Jules Gounon left it late to snatch top spot in the first official session of this year’s Indianapolis 8 Hour Presented by AWS after rain prevented any meaningful running for much of the first 45 minutes.
Barrier repairs prior to Free Practice resulted in the session being reduced from 90 to 75 minutes, most of which was spent waiting for cars to emerge.
Only a handful laps had been completed on a damp track when further rain sent teams scurrying for the pit apron. And when cars did eventually emerge en masse it took time before conditions were suitable for Patric Niederhauser’s early benchmark to be challenged.
Alessio Rovera was the first to do so when he put AF Corse’s Ferrari second with 25 minutes to go, but his – and Niederhauser’s – time was bettered almost immediately by Maro Engel who lowered the Sainteloc Audi’s best by 0.3s.
Mercedes-AMG’s other factory car also spent time at the top thanks to Raffaele Marciello whose successive fastest times moved the goal posts once again. Rob Bell and then Dries Vanthoor slotted in behind soon after before Gounon had the last laugh late on.
It was a mark of the conditions that the Frenchman’s 1m44.245s was still nine seconds down on Thursday’s testing benchmark, but it was still enough to seal top spot for Craft-Bamboo by 0.201s from Team WRT’s Vanthoor who improved again to beat Marciello.
Indeed, such was the rate of improvement that Team AKKA ASP’s Mercedes-AMG ended up 0.7s behind Gounon.
Nicklas Nielsen also improved on his final lap to leave AF Corse’s Drivers’ Championship-leading Ferrari fourth fastest, while the first non-Intercontinental entry – Crucial Motorsports’ McLaren – rounded out the top-five.
Turner Motorsport’s BMW was a feature of the top-four before improvements elsewhere left last year's winner, Connor De Phillippi, in sixth, one place ahead of WRT’s second Audi and the leading Silver Cup entry of Winward Racing.
For the GT World Challenge America contingent, the #96 Turner Motorsport BMW set the fastest lap in the Overall category with the #33 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG and the #70 inception racing McLaren following behind it, leading the Silver Cup and Pro-Am competitors respectively.
Cars and drivers will now travel to downtown Indianapolis for tonight’s Speedway Parade (17:30 – 19:30 EDT) before Pre-Qualifying kicks off a busy day at 08:30 tomorrow.