ECR’s Carpenter, Hildebrand lead gusty Indy 500 practice

Chris Jones/INDYCAR

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

With massive wind gusts threatening to lead teams astray, most within the Verizon IndyCar Series paddock chose to play it safe in Wednesday’s practice session for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500. However, Ed Carpenter Racing (ECR) wasn’t dissuaded, completing multiple laps between Ed Carpenter and JR Hildebrand.

Despite winds reaching as high as 30 mph, Carpenter and Hildebrand combined to do 52 and 54 laps, respectively, en-route to two of the top three positions on the speed charts.

Carpenter led the session, setting a fast speed of 222.894 mph. Only Scott Dixon (222.599) and Hildebrand (220.553) joined the Hoosier with speeds of over 220 mph. The rest of the field chose to play things safe – with only 21 of the 33 entrants even electing to set a time, and just 11 running more than 10 laps.

After using a vastly different strategy than their competitors, Carpenter and Hildebrand defended their decision to the press.

“You never really know until you get here and start running whether that means anything or not,” Carpenter said. “We’ve had years where we thought we had done a good job and had good work and preparation and gotten here and didn’t exactly have it figured out. But so far I’m happy with the car. I’m happy with the way it’s driving. I feel comfortable.

“I think that’s why I thought it was important to run on a day like today just because it is a challenge. The wind was very, very gusty, variable. And to me, if you can go out and get comfortable in conditions like that, I think it bodes well for the car, the race car and how comfortable you can be.”

Hildebrand echoed his team owner’s sentiment.

“It helps to be able to increase your understanding of how variability like this affects the car,” Hildebrand said. “And that allows for you to make better decisions later on, because you know some of those things a little bit better rather than just having to kind of guess. So I’m glad we ran today.”

Dixon didn’t complete as many laps as the ECR duo, but was as close as any in the field, with 47 laps on the day. The New Zealander attributed the extra track time to his Chip Ganassi Racing team’s need for experience with their switch to Honda.

“When the gusts are around 25 mph that makes it tough to navigate in the turns. But we’re still learning,” Dixon said. “There’s a lot that we still need to get through and you have to remember that it’s a new car for us this year. There’s still a lot of aerodynamic items we’re working on and learning from.”

Looking to gain more track time, Formula One’s Fernando Alonso braved the wind for 39 laps – ending the day a personal best fourth on the charts in the process.

“It was tricky,” Alonso said of the conditions. “Very little running for the big guys, but for me any condition is a good lesson. Today was about that, a lesson about how to drive with strong winds and how to set up the car corner to corner.”

Conor Daly completed the top five, with Max Chilton, Carlos Munoz, Zack Veach, Charlie Kimball and Jay Howard rounding out the top 10.

The IndyCar paddock will return for one of two practice sessions remaining before qualifying from 12-6 p.m. on Thursday. Softer winds are anticipated, but there’s also a chance for rain at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Results, via INDYCAR

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