As qualifying draws near for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, a pair of three-letter abbreviations are being mentioned more often around Indianapolis Motor Speedway: “NTS” and “kPa.”
The first stands for “no-tow speed,” or the lap speed a car achieved around the 2.5-mile oval without help of an aerodynamic tow. The second is short for kilopascals, the unit of measurement used to gauge turbocharger pressure on the Verizon IndyCar Series machines.
Gabby Chaves was fastest in today’s fourth day of practice for the epic May 29 race, with a tow-assisted lap of 227.961 mph in the No.19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda.
“It’s only practice but it feels pretty good,” said Chaves, the 2015 Sunoco Rookie of the Year for both the Indianapolis 500 and Verizon IndyCar Series who had been without a ride this season before Dale Coyne Racing brought him on this month. “It’s my first time at the top of the charts here at IMS in an Indy car.
“Just pleased with the work the team has been doing, very pleased with the performance that Honda has been putting out as well. Overall I think we’ve got a pretty strong package.”
With just one more day of practice before two days of qualifications this weekend, the focus has also centered on the no-tow speed list paced today by Will Power with a lap of 225.381 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
“We had some good runs out there today,” said Power, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2015 Indianapolis 500 runner-up. “We definitely made some gains and have a little bit more to go, as we’re still making adjustments for the coming days. I’m pretty confident that the Verizon Chevrolet will be in good shape for qualifying.”
Chaves was followed on the overall speed chart today by Townsend Bell in the No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda (227.593), Carlos Munoz in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (227.589), Conor Daly in the No. 18 ShirtsForAmerica.com Honda (227.524) and Charlie Kimball in the No. 42 Tresiba Chevrolet (227.477).
Honda drivers have been atop the leaderboard all three days of practice (Tuesday’s session was rained out).
“It’s almost weird because two months ago it was all about, ‘Oh my gosh, Chevy is just dominating,’ and Honda has just done a phenomenal job to keep their heads down, keep working and they’ve come here very well-prepared,” said Bell, a one-off competitor at the Indy 500 who serves as an NBCSN analyst at most Verizon IndyCar Series races. “I’m super proud to be in one of their cars. It’s been neat.”
Speeds are expected to increase in practice Friday when the turbocharger boost level for the Chevrolet and Honda 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines is raised 10 kPa to 140. That should equate to about an additional 30 horsepower.
All but one of the 33 cars entered for this year’s race turned laps today. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing spent most of the day rebuilding the No. 16 RLL/Mi-Jack/Manitowac Honda that rookie Spencer Pigot crashed in practice Wednesday and completed just an installation lap in his repaired car. A total of 2,563 laps were turned.
Following Power on the no-tow speed chart were Graham Rahal in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda (225.321), reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy (225.237) and defending Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevy (225.156).
“The Verizon Chevy ran well today,” Montoya said. “We had a little bit of a problem there earlier, but we made some changes and were able to make progress towards the end of practice. We’re getting up to speed, ending practice much faster than we did previously.
“Honestly, I’m very happy with where we’re going right now.”
Two hours of final pre-qualifying practice is scheduled from 8-10 a.m. Saturday. The first day of qualifications to set the provisional 33 positions and lock in the Fast Nine Shootout competitors is scheduled from 11 a.m.-5:50 p.m. Saturday.