Today was Opening Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the 97th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Opening Day usually provides a lot of action, and today was no different. In fact, we got a little bit of everything throughout the course of the day. There was cold, sunshine, rain, ROP, and veteran practice.
As I arrived at the Speedway this morning at around 8 AM, it was not typical May weather. It was about 44 degrees with a strong breeze. Things didn’t warm up very quickly, either. Despite the chilly conditions, fans began flocking in when the public gates opened at 10 AM. Today was the Celebration of Automobiles, an event that many people look forward to. There were classic cars on display everywhere you looked.
It was announced just as practice began that Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has officially filed a second entry for the 2013 Indy 500. They did not name a driver, but the car (which is the 35th entry) will carry the number 99. The team’s other car belongs to rookie Tristan Vautier. Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports fields Vautier’s teammate, Simon Pagenaud.
The first two hours of practice saw two drivers reach the 220 mph barrier. Josef Newgarden (220.263) and Charlie Kimball (220.183) set the pace early, with Newgarden putting in 27 laps. The Penske and Ganassi teams logged some laps as well, as did Ed Carpenter and Tony Kanaan.
The clouds parted and the sun shined down on the Speedway at around 2 PM, when the Rookie Orientation Program began. AJ Allmendinger, Tristan Vautier, and Carlos Munoz all passed without any issues. The other rookie in this year’s field, Conor Daly, will go through his ROP on Monday when he returns from his GP3 racing obligations from this weekend.
When Allmendinger came out to pit lane for the first time, he was greeted with a warm welcome from the fans. He was egging them on, asking how many drinks they’d had. He was laughing and waving his arms, trying to get them even more wound up. It was a cool moment that he shared with the fans and showed just how calm and relaxed he was — at least on the outside.
There was a light sprinkle around the south end of the Speedway shortly after 4 PM, which brought out a yellow flag. It was the first time practice has been delayed because of rain since May 17, 2011. The track went back to green at around 4:30 PM, and Newgarden set the fastest lap of the day at 220.920 mph just before Happy Hour.
One of the best moments of the day came when I ventured over to the PA booth where I found Bob Jenkins next to the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown trophy. Bob was business as usual, but there were plenty of people coming up to him and expressing their happiness to see him back at the Speedway. The trophy has the Indianapolis, Pocono, and Fontana tracks listed in the middle with the Fuzzy’s Triple Crown logo.
In all, 16 cars turned at least one lap on Opening Day. There were a total of 480 laps on the day, with Ed Carpenter having the fastest at 220.970 mph. More importantly, there were no incidents. Practice will continue tomorrow (Sunday) from noon to 6 PM. The forecast is calling for sunshine most of the day, but the temperatures will be even colder.
I’ll be back at the Speedway to cover the events tomorrow and all month long. Follow me on Twitter at @IndyCarChad, and check for daily updates here at MoreFrontWing.com.