INDIANAPOLIS — Scott Dixon, already off to a tremendous start to the IndyCar season, quickly set the pace on the first day of practice for the Indianapolis 500.
The five-time IndyCar champion was fastest in the first session Wednesday in preparation for the Aug. 23 race. Dixon turned a lap of 224.047 mph (360.57 kph) around Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the two-hour session for veterans.
“Decent start, just trying to get some though some of items that we have on the list,” Dixon said. “First practice, doesn’t mean anything, just trying to get the car comfortable in traffic and so far that seems to be pretty good.”
Dixon opened the season with three consecutive victories and the New Zealander is the series points leader through six events. He has won the Indy 500 once in his career.
The Indy 500 is traditionally held in May on Memorial Day weekend but was moved back three months because of the coronavirus pandemic. The 104th running of the classic event will be held without spectators and IndyCar has made several adjustments to the traditional practice schedule.
Practice time has been reduced by about 11 hours from previous years, which Dixon said puts increased importance on running through the checklist to prepare the cars. It was also the first laps at Indy with the new aeroscreen cockpit protector that Dixon tested at the track last fall during its development.
The aeroscreen is to protect the drivers’ head and debuted at the start of this season. It was widely praised after a race in July at Iowa Speedway, when several drivers were involved in frightful crashes.
The first test of the protective screen occurred when Will Power’s left front wheel came off his car, sending him into the wall and the tire bounced within feet of his head. The second occurred on an aborted restart when Colton Herta’s car catapulted over Rinus VeeKay, missing the rookie’s head by inches but destroying the new safety device.
Dixon noted he’s adjusted to the device since he first tested it at Indy.
“The aeroscreen, when we first tested it, it seemed like it kind of affected the car a little different aerodynamically,” Dixon said. “I’d say today actually felt more normal. No real difference, vision is good.”
The first day of Indy 500 preparations continued with a veteran refresher test that Fernando Alonso and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves sailed through, as well as the rookie orientation program.
The day was scheduled to conclude with a 150-minute open practice session. Ben Hanley, entered to drive for DragonSpeed USA, was not able to get on the track in the morning but was hoping to be ready for the final session of the day.
“We’re a bit delayed at the moment but we are trying to do everything as efficiently as we can,” Hanley said. “We don’t want to rush it and make a mistake. It’s frustrating to hear all the other guys on the track, but we are being patient. I’d rather the guys take their time and everything is 100% when we hit the track.”