INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, May 14, 2012 – Only 1/100th of a second separated Sam Schmidt Motorsports teammates Simon Pagenaud and Townsend Bell on the time sheet Monday when the third day of practice for the Indianapolis 500 came to an end at 6 p.m.
The pair recorded the 20th and 21st-fastest laps on a day that saw 29 drivers practice.
Driving the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, Pagenaud turned a lap of 41.2390 seconds at 218.240 mph on his 22nd of 36 practice laps. The lap was his best in three days of practice so far.
As a rookie to oval track racing and at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Pagenaud’s team is being conservative in its approach to speed for the Frenchman.
“This process is interesting, but I’m learning every session,” said Pagenaud. “The car is plenty fast and we actually improved a lot today. I’m really happy with the race car. We’re getting closer to what we need. Right now, it’s just me learning how to shift, when to shift, when to tow, when to draft, when to pass and when to be aggressive and when to be a little more gentle with my hands. Man, there are so many things. Remember, I’ve never been on an oval before.”
Despite being 20th on the speed chart, Pagenaud said he is not concerned with his ranking.
“Every single lap is a discovery,” he said. “I really had fun tonight, running in traffic, running with Justin, running with the Penskes. The car was really dialed in, so it was really enjoyable.”
Bell, in the No. 99 BraunAbility/Schmidt Pelfrey Motorsports Dallara/Honda/Firestone car, turned 32 laps of practice Monday. His best lap was 41.2574 seconds at 218.143 mph. Monday was his first full day of practicing, and the Californian also was patient in his practice routine.
“Last year, I knew the car so it was only a matter of finding speed,” said Bell. “This year, it’s a combination of learning the car and finding speed. We did a short run there at the end with the three Penskes, and I felt very good with what we learned there. We’ll just continue to chip away at it, but overall we’re doing fine. It’s kind of like slipping on an old glove from a personality standpoint which just makes the learning curve all that much easier.”
For the second time this month, rookie Josef Newgarden topped the speed chart. His lap of 40.4519 seconds at 222.486 mph bettered Ryan Hunter-Reay’s lap of 40.6065 seconds at 221.639 mph. Hunter-Reay’s teammate Marco Andretti was third with 40.6285-second lap at 221.519 mph. Scott Dixon (221.499 mph) and Sebastian Saavedra (220.785 mph) rounded out the top five.
A total of 29 drivers turned 1,199 laps during the six-hour practice session Monday. Practice resumes Tuesday from noon to 6 p.m. ET.