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IndyCar track concerns fade after pit lane repair

INDIANAPOLIS — IndyCar drivers waited out a four-hour rain delay and worked through their concerns over a slippery warm-up lane Thursday.

It didn’t take long for the 31 drivers to start turning laps topping 225 mph.

Thirty-one of the 32 drivers entered in next month’s Indianapolis 500 participated in the second and final day of testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with hundreds of fans lining the mounds near the speedway’s museum.

The biggest question coming into the test session was whether track officials found a solution for the warm-up lane problems that caused three race winners to spin Wednesday, which led to two crashes.

“I felt it a couple months ago and I thought it was slippery but I didn’t think anything of it,” said Tony Kanaan, who spent much of Wednesday night talking to speedway president Doug Boles. “I think we have to go slow. Yesterday, I was really slow. It’s going to be different for race week so why are you going to try something different now? If we all use common sense, I think we’ll be OK.”

Kanaan said track officials promised to grind the track, if necessary, before the May 29 race day.

Boles said track workers spent five hours dragging tires through the problematic part of the track’s apron, an effort to provide drivers with more grip after the measurements showed the historic 2.5-mile oval had 25% more grip.

The reason is believed to be that the oval has had more traffic than pit road since the Rapid Penetrating Emulsion was installed last fall. The substance helps the track dry quicker, something that helped drivers finally make it onto the track Thursday.

Through the first 90 minutes, not many cars pitted and none spun, unlike Wednesday.

Will Power, the 2018 Indy winner, said it felt like water when he ran through the area that forced him into a dangerous 360-degree spin near the first turn. Power’s car forced promising 22-year-old Colton Herta to take a higher line, which sent his car into the wall.

That crash, the second in less than an hour, prompted series officials to end testing early so a more thorough inspection could be conducted by series and track officials as well as representatives of the series’ longtime tire manufacturer, Firestone.

“We did some tire dragging till about 1 o’clock last night,” Boles said Thursday morning. “The eye test tells you the grip level will be back up, the tennis shoe test tells you it will be.”

It’s not the first time the 113-year-old speedway has track trouble.

Only six Formula One cars started the 2005 U.S. Grand Prix because of concerns about Michelin’s tires lasting no longer than 10 laps. Three years later, NASCAR’s Brickyard 400 was marred by a similar situation with Goodyear tires. Both races were held on the oval.

But last year, Cup drivers used Indy’s road course for the first time and the race was marred by deteriorating curbing that sent some cars airborne and damaged others. NASCAR officials red-flagged the race so track workers could remove the curbing and the 200-mile race was completed.

Then came Wednesday.

Before a single lap was turned Wednesday, Alexander Rossi, the 2016 Indy winner, spun on the warmup lane. Then with about 80 minutes left in the third and final two-hour test session, Brazil’s Helio Castroneves spun, slid through the grass and slammed the second turn wall.

Castroneves and Herta were both examined at the track’s infield medical center and released shortly after they hit the wall. Both were cleared to drive for Thursday’s test session.

But the damage to Castroneves’ car was too severe to return to the track Thursday.

“Very strange,” said Castroneves, who was driving the same car he won with last year and plans to use again next month. “I wasn’t pushing, I wasn’t even trying. It was very unusual. I don’t know if you guys saw but I was like ‘I can’t believe what just happened.'”

Boles said he called Castroneves to apologize.

“First of all, I take this so personally because you want this to be the most special racetrack in the world,” Boles said. “We weren’t completely worried when Rossi spun because it was early in the morning and you think it’s cold but when you have three experienced drivers spin, that’s a concern.

Boles added: “What I want and, I’m sure we can solve by race day, is you want to get in and our of the pits as fast as you can go.”

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