The past two days have seen IZOD IndyCar Series competitors take to the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway in early preparations for the 2010 Indianapolis 500. The 94th running of the famed race is set for May 30.
Over the past two days, two Rookie Orientation practices have been held, as well as daily practices for the rest of the field. Among the drivers participating in refresher runs with the rookies on Saturday were Tomas Scheckter, Graham Rahal, and Townsend Bell, who finished 1-2-3 in their practice session and did not have to participate again on Sunday. Series veterans participating on Sunday in the rookie session included A.J. Foyt IV and Davey Hamilton. All five drivers' best laps broke the 41-second mark. The fastest lap of an actual race rookie was turned by Jay Howard on Sunday; his time was 40.397.
Yesterday's full field practice saw 23 drivers in 27 cars, with the best lap of 39.717 seconds set by Helio Castroneves. Castroneves, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon, and Dan Wheldon are the only drivers to break the 40-second barrier thus far this year at the speedway. All four drivers' best laps were faster than last year's pole speed.
Andretti Autosport driver Tony Kanaan, undoubtedly desperate at this point in his career to finally win at Indy after so many unlucky runs, turned laps in all five of his team's cars. His best lap actually came in the No. 43 Dallara-Honda of John Andretti, a lap good enough for fifth overall. His own No. 11 car turned the sixth best lap. His hot laps in the No. 26, No. 7, and No. 37 were 15th, 16th, and 25th, respectively, all slower than their regular drivers. Marco Andretti placed his No. 26 in eighth, Danica Patrick's best lap in the No. 7 was good for 14th, and Ryan Hunter-Reay's hot lap was good for 22nd.
Among the slowest teams out of the gate were Dale Coyne Racing (Milka Duno 21st, Alex Lloyd 24th) and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing (Mike Conway 23rd, Justin Wilson 26th). For DRR, Scheckter's lap in rookie practice was actually faster than the bests of either of their full-time drivers. Paul Tracy, in his first IndyCar run of the season, brought up the rear of the field, but in a testament to how close the racing will be this year, was less than a second away from the top five. In fact, fifth place through 20th place all had fastest laps within half a second of one another.
Though Pole Day doesn't come until next weekend, when the weather may be drastically different and some teams may have found an extra edge, the first practice sessions suggest that getting into this year's Indy 500 may be the toughest field to crack in years. We should know more about who's going to be in safely and who's going to need an extra push on bump day with further practices this weekend.