Famous names set the pace in the third day of practice for the 102nd Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, with the likes of Rahal, Kanaan and Andretti atop the speed chart.
Graham Rahal, the son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal, was fastest of the 35 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers on track Thursday, putting down an early lap at 226.047 mph in the No. 15 United Rentals Honda that held up throughout the seven-hour session.
Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 winner, was second fastest at 225.896 mph in the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. He was followed by Marco Andretti, the third-generation racer and grandson of 1969 Indy 500 champion Mario Andretti, who ranked third at 225.584 mph in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda. Andretti's fast lap of 227.053 mph on Wednesday remains the best of the week thus far.
Rahal explained that he was attempting a qualifying simulation when he set the fast lap, with the assist of a car coming out of the pits ahead of him.
"Stefan Wilson came out in front of me," said Rahal, who drives for the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team co-owned by his father, Bobby. "He was at the end of the back straight as I was going out of (Turn) 2. I thought, for once I'm just going to stay in it (on the accelerator). Not normally my M.O., but I thought I might as well put a good one up there, at least lower my dad's blood pressure for the night.
"Today was definitely a good day for us overall just to make a huge step forward in a lot of phases."
Drivers again spent much of Thursday running in groups getting accustomed to how their cars react in traffic under race conditions. Some made qualifying simulation runs when the track was quieter, in preparation for this weekend when the 33-car field will be set for the iconic 200-lap race on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.
Will Power, fresh off a win May 12 in the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road course, topped the list of driver laps without the benefit of a tow from cars ahead. Driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Power's 223.971-mph lap headed up the no-tow chart. Sebastien Bourdais, in the No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda, was second on the no-tow list at 223.348 mph.
Speeds are expected to increase on "Fast Friday," the final day of practice before qualifications. INDYCAR permits an increase in engine turbocharger boost of 100 millibars, equating to about 50 added horsepower. With the same boost level a year ago, Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon won the Verizon P1 Award for the pole position with a four-lap average speed of 232.793 mph.
Kanaan, who sat on the Indy 500 pole in 2005, said the focus now shifts completely to dialing in a qualifying setup in Friday's practice that will hopefully carry over to the nail-biting four-lap attempts on Saturday and Sunday.
"Tomorrow, it's just Fast Friday and you worry about four laps (in qualifying simulations)," Kanaan said. "That's all you've got to worry about. Then four laps (in qualifying) the next day, and hopefully (four laps in qualifying) on Sunday. From tomorrow on, it will just be making the car as fast as you can and the most consistent for qualifying."
The first on-track incident in three days of practice occurred less than a half hour before the end of Thursday's session. JR Hildebrand drifted high exiting Turn 3 in the No. 66 Salesforce/DRR Chevrolet and skimmed the SAFER Barrier, then slid along the wall before the car came to rest on the track in Turn 4. Hildebrand was uninjured and the car sustained minor right-side damage.
"We were looking forward to making a long run at the end of the day in traffic," Hildebrand said. "We weren't that deep into the run and we had something happen in Turn 3 with the car. We are still analyzing what might have happened.
"The car felt out of the ordinary. I didn't feel like I was losing the car at all. I thought for sure I could save the car, which is why I'm a little confused on what happened."
Friday's practice runs from 11 a.m.-6 p.m. ET and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app. Saturday's first day of qualifying, when the 33-car field is set, streams live on WatchESPN from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. before ABC broadcasts the final two hours live from 4-6 p.m. The starting order of the field is determined in Sunday qualifying, which streams on WatchESPN from 2:30-4 p.m. before ABC picks up the climactic end from 4-6 p.m. The 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 airs live at 11 a.m. Sunday, May 27 on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.
NBA All-Star Oladipo named to drive Indy 500 pace car
Victor Oladipo, who blossomed into an NBA All-Star in his first season with the Indiana Pacers, was named the honorary pace car driver for the Indianapolis 500. Oladipo will drive the 2019 Corvette ZR1 pace car and lead the field of 33 drivers to the start of "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing."
Oladipo averaged 23.1 points per game in the 2017-18 NBA season with the Pacers after being traded from Oklahoma City. His arrival in Indiana was a popular homecoming for Oladipo, who produced an outstanding college career and was a fan favorite for three seasons at Indiana University from 2010-13.
"This is a tremendous honor for me," Oladipo said. "I'm so thankful Indiana continues to embrace me, from Indiana University to the Pacers and now the Indianapolis 500, the greatest race in the world. I would like to thank Chevrolet, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Pacers for allowing me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Excited is a huge understatement to how I feel about this. I can't wait."
Fittipaldi speaks to media for first time since sports car crash
Pietro Fittipaldi, whose chance to drive in the Indianapolis 500 for the first time this year ended when he was injured May 4 in a World Endurance Championship sports car crash, met with media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time since the incident.
The grandson of two-time Indy 500 winner Emerson Fittipaldi is targeting the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on the last weekend of July for his return to the No. 19 Paysafe Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.
"Now it's my other race," Fittipaldi said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "Now I'm focused on getting back as fast as possible, you know, getting back to be able to do a good job."
Fittipaldi, who sustained a broken left leg and right ankle, has already begun physical rehabilitation and therapy in Indianapolis. He has been counseled by his grandfather, cousin Christian Fittipaldi and uncle Max Papis on the path to recovery, as well as teammate Sebastien Bourdais, who sustained fractures in his pelvis and hip when he crashed during an Indianapolis 500 qualifying attempt a year ago.
"I was speaking to him for an hour or so," Fittipaldi said of Bourdais. "He was telling me all about his recovery, his rehab, how he got back in around eight to 10 weeks, something like that. It's obviously very inspiring."
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports partners with S.A.F.E. Project US
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has joined forces with the S.A.F.E. Project US in the national fight against the opioid addiction epidemic.
S.A.F.E. stands for "Stop the Addiction Fatality Epidemic." The non-profit is headed by retired U.S. Navy Adm. James "Sandy" Winnefeld Jr., a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Winnefeld and his wife, Mary, were compelled to start the organization after their 19-year-old son Jonathan died last September from a dose of heroin laced with fentanyl.
The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports cars driven by James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens will carry the S.A.F.E. Project logo in the Indianapolis 500 on May 27.
"We want to solve this epidemic at speed. What better way to do something at speed than the Indianapolis 500?" said Winnefeld, a 37-year-old military veteran and the 21st commander of North American Aerospace Defense Command.
S.A.F.E. focuses on awareness, prevention, encouraging learning, providing resources and support for drug addiction and overdoses centered on the opioid epidemic plaguing the United States. Schmidt's willingness to become involved provides a great platform for the message.
"We're walking on air literally that we have this opportunity to gain the exposure for this epidemic and the potential for people to contribute to resolving it that this opportunity presents to us," Winnefeld said.