Indy 500 Fast Friday: Marco Andretti fastest, Alonso 25th

Speeds and Andretti Autosport’s expectations for the pole position for the 104th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge climbed arguably in equal measure, as Marco Andretti posted the fastest lap on “Fast Friday” since Arie Luyendyk record breaking, 239.260 mph, on May 10, 1996.

On Friday, Andretti led the final practice before Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a top lap of 38.5454 seconds, 233.491 mph in the No. 98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Honda.

He was one of 23 drivers who posted top speeds of 230 mph or higher, as added turbocharger boost today through Sunday added approximately 50 to 75 more horsepower to the Honda and Chevrolet engines.

“Fast Friday was good, especially with the top speed of the day,” Andretti said. “We seem to be looking good on no-tow speeds, as well. Although I wanted to end the day with runs better than we did, and we have a few things to work out. But we just need to nail tomorrow and the No. 98 car has enough speed for the Fast Nine.”

Conor Daly was second fastest today at 232.337 in the No. 47 United States Air Force Chevrolet. NTT Indycar Series points leader and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon, fastest Thursday, was third at 232.290 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay was fourth at 232.124 in the No. 28 DHL Honda, the best lap of the day without an aerodynamic tow under sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-80s on the 2.5-mile oval. Spencer Pigot rounded out the top five at 232.116 in the No. 45 Hy-Vee/Embrace Pittsburgh Honda.

Two-time Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso returned to the track today after hitting the SAFER Barrier in Turn 4 on Thursday in his No. 66 Ruoff Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. He was 25th fastest at 229.788.

The first day of qualifying takes place from 11 a.m.-4:50 p.m. (ET) Saturday. The nine fastest cars will earn a berth in the Fast Nine Shootout from 1:15-2:15 p.m. Sunday, which will determine the pole winner and the starting grid for the first three rows of the race Sunday, Aug. 23.

NBC will air qualifying from 3-5 p.m. Saturday. NBC’s NTT Indycar Series streaming platform, INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold, will cover qualifying from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.

All six Andretti Autosport drivers ended up in the top 15 today, with Andretti first, Hunter-Reay fourth, James Hinchcliffe seventh, 2016 “500” winner Alexander Rossi ninth, Colton Herta 13th and Zach Veach 15th.

2006 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year Andretti has been one of the three fastest drivers each of the three days of practice as he aims for his first Indy 500 pole and victory. But he will be the 28th of 33 cars to make their first qualifying attempt Saturday, when an earlier spot in the qualifying line should be more advantageous due to cooler air and track temperatures.

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing trio of Graham Rahal, Takuma Sato and Pigot benefited most from the qualifying draw Friday evening. Rahal will be first in the qualifying line, followed by teammate Sato in second. Pigot will make the seventh qualifying attempt in his RLL with Citrone/Buhl Autosport entry.

Track activity starts at 8:30 a.m. Saturday with a one-hour pre-qualifying practice split into two 30-minute groups.