Indy Fast Friday Preview

"Power. Mostly Power." I caught up with Bobby Rahal and asked him why this year’s speeds are 4-5 mph faster than last year (or at least they will be with full boost). “You’re pretty limited" said Bobby concerning the aerodynamics, which comes as no surprise since most of the body bits must be purchased from the manufacturer. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing are running Honda motors, and as such were pretty much shut of the top speed race yesterday.

If I recall correctly, this puts Honda teams in precisely the same situation as last year, when Chevy started race day ready to uncork the bubbly, and ended up stunned at the Honda domination. In the meanwhile, Team Penske said that it expects a 230 mph run, at least for one lap on Pole Day.

Equally, I recall being here 25 years ago as a fan ("Finals? Study for Finals? What Finals?") and watching Mario put up huge numbers during the week before qualification. Andretti Autosports, in true Andretti fashion, grabbed the top 3 speeds yesterday, as Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco, EJ and rookie Carlos Munoz provided aero tows for each other late in the day. I don't recall that the fast speeds during practice translated to victories 25 years ago, but then as now it's surely good for egos.

Honda representatives tell us that they are providing engines for 16, maybe 17 teams for Indy. The teams have an option of either 1 or 2 motors for the month. Those with the 2-motor program will "mile'd out" their motors from the previous races during practice this week. They get a motor for qualification, which will be removed after qualification, securely sealed and used at later races. The teams will then get a fresh motor for the race, which will then be expected to last for 1850-2000 miles. And if all of that seems as complicated as the infield fly rule — which the same Honda people have tried to explain to me at previous races — it's because it probably is.

Back to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing… I am always intrigued as to how powerful, driven, opinionated, successful people come together to try to win races. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and sometimes it really blows up in spectacular fashion. Bobby Rahal and Mike Lanigan have both been around IndyCar for a long time, even when it wasn't IndyCar, and both are used to success. Mike Lanigan told us that Bobby was "the rain maker" in the team, and that he's still an excellent teacher. Lanigan is convinced he's got "smart people" on the team, although he obviously is hoping that the team has more wins like the Long Beach podium.

When asked if anything from his Champ Car days translated into running today's IndyCar series, AJ Allmendinger responded with a blunt "no". Like most who've tried to go from "Indy" cars to NASCAR, he had to radically adapt his driving habits, which he admitted took at least 2 years. Then, on coming back, he had to relearn his old habits. I've written here at AutoRacing1 that Indy drivers have trouble in making the transition, in articles that didn't exactly win me any friends when they were published (yes, I said that Dario, Juan Pablo and Danica would struggle, just as Sam Hornish has struggled). Whether a NASCAR regular, even a talented one like Kurt Busch, can make the transition quickly enough to run Indy is an interesting question for everyone.

Buddy Lazier's car made another shakedown lap (or two) early this morning. Word has it that this is the chassis that Jean Alesi ran last year. Fitted then with the hapless, hopeless Lotus motor (and the hapless Lotus effort in general), the car was parked after only a few laps in last year's race, so it probably doesn't have too many worn parts. However, it is now fitted with a Chevy motor, and pundits here speculate whether the effort could withstand a bump day with actual bumping. Given the combined motor totals of Honda and Chevy, 34 cars trying to qualify is indeed possible, but to date no 34th effort has been formally announced. Rumored, yes, but not announced.

Tim Wohlford, reporting from Indy!!

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