Speeds increase as teams brace for potential weather issues

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SPEEDWAY – Hot weather was all the talk a year ago. Now that seems like a distant memory.

“It was freezing yesterday, it was like being back in England,” said British driver James Jakes of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

That was the case for the first two days of practice for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 with temperatures in the 50s and 60s with the wind whipping across the track most of the day. Tuesday offered a bit of a reprieve as the temperatures warmed into the mid-60s by the end of the day, which had the track full for most of the 5 P.M. happy hour.

“Last time this year it was 90 degrees,” said Penske driver Will Power. “Just good to get out and get some miles under the belt.”

Along with some speed. Power was fourth-quickest on the day with a speed of 223.784 miles and hour but was over a full mile-and-hour behind the top speed which once again belonged to Andretti Autosport. Marco Andretti-who is second in the Izod IndyCar Series points standings-delivered the fastest speed of the month to date with a fast lap of 225.100 miles an hour.

Penske’s Helio Castroneves was just .0043 seconds behind him and was second-quick while Ryan Hunter-Reay was third, followed by Power and JR Hildebrand.

“When you come in for the month you don’t plan for everything to go right but so far it has,” said Andretti. “But it’s early.”

Later it might be rainy-Thursday, Friday and Saturday-pole day-each have a 30 percent chance of precipitation in the forecast. Savvy teams and drivers already have their eyes toward the end of the week and began to up the on-track work load in anticipation.

“We did near a hundred laps, which is more than we would have normally done,” said defending champion and Target Chip Ganassi driver Dario Franchitti. “But we saw that forecast and thought we’ve got to get through some stuff here.”

He’s not alone in the garage with that thought as the days tick down towards qualifications and the race.

“You’ve just got to keep an eye on the forecast and the future,” said Jakes. “I know that Thursday and Friday aren’t looking too good now so a lot of people are doing a lot of running early to make sure you get the work done and mileage that you need before the rain comes.”