INDIANAPOLIS, IN - A few days after winning the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, Simon Pagenaud caught everyone's attention May 14 on the 2.5-mile oval with the fastest lap of the month during practice for the 98th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
Pagenaud, driving the No. 77 Lucas Oil-sponsored car for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports, recorded a lap of 226.122 mph (39.8016 seconds) in the session limited to 56 late-afternoon minutes because of rain and clean-up of the first on-track incident of the month - a crash by rookie Jack Hawksworth.
"It feels really good," said Pagenaud. "The car is really nice. I'm very, very happy so far. Obviously the conditions are very good for a fast lap. The density of the air is a lot stronger so you can run in a little less wind for the same amount of downforce as yesterday and that creates lap time and obviously the engines work better with a stronger density in the air. That's why you see big laps today. It's always enjoyable to get close to 230. Hopefully we can break that in qualifying. That would be great, but the car is fantastic.
"I'm very happy. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is really, really doing a great job this month. Our Honda engine seems to be very competitive. So, so far so good. I think the balance of the car is really good in traffic. I'm very happy, very comfortable. Third year in Indianapolis is a big change compared to the first two years. I feel a lot more comfortable. I have a better vision of what I need for the race. So yeah, I really enjoy it and am having a great time."
Twenty-nine driver/car combinations totaled 1,044 laps, with nine topping 225 mph. Midway through the session, the No. 98 BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian car driven by Hawksworth, who qualified on the front row for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, made contact with the Turn 3 SAFER Barrier. He was checked and cleared to drive.
J.R. Hildebrand, runner-up as a rookie in the 2011 Indianapolis 500, posted the second-fastest lap (225.854 mph; 39.8488 seconds) in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer car, while reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion and '08 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon was third (225.494) in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car.
Verizon IndyCar Series teams focused on long fuel runs for the 200-lap race May 25.
Practice, scheduled May 15 from noon-6 p.m. (ET), will be preceded by James Davison starting the three-phase Rookie Orientation Program in the No. 33 KV Racing Technology/Always Evolving Racing entry. Kurt Busch will return to the Speedway for the session after spending Wednesday with Stewart-Haas Racing in Charlotte, NC.