Practice Report: Grand Prix of Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS May 8, 2014—Practice for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis took place under sunny skies and warm temperatures which was great for opening day.  Fans were able to “sample” the beginning of the historic weekend for free today and many took advantage to do just that.

Drivers Takuma Sato and Martin Plowman had little free time today as they worked together to sort out the No. 14 ABC Supply Honda and the No. 41 Alfe Heat Treating Honda which didn’t appear to enjoy the hot weather as much as the fans.

“The conditions are very different from the open test day so the lap times are significantly down, which  shows how we lost grip from the track because of the temperature,” said Sato. “Temperature always affects your balance and mechanical grip as well. You naturally lose downforce because of the density of the air, obviously cooler is faster. There’s a lot of work to be done as we’re struggling with grip and balance today. The good thing is we have two cars here so we’ll get twice the data, so I think we’ll be able to find our best solution for tomorrow.”

Plowman echoed Sato’s thoughts and was close behind him in track times. Sato ran 31 laps today with his best time – one minute, 11.04 seconds--slotting in at 19th overall. Plowman’s best time after 37 laps was one minute, 11.17 seconds which was 21st overall.

“Not where we want to be when you look at how close the times are, it’s ridiculous how this series is so competitive right now,” said Plowman. “One second covers the whole field I think. Small gains will shift you 10 places forward. We’re fighting a general lack of grip. These hotter conditions cause you to lose downforce because the air is hotter, so we’re trying to find the mechanical grip to replace the downforce that we’re losing. It’s not a balance issue, it’s just an overall grip problem.”

Scott Dixon was the quickest of 25 drivers with a time of one minute, 10.46 seconds. Second through fifth were Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, Will Power and Mikhail Aleshin.

The team will have one more practice session before qualifying tomorrow afternoon. However, the prediction is for rain tomorrow with strong thunderstorms threatening to wash out qualifying.

“For me it’ll be a clean slate because I’ve never driven these cars [DW12 chassis] in the rain,” Plowman said. “Normally I like the rain but only when I’m fast in it. I’ve driven in the rain at Le Mans at night with no lights at 2 in the morning so I’ve got a fair bit of experience of driving in the rain, just not in this car. We’ll see how it goes.”

If qualifying is cancelled, the cars will line up according to the entrant’s point standings, which for Sato would be 15th. Plowman, a rookie with no races run this year and no points, would start in the rear along with Franck Montagny, who is also making his first Verizon IndyCar Series start this weekend.

The Grand Prix of Indianapolis will be televised live Saturday afternoon on ABC-TV starting at 3:30 p.m. ET.