Today, 418 laps were turned at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. No records were set, but there was a lot of learning, and some eyebrows were raised.
Rookie JR Hildebrand had the fastest time and speed of the seven drivers that participated in today's orientation program at the track. The Panther Racing driver posted a 40.626 second lap at an average speed of 221.533 miles per hour.
Hildebrand said he felt confident going into this morning's session, as he had the power of the Panther Racing team underneath him, and has gotten some great advice over the past few days from experienced drivers at the speedway.
Al Unser Jr. and Arie Luyendyk took to the track in a Chevy pace car to give some more pointers to the drivers. Luyendyk noted that the 41 driver/car combinations entered in the race have more practice time in the upcoming week than the other 16 IZOD IndyCar Series events combined. Luyendyk was helping mentor rookie Charlie Kimball in preparation for today's orientation program.
James Hinchcliffe put in the most laps of the day with 101, which was 28 more than the next driver. He said he wanted as much time out there as he could get so that he could get back into the groove of driving the ovals. The last oval race he has participated in was at Homestead last October.
Throughout the day, he was also able to work on his relationship with the spotters, which is something some people take for granted. He also noted that the progression from the Indy Lights cars to these cars was actually easier than he thought it would be.
Everyone was running conservative set ups, making sure they got through the day without any problems. Many of the drivers said they wanted to push a little more, but they were told to back it down.
After talking to a few people in the garage area, I discovered that all of the practice sessions that would not be aired on Versus this year will be streamed live on www.indycar.com. This is great news for those fans that will not be able to make it out here every day.
It was nice to hear the IndyCars back on the track today for the first time in a long time. Saturday will be a whole new animal though, with the fans piling into the Speedway.
I thought Charlie Kimball put everything into perspective with his opinion of the importance of today's event: "To do my first laps in an IndyCar at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on a perfect day, away from the fanfare that is Opening Day and to get my head around it is a great way to go about it."
Opening Day for the Indianapolis 500 is on Saturday. I will be updating the major story lines of each day as they happen from the Garage/Pit areas.