By Jim Johnson
The Associated Press
INDIANAPOLIS — Gabby Chaves led Indianapolis 500 practice Thursday with a fast lap of 227.961 mph as Honda topped the speed chart for the third straight practice session.
The Colombian-American, who was hired by Dale Coyne Racing this month and made his season debut last week in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, topped a practice session at Indianapolis for the first time.
“It’s only practice but it feels pretty good,” he said.
Townsend Bell had the second-best lap at 227.593, and Andretti Autosport teammate Carlos Munoz was third at 227.589 as Honda took six of the top 10 spots. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team owner Sam Schmidt doesn’t expect Chevy to trail for long.
“Chevy teams are more organized, smarter and more strategically inclined,” he said. “They will bring out their big guns tomorrow. (It will) balance out or tilt that way a little.”
Up next is Fast Friday, when teams increase the car’s boost level, which will lead to faster speeds. Chevy could see better results, too, and Penske drivers are expected to move up after struggling yet again on Thursday.
Juan Pablo Montoya was sixth-fastest at 227.367, and Helio Castroneves was eighth at 226.803.
“Some of our guys have been working on race set-up today and some of them have been trying to get an introductory to qualifying,” Penske President Tim Cindric said. “Trying to get an initial feel for what it’s going to be like to come out here tomorrow. Although it’s a lower boost setting than what it is tomorrow, just getting an initial feel for what this aero kit is so that tomorrow we know where to start when we get ready for qualifying.”
Qualifying for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, and Honda and Chevy are both looking ahead to the race on May 29.
“Race day I think it will actually sort out pretty good,” Schmidt said. “I think Honda will be better off race day than it was at this time last year. But I think in qualifying the Chevy’s will still own the first five, six, seven spots.”
WHO’S HOT: Andretti Autosport. For the second straight day, Andretti had three drivers in the top 10. Munoz, Townsend Bell and Marco Andretti topped some of the fastest speeds both days.
WHO’S NOT: Recent champs. Montoya, the 2015 Indianapolis 500 winner, and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won it in 2014, both had their days cut short. Montoya lost power to his car midway through Thursday’s practice and Hunter-Reay lost his engine with under two hours remaining in practice, a day after posting the fastest lap during practice on Wednesday.
WHAT’S NEXT: Another six hours of practice on Friday followed by the Indy 500 qualifying draw.