INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Simon Pagenaud was the fastest driver Friday at Indianapolis.
If he can duplicate that feat two more times, he’ll put team owner Roger Penske within striking distance of a May sweep.
The French driver posted the best lap in Indianapolis 500 practice, going 230.698 mph late in the final full practice before qualifying begins Saturday. Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi was second at 230.655, and Dixon’s teammate, Tony Kanaan, was third at 230.457.
“I think we worked really well as a team at getting different versions of aero level for tomorrow and understanding what does what so we can put all that information in tonight and decide, very precisely, what we need for the temperature,” Pagenaud said. “So really excited about that.”
Six drivers topped 230 on Friday, the most this week after series officials gave each car a boost of roughly 50 horsepower.
All three of Pagenaud’s teammates on Penske’s perennial powerhouse team finished in the top 10. Defending series champion Will Power was fifth at 230.206, and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves was eighth at 229.852. Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya, the 2000 Indy champ, was 19th at 229.714.
Power won from the pole in last week’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis and is hoping to become the first driver in track history to become a double-winner in May.
Castroneves, who already celebrated his 40th birthday and 300th career start this month, is trying to break a tie for the second-most poles in Indy history. He has four. Team consultant Rick Mears holds the record (six).
Ed Carpenter also has a shot at history. The Indianapolis native and team co-owner is trying to become the first driver in race history to claim three straight poles. He has been among the top 10 during most of this week’s practice but dropped to 20th on the speed chart Friday with a fast lap of 228.885.
The top Americans were 2006 Indy runner-up Marco Andretti, who broke up Chevy’s contingent, by finishing fourth at 230.312. Sage Karam, the 20-year-old from Pennsylvania, was sixth at 229.891.
Chevrolet-powered cars have won all five poles this season, four of the first five races and took the top 10 starting spots in last weekend’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Chevy had five of the top six spots on Friday’s speed chart.
But once again, it looks like the Penske and Ganassi drivers will be going toe-to-toe on qualifying weekend.
Historically, nobody has been better than Penske. He has 15 wins and 17 poles at the 500, both records. But Ganassi has won two of the last five races on this 2.5-mile oval.
For the second straight year, the nine fastest cars from Saturday will advance to Sunday’s nine-car pole shootout and those in starting spots 10 to 30 will be locked into the field for the May 24 race. The last three qualifiers on Saturday could be bumped Sunday and one car will be sent home.
And after three big crashes in the previous two days, Friday was refreshingly crash-free.
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