Pole sitter Pagenaud leads Indy 500 practice for 33 qualifiers

Simon Pagenaud started the day celebrating his pole-winning effort in qualifications for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge by participating in the traditional front-row photo shoot. He ended the day at the front of the speed chart.

Pagenaud was the fastest driver in a two-hour practice Monday afternoon on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval as the 33 qualifiers tuned their cars in race trim in preparation for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” just six days away.

INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESENTED BY GAINBRIDGE: Practice 8 results I Combined practice results

The 2016 NTT IndyCar Series champion turned a lap of 228.441 mph on the famed 2.5-mile superspeedway in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske to top Monday’s practice, a day after averaging 229.992 mph over four laps to earn his 11th career pole position and first for the world’s largest single-day sporting event.

“It was really good to be able to run with a lot of people on track,” said Pagenaud, seeking to become the second driver in as many years to win both IMS races after he conquered the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the road course on May 11. Teammate Will Power achieved the IMS double in 2018.

“I thought at the end it was almost like a race,” Pagenaud added about the practice that featured intense running in groups. “Everybody was on track, so that was entertaining. It was a good way to see how the car was reacting.

“Obviously, we have a good idea on where our car is at, but you want to see what the competition is like as well. That’s why you saw me running a lot behind people and cycle back to the back (of a group of cars) to try to understand who was strong and how they were driving their cars. But I think we’ve got a really good (car) balance so far.”

Another Team Penske driver, 2017 series champion and current points leader Josef Newgarden, was second fastest in the practice with a lap of 228.273 mph in the No. 2 Shell V-Power Nitro Plus Chevrolet. James Hinchcliffe was third at 227.994 in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. Reigning series champion Scott Dixon was fourth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, with a lap of 227.951 mph.

The action was nonstop, with 2,469 laps completed in the session. Takuma Sato, the 2017 Indy 500 winner, turned the most laps (98) in the No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Power was second with 94 laps in the No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet, with Pagenaud and Newgarden close behind at 88 laps apiece.

“The car was very consistent, just degrading the front tires a little bit at the end of the runs,” Pagenaud said, “but overall everything was very solid, very strong. We did some fuel save (runs) as well, to see how we could do in the race. So it was quite interesting to see all that stuff, and we were able to do some engine tuning as well. So far, so good.”

While the 33 drivers will fan out across the United States and Canada on Tuesday to promote Sunday’s race in the annual Indy 500 media tour, the cars remain idled until a final practice Friday on Miller Lite Carb Day. The 90-minute session kicks off live Carb Day coverage on NBCSN that runs from 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m. ET and includes the Indy 500 Pit Stop Competition as well as the premier race of the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires season, the Freedom 100 presented by Cooper Tires.

Indianapolis 500 race-day coverage features wall-to-wall coverage on the NBC Sports family of networks. A prerace show airs on NBCSN from 9-11 a.m. Sunday, followed by race coverage on NBC from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. A one-hour postrace show begins at 4 p.m. on NBCSN.

The Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network also provides Indy 500 race-day coverage on network affiliates, XM 209, SiriusXM 82, Web 970 and the INDYCAR Mobile app powered by NTT DATA.

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