INDIANAPOLIS – Back in race trim after a weekend of qualifying, one thing didn’t change Monday as the 33 Indianapolis 500 starters returned to practice: Chip Ganassi Racing drivers continued to dominate.
Ganassi’s Alex Palou, Scott Dixon and Jimmie Johnson topped the speed map 1-2-3 in the two-hour practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Marcus Ericsson was fifth and Tony Kanaan 22nd to round out the Ganassi clan.
Palou posted a speed of 229.441 mph in the third of 31 laps he ran around the 2½-mile oval lap on Monday. Dixon’s best lap was 229,000 and Johnson’s 228,467. Takuma Sato, fastest in last week’s early practice sessions in his Dale Coyne Racing Honda, was the only non-Ganassi driver to crack the top five, finishing fourth at 228,381.
Dixon, winner of the 500 in 2008, will start Sunday’s race after the fastest pole speed in four laps in Indy 500 history, 234.046 mph. Palou will start next to him in the center of the front row, with Ericsson and Kanaan in the center and outside the second row. Johnson, a seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion, will start twelfth in his first Indy 500.
Honda-powered teams also showed their strength on Monday with all the top five, seven of the top 10 and 11 of the top 14. Josef Newgarden of Team Penske led the Chevy contingent with the sixth fastest speed, 226,962.
Marco Andretti, who starts 23rd in his only IndyCar race this year, was eighth with his Andretti Autosport Honda with 227,776. He echoed what others have said since practice started that it will be difficult for cars deep in the field to pass.
“We’re pretty happy,” Andretti said. “We just need a position on the track to materialize at some point in the race, whether it’s a strategy or a warning or just trying to get in. I think we’re really good in traffic. is just when you get behind a huge line of cars, everyone is a bit at the mercy of lifting because you get a run and you pop (out of line) and then the guy in front of you has the drag to keep him there.
“You just have to be patient. I think I now have the car to chase everyone in front of me and just wait for them to make mistakes, and I think you’ll pass from third (in line) to the back like that.”
The drivers had near-ideal conditions on Monday, with temperatures in the mid-’60s and the track temperature reaching 109.4 degrees, prompting Daly to say: “Everyone felt like a hero, I’m sure today a moment comes.”
Race day will likely be much warmer, with high air temperatures expected in the mid-80s. Drivers expect track conditions to also be different due to a sealer applied since last year, making things more challenging on warmer days.
“You have to consider how different the conditions will be and what you have to adapt to,” said Simon Pagenaud, who was 10th in his Meyer Shank Racing Honda on Monday. He starts on the 16th Sunday. “That’s where experience comes into play, I think.”
Dalton Kellett crashed hard in Turn 1 SAFER Barrier when he spun his AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet after entering the corner side by side with Romain Grosjean. Kellett, who will start 29th in the 500, was not injured, but his car suffered significant damage. It was the first major accident since training began on May 17.
A final two-hour training session, known as the traditional Carb Day at the Speedway, is scheduled for Friday.