Four previous winners of the Indianapolis 500 topped the timesheets as practice opened for its 94th running, Helio Castroneves ending fastest among the 27 returning veterans and the seven rookies who are facing the Brickyard for the first time.
The three-time winner’s 226.603mph lap put him ahead of Target Chip Ganassi Racing team-mates Dario Franchitti (226.535mph) and Scott Dixon (226.237mph) with Dan Wheldon fourth at 225.609mph.
Castroneves said: “To start in a positive way certainly makes us feel good about where to go. It was just the right time at the right moment. We’re talking about, I think, until Wednesday, depending on the weather, working on race set-up.
“Obviously, we have to find out if it rains or not. But first it’s good to keep working on the race car and tyre management and not worrying so much about how fast we can go today.”
Franchitti was also mainly working on set-up. He said: “Like Helio, pretty solid day, short day but good. This was a very positive start for our team. It helps that we unloaded off the truck with good cars. We have to take advantage of all the track time we can get in the next eight days.
“It’s going to be a long week here, we still have a lot of work to do. We have to get the cars fast in qualifying trim and race trim.”
Wheldon, who was runner-up to Castroneves last year, said: “I’ve been around here long enough to know that it doesn’t make too much difference at this point, but it’s always better to start good than the other way around. It’s very exciting to be back here. I love this track. I really feel that every time we come here that we have a very good chance of winning.”
Tony Kanaan took on the task of setting up all five Andretti Autosport cars – his own, and those of Ryan Hunter-Reay, Danica Patrick and uncle/nephew pairing John and Marco Andretti – running laps in each so that team engineers had a comparable set of data.
He said: “They voted me the guy to do that. They tell me it’s because I’m a veteran, but usually that means you’re old and I definitely don’t see myself that way, so I’m not sure. But I’m glad to do it, and I think we’ve got a good idea of where we are as a team and where we need to go.”