By Justin Whitaker
— Saturday should be a fast day for the 33 drivers and teams attempting to qualify for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500.
For the first time since 2003, the pole position speed could top more than 230 mph. Helio Castroneves won the first of his four poles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a speed of 231.725 mph 10 years ago.
Drivers’ speeds have steadily increased throughout the week. Friday was the first day that numerous drivers topped 2012 pole sitter Ryan Briscoe’s speed of 226.484 mph.
Seventeen drivers eclipsed Briscoe’s 2012 pole speed on “Fast Friday.”
E.J. Viso, driver of the No. 5 Andretti Autosport/HVM/Team Venezuela Chevrolet led Friday’s practice session with a fast lap of 229.537 mph after thunderstorms brought out the yellow flag shortly after 3 p.m.
Viso continued Andretti Autosport’s speed dominance of the week as he became the fourth driver of the team to lead the practice sessions.
Andretti Autosport rounded out the top three with Marco Andretti in second with a speed of 228.754 mph and rookie Carlos Munoz in third with a speed of 228.520 mph.
Munoz has been the surprise of the first week having topped the practice charts twice. The 21-year-old rookie from Bogota, Columbia, finished second in last year’s Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 at IMS and will compete in the race again this year. He is the current Indy Lights points leader, having won back-to-back races at Birmingham and Long Beach entering Indy.
Munoz, like all of the Andretti Autosport Chevrolets, should be favored to win Saturday’s coveted pole position.
Team Penske’s Will Power was fourth (228.401) on the speed charts Friday with Panther Racing’s JR Hildebrand in fifth (227.529).
Andretti Autosport, Team Penske, and Panther Racing’s stable of drivers give Chevrolet their best shot at winning its first pole position since Bruno Junqueira did so in 2002.
Gates open at 6:30 a.m. Saturday for track action with a two-hour practice scheduled from 8-10 a.m. before the five-hour qualifying segment from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
During the first qualifying section, the first 24 spots in the 33-car field are up for grabs through the traditional four-lap attempts. Each car has up to three attempts during this time. The times of the top nine drivers from the opening qualifying segment are then erased for the Fast Nine Shootout.
In the Fast Nine Shootout from 4:30 to 6 p.m., each driver is required to make at least one more four-lap qualifying attempt. None of the drivers can start worse than ninth and can have multiple attempts if time permits.
On Sunday, Bump Day, positions 25 through 33 will be earned from the traditional four-lap qualifying runs.