ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – While he’s pleased with his early speed, Ryan Hunter-Reay knows that Road America is about more than just pace. It’s far more complicated than that.
“It’s so hard to put it all together here,” Hunter-Reay said Saturday after recording the second-fastest lap during the third practice session in preparation for qualifying at the KOHLER Grand Prix. “It’s trying to piece everything together and not really have a major weakness that sticks out. I don’t feel like I’m really weak anywhere, but it’s a matter of putting the whole thing together for a lap.”
KOHLER GRAND PRIX: Round 1 qualifying groups
Putting it together for one lap alone appears to be a strength of Honda and Hunter-Reay’s team, Andretti Autosport, and Honda, whose drivers posted 10 of the 12 fastest laps during the Saturday morning session, the final warmup before qualifications, which are scheduled for 4 p.m. ET and will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com, youtube.com/indycar and the INDYCAR Mobile app.
Robert Wickens led the way in the session with a fast lap of 1 minute, 42.9915 seconds (140.307 mph) in the No. 6 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. Hunter-Reay followed at 1:43.1725 in the No. 28 DHL Honda, with Simon Pagenaud third, the fastest Chevrolet-powered driver at 1:43.1793 in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.
Pagenaud wasn’t concerned about Honda’s show of speed. His Team Penske teammate, Josef Newgarden, had the fastest laps in both Friday practice sessions – including the best overall lap of the weekend at 1:42.6279.
“I don’t really worry about that too much,” Pagenaud said. “We know we have horsepower, we know that this kind of track should be good for us. I think everybody’s done their homework and are pretty quick around here. I think we’re on the right track.”
Wickens has been near the top throughout the first three practice sessions.
"So far, so good,” Wickens said. “It’s been a kind weekend to us so far. We haven’t been out of the top five so far, but practice means nothing. … This track’s tough. It’s always a compromise of how trim you want to go and how good the driver is.”
Two of Hunter-Reay’s teammates were also among the top eight during the session, with Alexander Rossi fourth and Zach Veach eighth. Pace-wise, Andretti Autosport is where it wants to be.
“We’re definitely right there in the thick of it,” Hunter-Reay said. “We’ll get to see where we are when we start drafting and passing and stuff like that, but so far as overall pace, we’re definitely pleasantly surprised.”
The trick to maintaining speed through each stint of Sunday’s race, Hunter-Reay said, is avoiding tire wear through Turns 9 and 10. A fast right-hander known as the carousel, the 9-10 complex is hard on tires, especially with a loose setup.
“Tire degradation during the race is going to be key through the carousel,” Hunter-Reay said. “Some guys are going to trim. They’re going to be hard to get by there, but they’re going to be really suffering when it comes to tire wear. I think that will be the story of the race.”
The long, 4.014-mile circuit sometimes gives the impression that it isn’t a difficult task, but Hunter-Reay says appearances can be deceiving.
“It’s a busy lap around here,” Hunter-Reay said. “This is a big place. You’d figure it wouldn’t be very physical because it’s so long and stretched out. But man, it ends up shrinking up pretty quick when you’re as busy as we are out there.”
Sunday’s race airs live at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.