullion. If sunshine is limited this week, every second of dry time will be useful. If sunshine is plenty, teams will pick and choose their track time carefully.

For most everyone, though, it was good to be back, perhaps even a touch nerve-wracking: “This place is one that you always have to treat with respect,” Oriol Servia said on opening day. “I had all sorts of nightmares last night because I think I was nervous. But the car felt great from the first lap. It's a great place to be."

Others had mechanical issues to sort out and never made it for Saturday’s three available hours: “We don't want to rush it,” Townsend Bell said while sitting in the garage. “We want to make sure we have the absolute best piece possible. It's hard for a driver to sit on a day like today, but we'll be ready to go.”

For some, there were nerves. “You're always a little antsy going into that first run to see what performance level you have,” Alex Lloyd said. “We were a little more aggressive today than we have in past years, and that goes down to my experience. I was flat out within a couple of laps, and before it would take a couple of runs before I could go flat out.”

Still more strategies abound. Some, like Alex Tagliani and his Sam Schmidt Motorsports team, chose to intentionally sit out the first day to allow the track to gain some rubber. With tires at a premium, the thought goes, why waste them on a green track? The strategy worked, as Tags was fastest when things dried out Monday.

Sometimes it's better to wait for a little bit of rubber,” he said. “Not because it's quicker but because the track is not going to burn tires so quickly.”

Then, of course, came the rain, which left most drivers with little to do on Sunday and Tuesday. Some, like Tony Kanaan, went to social networking to fill the void, entertaining his Twitter followers and Facebook fans with photos and quips.

And there was this Tweet gem from Servia to Will Power, retweeting the DalaiLama (yeah, the DalaiLama is on Twitter): <i> Hey @12WillPower RT @DalaiLama In situations that are difficult and challenging, patience helps maintain your will power and can sustain you. <i/>

Patience and sustenance. What a way to sum up the first few days of practice for the 100th anniversary Indy 500.

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