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O'Ward tops a busy third day of Indy 500 practice

Phillip Abbott/Motorsport Images

O'Ward tops a busy third day of Indy 500 practice

Late rains trimmed the third day of Indianapolis 500 practice from eight hours to a little over six, but it wasn’t a major hindrance on the field of 34 drivers who turned 1896 combined laps on Thursday.

The fastest driver of all was Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward who, like the other fastest drivers of the day, put in an early lap that stood throughout the morning and afternoon. The Mexican’s 228.861mph lap in his No. 5 Chevy was aided, like every quick lap on Thursday, with an aerodynamic tow.

“Good day for us,” O’Ward. “We just keep on working with our race car, getting her peppered in and did some qualifying sims. Would have (liked to have) had a little bit more of time to do some quali sims but the rain had other plans, but no big issue. I’m happy and tomorrow is Fast Friday, so I’m going to go fast.”

The opening half of the running saw drivers fire out at 10am ET and try to conduct qualifying simulations, but those attempts were soon blighted as too many cars were on track to allow four-lap runs without a tow. O’Ward went fastest at 10:45am and stayed there, with Scott McLaughlin in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevy (227.318mph) and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou in the No. 10 Honda (226.915mph) locking themselves into second and third.

The first crash of the event took place at 11:31am when Ganassi’s Linus Lundqvist hit the Turn 2 wall and walked away unhurt.

Moving into the fifth hour of running at 3pm, no changes at the top were registered as O’Ward, McLaughlin, and Palou remained 1-2-3, and behind them, the same cluster of Colton Herta, Josef Newgarden, Marco Andretti, Lundqvist, Ed Carpenter, Will Power, and Scott Dixon completed the top 10. The higher afternoon temperatures made for slower speeds in the 217-219mph range as the field focused on race-day running in turbulent lead-and-follow air.

Marcus Ericsson’s tough week at Indy with Andretti Global continued when he became the second driver to crash on Thursday. The Swede spun and hit the Turn 4 wall at 3:49pm, clipping the apron in Turn 4 — an identical mistake to his countryman Linus Lundqvist who dipped low at Turn 2 and had the same result — and smashing the left side of the car against the SAFER barrier before spinning towards and clipping the pit entry attenuator and coming to a stop on pit lane.

Ericsson was unhurt in the crash, and in the time it took to clear the long debris field from the track, light rain began to fall with approximately 1h50m left in the day and extended the caution period. While Lundqvist’s car was repairable, Ericsson’s Andretti team was forced to start building a new car for the 2022 Indy 500 winner to continue at some point on Friday.

The green flag waved with 1h35m left on the clock and a number of drivers ventured out to try and perform qualifying simulations. The only issue facing those drivers was the high volume of runners who took to the track and made it impossible for anyone to run without receiving a tow.

The green-flag blast lasted about two minutes before more moisture fell; harder rain was in the immediate forecast, which led the large number of drivers to head out in anticipation of the day ending sooner than desired due to poor weather.

The final green flag of Thursday was waved with 25 minutes remaining and Romain Grosjean was the first driver to get up to speed and perform a qualifying simulation. Carpenter was next to join him and shortly after, Kyle Larson and Nolan Siegel took to the track.

Conor Daly’s slowing car triggered another caution, this time with 12 minutes on the clock. He rolled to a stop in his pit box as more rain drops fell and the checkered flag was deployed to close the day. With rain in the forecast for Fast Friday, a wet week and a compressed schedule continues without relief.

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