INDY 500 - Final Practice, Sorting Out Race Trim, Wickens Whacks Wall
INDIANAPOLIS -RIS- (May 21, 2018) Busy afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as the final full practice for next Sunday's 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500-Mile Race took place.
With qualifying complete, the 33 cars and drivers qualified for the event had three hours to shake their cars down with normal engine boost and race day trim.
The day's sole incident came early in the practice session as rookie Robert Wickens in the #6 Schmidt-Peterson Lucas Oil Honda brushed the outside wall exiting Turn 2. As Wickens attempted to collect the car, it smacked again into the outside wall, resulting in some significant damage to the right side of the car.
Wickens was uninjured, but his ride is another story.
"The car's a mess," Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports general manager Piers Phillips said of the problem that faces his crew. "We'll sort it out."
They have until Friday's Carburetion Day to work out the repair, and will likely spend more time than most on-track that morning to sort out the repaired car.
Wickens is teammate to the popular James Hinchcliffe, who was bumped from the 33-car starting field on Saturday, along with another fan favorite, Pippa Mann.
Wickens qualified in 18th position.
Sage Karam, a veteran of five Indy 500s, and whose rookie year run from 31st to 9th failed to earn Rookie of the Year honors (they went to NASCAR veteran Kurt Busch instead), was the day's fastest on a day where speed is less-relevant than sorting out a race car to be good in traffic on race day.
"It's still difficult to pass out there," said Karam, noting that the new chassis aero kit provided by Dallara, while better-looking than the old chassis iterations, is proving notoriously tough to drive.
Referring to Wickens' hit earlier in the day, Karam said, "I think you're going to see a lot of that in the race.
"You're not going to see guys carving through like you used to," he added. Most drivers agree that cars first and second in a group will be able to move, but third-back - even though benefitting from a healthy aerodynamic tow, will have a difficult time passing.
"I don't know if it's the lack of downforce," he said. "We just have a lack of trouble with the front end."
Karam admits that driving these cars is "mentally draining", noting that he expects to he exhausted after the race on Sunday.
"I'm not looking forward to that night."
It should be noted that these new chassis were designed by Dallara, at INDYCAR's request, to be more difficult to drive, with less downforce, than the chassis aero packages it replaced.
They got what they wanted.
But as they say, cream rises. We'll see next Sunday.
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Tom has been a contributor to RIS since 1992. He was invited to join the staff as a full-time reporter/editor in 1995, and has covered IndyCar, Formula 1, NASCAR, Grand-Am, ALMS and the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In addition to his RIS work, Tom has been a contributor for General Motors, Nissan, Toyota and the ACO.