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May 15, 2012  |   By  

Practice Day 4

What’s it going to be in the final 25-lap dash for the Indianapolis 500 wreath? Four cars in the mix? Six … maybe eight? Try 20, according to Team Barracuda – BHA driver Alex Tagliani.

The 2011 Indy 500 pole sitter bases his estimate on fuel mileage difference of the engines supplied by Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus through the initial four races and characteristics of the Dallara chassis on its maiden oval voyage. That number might be conservative, he added, if attrition doesn’t impact the 33-car field.

“The difference in qualifying last year between first (227.472 mph four-lap average) and 33rd was 3 miles per hour,” Tagliani said. “When you started the race there was a discrepancy between the top eight and the rest … they couldn’t follow. You could see that there was a discrepancy between the speed of the cars.

“With this new car, it’s going to be a half a mile an hour between the cars. The new car has not evolved like the other car with knowledge and trials, plus the series has closed up some of the things you can develop.

“Last year, you’re running the same engines so if you pitted on Lap 31 and he pitted on Lap 31, there’s not going to be a three-lap difference the rest of the race. That’s out of the window. Without doing anything, that’s going to induce a different strategy. You can’t predict what’s going to happen in the race.”

Of course, Tagliani and race engineer Todd Malloy hope they’ll be in position to predict the outcome. He was 11th on the practice time sheet May 15 with a best lap of 40.7788 seconds (220.703 mph) as 30 drivers recorded a month-high 1,602 laps. Marco Andretti, driving the No. 26 Team RC Cola car for Andretti Autosport, led the way with a lap of 40.2367 seconds (223.676 mph) – a high through four days of practice.

“I don’t think anybody is going to be able to lead for more than a couple of laps,” Andretti predicted. “It’s going to be a great show for the fans.”

The top 25 cars were separated by 1 second as teams continued working on race set-ups and simulations on the 2.5-mile oval. They’ll turn their attention May 18 to set-ups for qualifications as they’ll be afforded an extra 40-50 horsepower via turning up the boost of the turbochargers.

“With this new car we have a couple things we still need to sort out in terms in how the car feels in race trim and how it’s going to last over a stint,” said Hildebrand, the 2011 race runner-up and driver of the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car. “What we’ve seen here is that you’re going to have a helluva time pulling away from anybody, so chances are pretty good that you’re going to be in traffic for long stints during the race.”

Helio Castroneves, driving the No. 3 Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske car, was second with a lap of 222.025 mph and James Hinchcliffe (221.864) was third in the No. 27 GoDaddy.com car.