Ra­hal goes from 34th to 1st dur­ing In­di­anapo­lis 500 prac­tice

Imperial Valley Press - - SPORTS -

IN­DI­ANAPO­LIS — Gra­ham Ra­hal’s one-day turn­around looked good and felt even bet­ter.

Now he needs to prove it wasn’t a fluke.

Just 24 hours af­ter fin­ish­ing 34th out of 35 on the In­di­anapo­lis 500 prac­tice speed charts, the 29- year- old Amer­i­can jumped into the top spot with a fast lap of 226.047 mph. The only driver to top 226 on Thurs­day heads into the week­end with a lit­tle mo­men­tum.

“It’s cooler to lead prac­tice than be­ing 34th be­cause you don’t have to an­swer all the ques­tions about be­ing 34th,” Ra­hal said. “But to­day was a very good day. We found some pace and at the end of the day we found some things that will help us. That last run was the best I have felt in tra c.”

Ra­hal had been strug­gling to fig­ure out how the new car works. He was clocked at 222.102 on Wed­nes­day.

He’s not the only one search­ing for an­swers.

Tony Kanaan, the sec­ond- fastest Thurs­day at 225.896 and the 2013 race win­ner, ac­knowl­edged ev­ery­one’s cu­ri­ous to see what hap­pens when se­ries or­ga­niz­ers boost the horse­power by about 50 on Fri­day and for qual­i­fy­ing week­end. He’s driv­ing for A.J. Foyt Rac­ing this year.

But he also didn’t wind up in the wall like JR Hilde­brand, who suf­fered the first crash of the week when his car drifted up the track and slammed into the wall be­tween the third and fourth turns. He was checked at In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speed­way’s in­field cen­ter and was re­leased and cleared to drive.

It put a damper on Dreyer & Rein­bold’s first at­tempt to make the 500 since 2013.

“We had some­thing hap­pen in turn three with the car. We are still an­a­lyz­ing what might have hap­pened. The car felt out of the or­di­nary,” Hilde­brand said. “It felt like I had a wacky wheel of a shop­ping cart be­cause the car kept wob­bling a bit. But I’m fine and ready to go to­mor­row.”

Ra­hal said he had sim­i­lar sen­sa­tion in his car through­out the day and thought he might be the first to crash, too.

In­stead, he man­aged to get some help to jump to the top of the speed charts.

“Go­ing out there and sit­ting in a big tow has never been my thing but when you do, it feels good,” he said. “If you do get a two, it is mas­sive.”

Ra­hal, who drives for his fa­ther’s team — Ra­hal Let­ter­man Lani­gan Rac­ing —was one of two Honda driv­ers in the top six.

The other was Marco An­dretti, who was third at 225.584. An­dretti, who also drives for his fa­ther’s team, had the fastest speed Wed­nes­day.

Two-time Indy 500 pole win­ner Ed Car­pen­ter, Sage Karam and 2017 se­ries cham­pion Josef New­gar­den rounded the top six. They, along with Kanaan all drive Chevro­lets.

Dan­ica Patrick was 30th at 222.216 as she pre­pares for the fi­nal race of her ca­reer.

“To­day def­i­nitely didn’t go as well as we’d hoped,” Patrick said. “The changes we made seemed to help a lit­tle bit in tra c, but it just felt worse alone and I had a lot more un­der­steer. We’ll re­group tonight and come back to­mor­row fo­cused on try­ing to find more speed be­fore qual­i­fy­ing.”

Prac­tice con­tin­ues Fri­day when the cars get a horse­power boost. Qual­i­fy­ing for the tra­di­tional 33- car start­ing grid will be held Satur­day and the nine-car pole shootout is sched­uled for Sun­day, one week be­fore the race.

Gra­ham Ra­hal pulls on his gloves as he pre­pare to drive dur­ing a prac­tice ses­sion for the Indy­Car In­di­anapo­lis 500 auto race at In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speed­way in In­di­anapo­lis, on Thurs­day. AP PHOTO/MICHAEL CON­ROY

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