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2014 Indianapolis 500 Practice Analysis

May 21, 2014, 11:43 AM EDT

PracticeAnalysis AP

It’s been said previously that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

And if you were to look only at the combined results of practice for the 2014 Indianapolis 500, those statistics would pretty much be lying to you.

You see, the fastest speed set this month belongs to Mikhail Aleshin, at 232.917 mph. All 33 cars’ fastest speeds were recorded with extra boost, with an increase from 130 kPa to 140 kPa, which provides more horsepower.

If you want a more realistic description of how the 98th Running will play out, don’t look at those times, but instead look at the order from Monday’s session and last week’s running.

I combined all speeds from the race boost sessions (Sunday, May 11 through Thursday, May 16 and Monday, May 19) into an Excel spreadsheet to get a gauge of how much running everyone’s done this month, and to monitor their progress over the buildup the week.

Note that many drivers took the week doing race simulations and practicing the tow effect. So speeds anywhere from 224 to 227 were frequently done in a tow; speeds less than that would generally be done in single-car runs.

Put this way; if you had a tow, and you still only made it to 223 mph or less, you’re in trouble.

Here’s a breakdown of each driver’s best lap per day, with the field sorted by Best Speed. Most bests were set Monday, the day after qualifying, with boost levels returned to the race.

# Driver 11-May 12-May 13-May 14-May 15-May 19-May Average Best
3 Castroneves 222.373 223.635 222.196 225.34 227.166 225.638 224.391 227.166
67 Newgarden 216.257 222.082 222.652 224.948 224.478 227.105 222.92 227.105
2 Montoya 222.502 223.395 224.115 225.134 224.782 226.532 224.41 226.532
9 Dixon 220.206 223.119 223.235 225.494 223.785 226.433 223.712 226.433
7 Aleshin 223.12 221.316 225.31 223.374 226.371 223.898 226.371
10 Kanaan 220.755 222.635 221.972 224.752 224.836 226.336 223.548 226.336
20 Carpenter 219.899 220.898 224.492 226.257 224.492 223.207 226.257
21 Hildebrand 222.2 221.266 221.737 225.844 224.825 226.232 223.684 226.232
77 Pagenaud 221.862 223.063 226.122 224.655 224.909 224.122 226.122
12 Power 223.057 221.735 221.61 175.729 225.899 226.107 223.682 226.107
22 Karam 217.31 220.543 222.635 222.096 223.903 225.929 222.069 225.929
83 Kimball 221.845 218.229 221.937 224.544 223.344 225.846 222.624 225.845
19 Wilson 223.611 221.184 225.058 223.491 225.771 223.823 225.771
25 Andretti 218.447 224.037 223.605 224.37 224.643 225.769 223.479 225.769
28 Hunter-Reay 222.134 225.025 223.612 225.11 225.45 225.719 224.508 225.719
26 Busch 220.352 222.77 224.159 224.739 225.623 223.529 225.623
6 Bell 220.84 220.307 222.249 225.484 223.617 222.499 225.484
8 Briscoe 219.745 222.132 222.364 225.276 224.371 225.151 223.173 225.276
27 Hinchcliffe 225.255 225.255 225.255
41 Plowman 216.165 218.852 218.38 221.013 223.495 224.855 220.46 224.855
27 Viso 222.105 222.695 224.488 224.731 222.782 223.36 224.731
11 Bourdais 220.116 220.856 224.307 224.655 224.359 222.859 224.655
34 Munoz 220.581 223.172 222.402 223.754 222.522 224.54 222.829 224.54
68 Tagliani 219.557 221.408 220.146 224.384 224.067 224.387 222.325 224.387
33 Davison 217.052 224.33 220.691 224.33
18 Huertas 219.246 219.345 223.651 224.242 223.495 221.996 224.242
5 Villeneuve 220.07 221.101 220.89 221.682 223.536 224.029 221.885 224.029
98 Hawksworth 221.257 224 43.77 222.602 222.62 224
63 Mann 220.206 219.282 223.984 223.441 223.073 221.997 223.984
17 Saavedra 208.985 223.181 223.955 222.48 223.205 223.955
14 Sato 217.84 220.891 222.483 223.329 223.793 222.833 221.861 223.793
15 Rahal 217.454 221.107 219.703 222.152 223.478 222.773 221.111 223.478
91 Lazier 218.277 222.961 220.619 222.961
16 Servia 219.15 221.529 219.674 222.78 222.131 221.272 221.089 222.78

Take that data and sort it by best average speed over the six days, excluding days where drivers only got out for shakedowns, systems checks and installation checks, and you’ll see a slightly different pattern emerge.

# Driver 11-May 12-May 13-May 14-May 15-May 19-May Average Best
27 Hinchcliffe 225.255 225.255 225.255
28 Hunter-Reay 222.134 225.025 223.612 225.11 225.45 225.719 224.508 225.719
2 Montoya 222.502 223.395 224.115 225.134 224.782 226.532 224.41 226.532
3 Castroneves 222.373 223.635 222.196 225.34 227.166 225.638 224.391 227.166
77 Pagenaud 221.862 223.063 226.122 224.655 224.909 224.122 226.122
7 Aleshin 223.12 221.316 225.31 223.374 226.371 223.898 226.371
19 Wilson 223.611 221.184 225.058 223.491 225.771 223.823 225.771
9 Dixon 220.206 223.119 223.235 225.494 223.785 226.433 223.712 226.433
21 Hildebrand 222.2 221.266 221.737 225.844 224.825 226.232 223.684 226.232
12 Power 223.057 221.735 221.61 175.729 225.899 226.107 223.682 226.107
10 Kanaan 220.755 222.635 221.972 224.752 224.836 226.336 223.548 226.336
26 Busch 220.352 222.77 224.159 224.739 225.623 223.529 225.623
25 Andretti 218.447 224.037 223.605 224.37 224.643 225.769 223.479 225.769
27 Viso 222.105 222.695 224.488 224.731 222.782 223.36 224.731
20 Carpenter 219.899 220.898 224.492 226.257 224.492 223.207 226.257
17 Saavedra 208.985 223.181 223.955 222.48 223.205 223.955
8 Briscoe 219.745 222.132 222.364 225.276 224.371 225.151 223.173 225.276
67 Newgarden 216.257 222.082 222.652 224.948 224.478 227.105 222.92 227.105
11 Bourdais 220.116 220.856 224.307 224.655 224.359 222.859 224.655
34 Munoz 220.581 223.172 222.402 223.754 222.522 224.54 222.829 224.54
83 Kimball 221.845 218.229 221.937 224.544 223.344 225.846 222.624 225.845
98 Hawksworth 221.257 224 43.77 222.602 222.62 224
6 Bell 220.84 220.307 222.249 225.484 223.617 222.499 225.484
68 Tagliani 219.557 221.408 220.146 224.384 224.067 224.387 222.325 224.387
22 Karam 217.31 220.543 222.635 222.096 223.903 225.929 222.069 225.929
63 Mann 220.206 219.282 223.984 223.441 223.073 221.997 223.984
18 Huertas 219.246 219.345 223.651 224.242 223.495 221.996 224.242
5 Villeneuve 220.07 221.101 220.89 221.682 223.536 224.029 221.885 224.029
14 Sato 217.84 220.891 222.483 223.329 223.793 222.833 221.861 223.793
15 Rahal 217.454 221.107 219.703 222.152 223.478 222.773 221.111 223.478
16 Servia 219.15 221.529 219.674 222.78 222.131 221.272 221.089 222.78
33 Davison 217.052 224.33 220.691 224.33
91 Lazier 218.277 222.961 220.619 222.961
41 Plowman 216.165 218.852 218.38 221.013 223.495 224.855 220.46 224.855

Although James Hinchcliffe makes it to the top of the best average practice speed chart, his ultimate race pace is likely to be closer to the mark set by fill-in driver EJ Viso earlier in the week. Hinchcliffe had only the one day of practice in race boost, while everyone else in the field had at least two or more.

Note that after the Andretti Autosport pair of Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who seemed to struggle in qualifying with the boost increase, and two of Roger Penske’s three drivers, the next two on the average speed come from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

I am not too surprised to see Simon Pagenaud running as well as he is – now in his third year on ovals, he has done the methodical growth needed to prepare himself for his opportunity to win the 500 this year. An oval win – which would be his first – would solidify his status as one of IndyCar’s top two or three drivers (if it hasn’t been already).

And rookie teammate Aleshin, while his ultimate one-lap set with the extra boost generated some headlines, has been impressive as well. This will be the Russian’s first ever oval race and if he can run as well in traffic in the race as he has in practice, he appears to have the fearless tenacity to surprise and perhaps take home the Sunoco Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors.

Justin Wilson is also a top sleeper. He’s grown on ovals by leaps and bounds the last couple years and has quietly been Honda’s best under-the-radar threat. Driving the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda for Dale Coyne Racing, Wilson is going to stealthily hang around on Sunday.

The teams I worry about, unless they pull a rabbit out of their hat in terms of fuel mileage and/or strategy on Sunday, are Chip Ganassi Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and KV Racing Technology. None of their combined 11 drivers have shown the ultimate race pace needed to stay in contention with the Andretti, Penske, and Ed Carpenter Racing cars in practice.

But if speed is an issue for those three, strategy and guile won’t be. These are three teams who have won ‘500s before – CGR and KVRT are the two most recent winners and RLLR has factored into win contention in two of the last three (2011 with Bertrand Baguette, 2012 with Takuma Sato) – and have the strategic expertise to play themselves into contention even if they don’t have the ultimate pace.

Remember too that defending series champion Scott Dixon is probably the field’s best at saving fuel, and that could play into his advantage later on. Teammate and defending race winner Tony Kanaan is, of course, the restart master and half the price of admission on his own Sunday.

The elements of speed versus strategy should make for a fascinating race on Sunday. But we’ll see if the practice results from the week that was stay true to form, or become a lie of their own.

  1. indycar02 - May 21, 2014 at 10:16 PM

    thanks tony, this can only help me pick 3 to win (have a family chart starting in 74).

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