SPEEDWAY, Ind. — With no fans in the stands to watch the start of Indianapolis 500 practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it was certainly an eerie feeling for this reporter.
The drivers noticed it too in a variety of ways.
“Normally you see a steady escalation of people at the track each day,” said Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe. “Knowing you’re not going to see that, knowing this is going to be the view you’re going to have through the end of the race, yeah, it’s a bit weird, a bit surreal. We certainly miss having fans in the stands.”
“It was very strange,” added Chip Ganassi driver Scott Dixon. “It was very easy getting into the circuit today. It was very easy to go to the restroom. I didn’t have to remember my sharpie (for autographs) at all.”
The lack of fans certainly didn’t take away from the work that was put in by the drivers who collectively turned well over 2000 laps in the first day of practice. Hinchcliffe topped the speed chart with a speed of 224.526 mph.
“It doesn’t suck,” Hinchcliffe joked after practice. “I’ve been closer to the other end of the board a couple of times here. This is definitely better.”
Marco Andretti was second fastest (224.345) and Scott Dixon third (224.047).
All but one of the veterans that needed to pass refresher courses passed and all but one of the rookies who need to pass rookie orientation did so. Ben Hanley in the DragonSpeed #81-car was the only one not to pass ROP having not turned a single lap in the regular practice sessions.
Hanley was granted an extra 30-minute session after practice ended in which he only turned two full laps at speed, well under 200 mph.
This was also the first time for many drivers using the new aeroscreen fitting to the cars this year for safety purposes. Drivers seemed to be pleased with how the car handled with it.
Practice continues on Thursday with an uninterrupted six and a half hour practice session from 11:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.