Story By: PAUL KELLY / INDYCAR – SPEEDWAY, IN – Takuma Sato ripped off a lap of 228.939 mph in the final five minutes Tuesday to lead the opening day of practice for the 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Sato used the benefit of an aerodynamic tow on the 2.5-mile oval to lead the speed charts by more than 1 mph in the No. 51 Nurtec ODT Honda. Six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon was second at 227.768 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, leading four Chip Ganassi Racing drivers in the top six.
“We had a big tow,” Sato said. “In Happy Hour, if you have new tires, I think you can do that. I’m pretty happy today.
“To be honest, this morning wasn’t as smooth as we wished. We had to go back to the garage and check up on lots of things because there was something we were not very happy with. But in the end, in the afternoon we quickly turned on good speed. I’m very happy with the 51 car. Dale Coyne Racing did a good job.”
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson opened preparations for his first start in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” by ending up third at 227.722 in the No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Johnson was an NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie last season but only competed on road and street courses. He made his INDYCAR oval debut March 20 at Texas Motor Speedway.
“We have a really good race car,” Johnson said. “It’s just trying to work through extremes for me. What is a low trim setting? What’s a high trim setting? What’s mechanically tight? What’s mechanically free? Just trying to work through some of those big-picture things.
“All in all, a really good day. I feel like where we ended in this session gives me a lot of confidence for working forward.”
Marcus Ericsson was fourth at 227.094 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing, with Rinus VeeKay rounding out the top five at 226.995 in the No. 21 Bitcoin Racing Team with BitNile Chevrolet.
Reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou completed the Chip Ganassi Racing domination of the top of the speed chart, ending up sixth at 226.973 in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Veteran practice was divided into two sessions, with two hours of running in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. Dixon was fastest this morning at 227.119.
VeeKay was the fastest driver without an aerodynamic tow, with a top solo lap of 221.551 mph. Ed Carpenter was second on the no-tow list at 220.869 in the No. 33 Alzamend Neuro Chevrolet, with Johnson third at 220.724.
Thirty-three drivers combined to turn 3,229 incident-free laps under sunny skies during the two veteran practice sessions today. Veteran Stefan Wilson completed his refresher test during a midday session in the No. 25 DragonSpeed/Cusick Motorsports Chevrolet and then participated briefly in the afternoon open practice session.
Dalton Kellett turned 149 laps in the No. 4 K-LINE AJ FOYT RACING Chevrolet, more than any other driver.
Practice resumes from noon-6 p.m. (ET) Wednesday, with PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying this Saturday and Sunday. The 106th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge is scheduled for Sunday, May 29.