INDIANAPOLIS -- Fast Friday lived up to its name at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Ed Carpenter turning the first 230 mph lap at IMS in 11 years.
But the action was also frigid and fleeting.
With temperatures barely topping 50 degrees, 23 drivers dodged rainstorms to sneak in 18 minutes of practice. Just prior to the 3:08 p.m. yellow flag that ultimately marked the end of on-track action, owner-driver Carpenter cracked a lap of 230.522 mph in his Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet.
That was the first time the 230 mph barrier was broken at Indianapolis since 2003, when 230-mph laps were fairly routine and Helio Castroneves claimed pole position with a four-lap average of 231.725 mph.
Since then, engine power has been reduced in an effort to keep speeds in check. But with advancements in chassis safety and the introduction of the SAFER barrier, IndyCar Series officials are slowly incorporating more speed into the cars with the intention of seeking a new IMS track record in excess of 237 mph by 2016.
Practice speeds were in the 225 to 227 mph range this week prior to Friday's introduction of extra turbocharger boost for qualifying (140 kPa versus the race-level 130), resulting in about 40 more horsepower. That produced the fastest speeds of the week, as six additional drivers topped 229 mph, led by three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves.
"Well, that was a tow lap, so it's not completely honest," Carpenter said of his quick lap. "But it felt good. The cars are definitely up to speed this year.
"When it comes to predicting the pole, what the pole is going to be, I think a lot of it will be figuring out what the weather is," he added. "That 230 I did today, I don't think that would happen on a clean track. But if it warms up enough and the air gets a little thinner, certainly I think 230s are realistic, even up to 232 and 233."
Saturday's forecast calls for temperatures to top out in the low 60s, while Sunday is expected to approach 70 degrees.
Carpenter, who took the pole for the 2013 Indianapolis 500 at 228.762 mph, said the biggest challenge this week has been trying to get a clear lap to assess his car's handling in clean air.
"With the limited time we've had the last three days, almost everyone is out there," he said. "No one really knows what anybody can do outside a tow. I know that we feel confident in our speed. Hopefully we can be a factor this weekend and have some fun."
The extremely limited amount of practice time with qualifying boost certainly wasn't ideal, and it makes it difficult for even the drivers to gauge the pecking order heading into qualifying.
"It's the big unknown going into tomorrow, and it's because of the limited running," said Marco Andretti, who was third fastest Friday at 229.419 mph. "This is the first time in my career that I honestly have no idea where I'm going to qualify. I have no idea whether I'm going to be on the pole or 15th tomorrow. I guess that makes it fun."
Andretti said that being able to get one simulated qualifying run in on Friday will be helpful in setting the car up for Saturday.
"Definitely a decent run," he said. "I think we had plenty more in the car, but I think that sums up everybody's day."
"We can line it up for our first attempt off of that," Marco added. "The luxury tomorrow is you can run three times and you don't have to pull your time. You can almost use the first run as a practice run."
Another challenge for teams is adapting to arguably the biggest change ever to the Indianapolis qualifying procedure.
On Saturday, the fastest 33 cars will qualify, but the order of the field won't be established until Sunday (and only the top 30 drivers will be locked in). There are exactly 33 entries, but if any additional car/driver combinations materialize, they will have a shot to make the field Sunday afternoon during a dedicated "back row" bumping session, followed by a Fast Nine shootout for the pole.
The carrot for trying to run fast Saturday is championship points. Thirty-three are on offer for Saturday's fastest qualifier, down to one point for the 33rd-fastest driver. On Sunday, when the actual order of the field is determined, pole position pays an extra nine points in addition to a cash prize.
"The first goal is to get it in the top nine with not too much risk," remarked Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader Will Power. "You don't want to go into the wall, because that really puts you on the back foot.
"We've got no feel right now for where we stack up," he added. "We'll have to see how the format plays out. I'm sure if you were one of the fast cars at the front competing for the championship, you would definitely go back out again to gain some points."
Drivers have one final practice session early Saturday morning to work on their cars. ABC will televise the final two hours of the seven-hour session, beginning at 4 p.m. ET. The back row bumping and Fast Nine shootout also will be broadcast on ABC from 1-3 p.m. ET on Sunday.