LEXINGTON, Ohio – Graham Rahal drove to the top of the leaderboard in the final Verizon IndyCar Series practice prior to Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio qualifying, in another incident-filled session.
Piloting the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing at his home race, Rahal turned a best lap of 1 minute, 5.2067 seconds (124.662 mph) around Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. It ranks as the second-fastest lap of the weekend to date, just 0.117 of a second off the lap that Ryan Hunter-Reay logged in Friday afternoon practice while using the softer, faster Firestone red-sidewall alternate tires.
HONDA INDY 200 AT MID-OHIO: Practice 3 results; Combined practice results; Round 1 qualifying groups
After the practice, Rahal felt good about his car but knows the real work lies ahead in Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying in the afternoon (1:30 p.m., NBCSN).
“The car’s good,” said Rahal, the 2015 Mid-Ohio winner who sits eighth in points with five races remaining. “We’ve made a few good changes here over the weekend and getting ourselves back into the ballpark. I’m pretty pleased with my (car’s) balance.
“That lap should’ve been a couple tenths (of a second) better, to be honest. Actually, the lap before was a really good one and I had to lift because everybody keeps doing this accordion thing.”
While Rahal’s time was just more than a second shy of Will Power’s pole-winning lap last year using the previous generation cars with higher-downforce aero kits, he believes lap speeds will be similar in qualifying this time around.
“I’m pleased with the Fifth Third Bank car so far,” said Rahal, whose best Mid-Ohio start in 10 previous races is fourth. “We’ll keep our heads on it, keep working. By no means does that mean we’re a shoo-in (in qualifying). The (alternate) reds are going to be tricky. The reds are a lot more grip. I don’t remember what pole lap was last year, but it’s going to be pretty quick today, I think.”
Josef Newgarden, the defending Mid-Ohio race winner and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion, was second quick in the Saturday practice with a lap of 1:05.2470 (124.585 mph) in the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. Power was third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet (1:05.3367, 124.414 mph). Championship leader Scott Dixon, who brings a 62-point lead over Newgarden into the weekend, was fifth quick in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (1:05.4553, 124.189 mph).
The 45-minute session was halted three times for cars going off course.
Pietro Fittipaldi, competing in his first race weekend since recovering from injuries sustained in a sports car crash in May, spun in the No. 19 Paysafe Honda and slid into the gravel trap in Turn 2. Later, fellow series rookie Matheus “Matt” Leist slid off track in Turn 9 and his No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet made right-side contact with the wall.
Near the end of the practice, simultaneous incidents involving Simon Pagenaud and Spencer Pigot brought out the final red-flag stoppage. Pagenaud, in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, bounced off curbing in Turn 11 and slid into the tire barrier in Turn 12. At the same time, Pigot spun exiting Turn 1 in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet and slid into the grass without contacting any barriers.
Sunday’s race from Mid-Ohio airs live at 3 p.m. ET on CNBC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, with a same-day encore telecast at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN.