AUSTIN, Texas – A fixture up front in qualifying on permanent road courses last season, it’s no surprise to see Will Power atop the leaderboard following three practices Friday for the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas.
Power, driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, posted the best lap of the day in the second of the three sessions, when most teams first tried a set of the softer, faster Firestone alternate tires. The 2014 NTT IndyCar Series champion and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner soared around the spectacular 3.41-mile circuit in 1 minute. 47.4401 seconds (114.259 mph).
“It's a difficult track, very technical, hard to get the car right,” said Power, whose 35 career wins are tied for seventh most in Indy car history. “I felt like we got in a pretty good window that session. Felt like we found where we need to be.”
INDYCAR CLASSIC: Practice 2 results I Warmup results I Combined practice results
Power qualified first or second at five of the six NTT IndyCar Series races in 2018 on permanent road courses but was only able to convert one – at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – into a victory.
“We'll just keep massaging on it,” Power said in anticipation of qualifying on Saturday and the first NTT IndyCar Series race at COTA on Sunday. “It's going to be tight, it always is.”
Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Felix Rosenqvist continued to impress on the heels of his fourth-place finish in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10. The Swede was second fastest on the day with a lap of 1:47.6150 (114.073 mph) in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda.
Three practices were held Friday – one for 45 minutes, one for an hour and the final for 30 minutes – with the last session taking the place of the usual race-morning warmup that included live pit-stop practice. Only a single 45-minute practice remains (11 a.m. ET Saturday) before NTT P1 Award qualifying (3 p.m. Saturday) and Sunday’s 60-lap race.
Rookie Colton Herta had the most eventful day. The son of former Indy car driver Bryan Herta was second in the morning practice but suffered a mechanical issue late in the session that forced a lengthy red flag to halt practice. Herta’s Harding Steinbrenner Racing crew worked feverishly to replace the engine in his No. 88 Honda, and while he missed the entire second practice, he was able to turn valuable laps in the warmup to get a sense for how the car reacted on the Firestone alternate tires.
“I think we missed it on the reds,” said Herta, who nonetheless was second in the warmup session that ranked ninth overall for the day (1:48.4341). “It was pretty loose and it wasn’t a super-clean lap. Obviously, we got some good (data) to look at because we got out there, at least, and we got to run a new set of blacks (primary tires) and a new set of reds.”
Simon Pagenaud led the 30-minute warmup that permitted teams to conduct up to three live pit-stop simulations in addition to turning laps. Pagenaud’s best lap in the final session was 1:48.3334 (113.317 mph), nearly a full second off teammate Power’s pace from the second practice.
“I’m very excited, the car feels awesome,” Pagenaud said of his No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet. “Driving well and the whole group is doing a fantastic job. Team Penske, man, these guys just never stop digging. It’s impressive.
“I think we’ll be in good shape tomorrow. The car feels really nice. It’s a fun track.”
Saturday’s final practice streams live on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold at 11 a.m. ET. Qualifying begins at 3 p.m. and airs live on NBCSN and INDYCAR Pass.
Coverage of the race starts at 1 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.