INDIANAPOLIS – For a team that has just four combined top 10 finishes over the course of the opening five races to the season, and just two combined top 10’s in the last three races combined, Monday was a victory in itself for Andretti Autosport. Yes, being quick on the opening day of Indianapolis 500 practice doesn’t get you anything. There’s no money earned, or points scored, but for this Andretti team and how this season has gone for them, today has to feel like a small victory.
Andretti Autosport drivers swept the top four speeds on Monday afternoon at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, as they placed all five drivers in the top six on the speed charts today.
Marco Andretti led the way with a top lap of 228.978 mph, while his teammates Carlos Munoz in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (228.945), Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 DHL Honda (228.033) and rookie Alexander Rossi in the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda (226.865) were second through fourth respectively.
Townsend Bell, driving the No. 29 Honda, was sixth at 226.724 mph.
That tells you everything you need to know about what Andretti was trying to do today. In fact, it makes a statement that yes, they’re here to play this month and they’re not going anywhere.
But, just how realistic are their chances? Does today mean anything moving forward?
Unfortunately it doesn’t mean anything at all.
It does give Andretti some hope, as I think that this is true speed out of them. I do think they will be contenders this month as they purposely came out wanting to be on top of the speed charts.
They had intentions to show us something today.
They weren’t just shaking their cars down with max downforce as they went for it and did so with a purpose. They threw everything at today and put on setups they’d try out later on in the week. Heck, they admitted that too.
“It was a definitely a good start for the team,” said Andretti today after setting the top speed. “I think our team in particular looks pretty stout because we looked at the weather and moved things forward on the test plan from later in the week.”
Everyone else was likely not planning on speed as that mixed with some dare I say sandbagging allowed the Andretti dominance on the speed charts.
Team Penske who’s won all five poles this year and seven straight pole awards dating back to last year, had just one driver in the top 10 on the speed charts, as Will Power led the way for the four car team with being ninth today.
Defending ‘500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya was 13th, the pole winner of the last two IndyCar races Simon Pagenaud was 16th and three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves was 27th out of 33 cars.
The Ganassi guys were just as off, as they had two cars in the top 10 with last year’s pole sitter Scott Dixon being fifth and Charlie Kimball chiming in being seventh today.
The other two drivers in the Ganassi stable are rookie Max Chilton (12th) and Tony Kanaan (17th).
So, do you really think all the Penske/Ganassi drivers were giving it their all today when they’ve led 93-percent of the laps this season and dominated last year’s race in sweeping the top four finishing positions after leading 193 of the 200 laps a year ago?
That’s why this looks all good and well for Andretti today, but what’s going to happen when the Penske/Ganassi cars actually turn it on for real?
What happens when the sand gets unloaded from those eight cars?
Will the five Andretti cars remain up top, or will they fall down a bit?
Statistics show the latter, but I actually have a feeling though, it’s honestly somewhere in between.
Andretti was quick in the test here back in April and they picked up where they left off. This was a message and one that they better back up. This was calculated and planned and with the magnitude of this race, I have reason to be optimistic about Andretti’s chances.
Just how strong they stay will only be answered soon.