Two-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden led pre-qualifying practice Saturday morning for the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR at Road America, as speeds climbed due to cooler temperatures and the use of Firestone alternate “red” tires.
Newgarden’s best lap was 1 minute, 45.3399 seconds in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet as Team Penske seeks its first victory of the season. Newgarden’s best lap, on the grippy Firestone alternate “red” tires, was more than two seconds quicker than the top lap during Friday practice of 1:47.6781 by Romain Grosjean.
The air temperature at the 14-turn, 4.014-mile circuit was 70 degrees, 15 degrees cooler than Friday, which created more grip and helped slice lap times.
“There’s definitely a big grip drop-off, which is challenging but it’s very fun to watch because people are going to struggle,” Newgarden said of the grip level of the alternate tires. “The grip came up a lot with the cool conditions, but the degradation is still really high.
“I think it’s going to be interesting in qualifying to see what people choose if they make it into the Fast Six. You have a higher likelihood this weekend to mix up tires than just going with the standard used red set. That could be fascinating. It’s been hard this weekend to get the grip out of the car.”
NTT P1 Award qualifying will be shown live on Peacock at 2:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday, with delayed coverage at midnight Saturday on NBCSN. Final practice is live on Peacock at 5:30 p.m. (ET) Saturday.
Live coverage of the 55-lap race starts at noon (ET) Sunday on NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Colton Herta was second in this morning’s practice at 1:45.4730 in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda. Graham Rahal was third at 1:45.6515 in the No. 15 Hy-Vee Honda.
Rookie Grosjean continued his strong weekend by ending up fourth at 1:45.7700 in the No. 51 NURTEC ODT Honda. Oliver Askew, substituting for the injured Rinus VeeKay, continued to impress by stopping the clocks in fifth at 1:45.7953 in the No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet.
Championship leader Pato O’Ward was seventh in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet, one spot behind Alex Palou in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda, who trails O’Ward by one point.
Six-time and reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon had an eventful session in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda, ending up 22nd at 1:47.2181. Dixon ran over debris in the fast, sweeping Carousel corner and suffered damage to the undertray of his car, forcing him to the pits with about 20 minutes remaining. The Chip Ganassi Racing crew worked feverishly to replace the damaged parts, getting Dixon back on track with two minutes remaining for one lap on alternate tires.
“It’s frustrating with how compact these weekends are, and if you lose any kind of sequence of it, the roll-on effect is pretty big,” Dixon said. “It is what it is; you can’t do anything about it. It was something on the track, something I couldn’t avoid in a corner that I couldn’t really avoid.”
The 45-minute practice was stopped once, when rookie Cody Ware spun in Canada Corner in the No. 52 Nurtec ODT Honda at the nine-minute mark of the session.