MONTEREY, Calif. – Drivers working with Andretti Autosport set the early bar for the final NTT IndyCar Series race of the season, with three among the fastest four in Friday’s practices at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda) led the way with a lap of 115.244 miles per hour (1 minute, 9.9105 seconds) while Harding Steinbrenner Racing rookie Colton Herta (No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda) was third at 115.210 mph (1:09.9317) and Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) fourth at 114.935 mph (1:10.0988). Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Felix Rosenqvist (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda) was able to break through the organization’s dominance, recording the second-fastest lap at 115.212 mph (1:09:9305).
FRIDAY'S ACTION: Practice 1 | Practice 2 | Warmup | Combined
The Hunter-Reay/Rossi partnership that was evident Thursday when the veteran drivers drove each other’s car during the open test seemed to pay dividends Friday.
“I think (we) have been kind of been joined at the hip for a lot of years now in a lot of ways,” said Rossi (shown above). “We feed off each other really well and work well together, and it’s great to have a teammate like that. With how competitive (INDYCAR) is, you need to have guys you can rely on. The first one I go to at the end of every session is this guy.”
Three rounds of knockout qualifying for the NTT P1 Award is Saturday, beginning at 4:30 p.m. ET (1:30 p.m. PT) on NBCSN. The pole winner from the Firestone Fast Six qualifying session will receive a bonus point, which could be significant in determining the series champion for this season.
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet) leads Rossi by 41 points and teammate Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet) by 42 heading to Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, where double the usual number of INDYCAR points will be distributed for each finishing position. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda) also is in contention for the title, although he has an 85-point deficit to Newgarden and needs a lot to go right this weekend to snare his sixth series championship.
Rossi said there is still more work to do in Saturday’s pre-qualifying practice (1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT, NBC Gold). His crew lost time Friday when a bolt broke in the car during the first practice session. He turned only four laps, none on Firestone’s standard black compound.
“We kind of sacrificed (Friday’s) second session to try and get as many runs in as we could to go through a checklist,” Rossi said. “We saved the new reds for the (third session), so I think we’re getting there.
“We used (Thursday’s six-hour test) to make sure we leave no stones unturned; I think we’ve flipped most of the stones. There’s a couple more to come tomorrow morning, but we’re just trying to make sure we have everything squared away for (qualifying) and (the race).”
Hunter-Reay vowed to help Rossi win his first NTT IndyCar Series championship.
“I think we made the car better today as we went through the day and working with Alex – I think we’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “Hopefully we can put these two cars on the front row.”
The other championship contenders were right on Rossi’s heels. Pagenaud, the 2016 series champion, had the day’s fifth-fastest lap at 114.875 mph (1:10.1353). Newgarden, the champion in 2017, was seventh at 114.729 (1:10.2066) with Dixon, a five-time series champion, eighth at 114.651 mph (1:10.2722).
Until this week, few NTT IndyCar Series drivers had much experience with this demanding 11-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course and its signature corner, the corkscrew at Turn 8.
The final challengers for INDYCAR’s Rookie-of-the-Year title believe that gives them level footing against their more experienced counterparts, though it bears noting that Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist (No. 10 NTT DATA Honda), Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci (No. 19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda) andHarding Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta (No. 88 Capstone Turbine Honda) have fared pretty well this season despite the noted deficit.
Herta has a race win and two poles, Rosenqvist has a pair of runner-up finishes in the past four races, and Ferrucci has been impressive on the oval tracks, with four top-seven finishes.
Rosenqvist expects the rookie class to earn strong marks during this first Indy car weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca since 2004.
“I think it resets everything,” the Swede said. “No one has a bunch of experience here. There’s no magic lines anywhere that someone has been working on for the past couple years.”
Rosenqvist said the corkscrew portion of the circuit, a sharp and winding downhill run through Turns 8, 8A and 9, is a stretch where drivers have been experimenting with different approaches. Herta’s last attempt in Friday’s first practice resulted in a spin and slide through the dirt.
“I just went in there a little bit too hot, locked the rear (tires) going over the rise in the corkscrew and that sent me spinning before I could turn in,” he said. “Just a mistake on my part, but it seems like everybody kind of has a car that’s a handful (there) and it makes it interesting to watch on TV. But it’s not so fun to do it in the driver’s seat.”
Like the championship contenders, Ferrucci said the rookies are hungry to win their own title.
“I think we’re really putting in a lot of extra work to be up front to try and win this battle,” he said. “I think it’s really showing, especially in the results, that to us it’s our championship and it’s just as important to us as if we were racing for the Astor Cup.”
The rookies were second (Rosenqvist), third (Herta) and sixth (Ferrucci) on Friday’s speed chart.
INDYCAR concludes its 17-race season with the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey on Sunday. Television coverage will begin on NBC at 2:30 p.m. ET (11:30 a.m. PT local) with the green flag scheduled for 3:15 p.m. (12:15 p.m. local). Live radio broadcasts will be available on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network and SiriusXM Satellite Radio (XM 205, Sirius 98, Internet/App 970).