Karam leads way in 1st Indy 500 practice

Scott Dixon, of New Zealand, sits in is car during practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Monday, May 11, 2015. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Ryan Hunter-Reay is more than ready for a change of scenery. He wants to move from road courses and set his eyes set on the first oval race of the season at Indianapolis Motor Speedway — the Indianapolis 500.

“I’m so ready to be done with the road course right now,” the defending Indy 500 winner said. “I’m very excited to be back on an oval.”

Inclement weather shortened the first day of Indianapolis 500 practice on Monday, less than 48 hours after teams and track workers made the conversion from the road course to the 2.5-mile oval.

Sage Karam led the way in practice with a fast lap of 225.802 mph. Scott Dixon was second at 225.293, followed by Brazil’s Tony Kanaan (225.217), Marco Andretti (225.184), and JR Hildebrand (224.760).

Drivers downplayed how tough it is to make such a quick turnaround from Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis road-course race to begin preparation for the Indy 500 on an oval track.

“I don’t even think about it,” Juan Pablo Montoya said. “Just get in the car and drive it, see what it does. Make it better, go through the program. That’s all you can do.”

There’s a little more that goes into it, though. Team crews make car alterations from road-course to oval racing. But nothing a crew can’t handle, according to Team Penske owner Roger Penske.

“This is their business, they know how to do it without any problem,” he said. “The biggest thing is changing the sponsors on the car. That’s probably tougher, putting new sponsors on all the cars.”

A year ago teams were more pressed for time to be ready for practice the day following the inaugural GP. This year, race organizers altered the schedule for May, giving drivers Sunday off.

Still, drivers know the tough task handed to their crew between races, but track workers wasted no time starting the track conversion in time for Monday’s practice.

The transformation from the road-course to the oval began when the checkered flag fell at the conclusion of Saturday’s race, Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Doug Boles said.

Almost immediately teams begin moving their pit boxes and equipment. Shortly after, track workers began removing sponsorship decals from walls around the track before they ran into an unexpected hurdle.

“We’ve never decaled the front stretch before,” Boles said. “They had to use a heat gun to make sure that it stayed on and as they pulled it off some of the glue residue stayed on the walls so our walls were gray and white.”

On Sunday, he said, a paint crew was called in to help repaint nearly two miles of the track wall.

“That’s a lot of wall that we had to paint,” he said. “That was something that came up that we didn’t expect.”

Scattered rain showers slowed the process, too, for the painters and two crews — a 100-ton and 70-ton crane — moving nearly 2 million pounds of concrete barriers.

It’s a slow process.

“They carry it across the track about six inches of the ground,” Boles aid. “And you can’t let it bounce or it starts digging (into the track). It’s sort of a graceful move.”

Australia’s Will Power, who won the Grand Prix, and teammate Helio Castroneves, a three-time Indianapolis 500 winner, each took just one lap in Monday’s practice.

“We were just making sure the conditions were right,” Power said. “With the weather and we were just saving tires.”

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