Graham Rahal didn’t mince words when expressing his emotions after a tough opening practice Friday for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding was compounded by a spin in the run-off area in Turn 4.
The rear brakes appeared to lock as he approached the corner, and the No. 15 United Rentals Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing slid through the turn and into the run-off area. Rahal ended up 26th in the session, 1.5244 seconds behind leader Scott Dixon, and had an intense discussion with his engineers in the pits at the end of the session.
Rahal’s teammates also had a tough session. Christian Lundgaard made contact with the wall and was forced to come to pit road in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda, ending up 25th. Jack Harvey had a trouble-free outing but finished 17th in the No. 30 Kustom Entertainment Honda.
“It's messy,” Rahal said. “For us, if you can see Christian and I, we started kind of similar and both are at no man's land at all. I've been lacking a tremendous amount of rear grip compared to Jack. I'm 5 percent forward on brake bias. It doesn't make a lot of sense.
“So, we're going to have to obviously change brakes to try to settle the rear of the car down, but it's just tough. I think they repaved, or at least I thought from what they said in the notes that they repaved a couple areas that are just bumpier than hell. So, major challenge. It's the only good thing that at least there is a night before you go out and you have some time to make some big changes to cars and really do what these things.”
Practice resumes at 10 a.m. ET Saturday, with NTT P1 Award qualifying at 2:15 p.m., with both sessions live on Peacock.
“Yeah, we would've liked to get a lot more done in the session, but I think we were pretty perplexed at what was going on,” Rahal said. “It didn't really make a lot of sense. So, it's just a major challenge. We tried to take some stuff from the simulator. It did nothing but sidetrack us to this date. We just need to put our heads down overnight. We need to look at what Jack's doing, which is a completely different setup. But even he is 15th.
“So, we've got a lot of work. The bottom line is, to be frank, I'm terrible. I'm driving at 60% and yet you're only a second and a little bit off. It's super close. We're just going to have to put our heads down.”
New Year, New Herta
The departure of Alexander Rossi from Andretti Autosport to Arrow McLaren Racing has elevated Colton Herta as the team’s longest-tenured driver and de facto leader.
The 22-year-old (he turns 23 at the end of the month) arrived at the media bullpen with steadiness and an eagerness to see all of the work over the offseason finally begin to show results as the team looks to improve upon last year, when Rossi and Herta were the team’s top-placed drivers in the final standings at ninth and 10th, respectively.
“The preseason testing was so good,” said Herta, driver of the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda. “I think we led three of the four sessions at Thermal as a team. We were 1-2-3-4 at the Sebring test that we did. It kind of just shows that we have a lot of speed in the car.”
That belief became reality during the first practice. Herta was second, new teammate Kyle Kirkwood was fourth in the No. 27 AutoNation Honda.
McLaughlin Tees Up Race Week Activities on PGA Links
One of the more unique events of this race week happened earlier in the week as Scott McLaughlin, defending winner of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding, spent part of the buildup competing in a Pro-Am tournament at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a PGA TOUR event in Bay Hill, Florida.
McLaughlin, driver of the No. 3 DEX Imaging Team Penske Chevrolet, was paired with 2023 Ryder Cup team captain Zach Johnson, with singer-songwriters Ben Rector and Russell Dickerson also part of the group outing. Ben Bretzman, race engineer for McLaughlin, served as a caddy as the group finished 4-under-par.
A flurry of activity kickstarted Friday into high gear, with optimism, good vibes and warm, sunny weather permeating the air around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit.
Drivers Take Time to Visit Ill Kids at Track
Racing For Kids brought a group of 40 kids into the NTT INDYCAR SERIES paddock Friday and were greeted by several drivers and teams before going to AJ Foyt Racing, where they took pictures with the cars, along with rookie Benjamin Pedersen and Santino Ferrucci.
A unique national charity, Racing For Kids supports children when they are most vulnerable — sick and hospitalized. Representatives of Racing For Kids have visited more than 38,000 sick children in over 750 hospital and healthcare facilities, raising more than $7.5 million in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Japan and Australia.
Odds and Ends
- Per Steve Wittich of Trackside Online: Scott Dixon enters the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with 192 top-five finishes, which accounts for 52.3 percent of his career starts in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. With one more top five, he would tie Mario Andretti, for most top fives in INDYCAR history.
- McLaughlin had two separate incidents where he tapped the wall, breaking the rear toe-link on both occasions. The Team Penske pit crew ose to the challenge, fixing the issue and sending him out both times en route to placing 10th on the timesheets. Upon acknowledging the crew for their hard work after practice, one member joked the repairs would be welcomed in exchange for margaritas.
- Two prominent members of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES paddock celebrated birthdays Friday in St. Petersburg – Ed Carpenter Racing owner-driver Ed Carpenter and NBC INDYCAR play-by-play commentator Leigh Diffey.
INDY NXT by Firestone Gets Rolling
- Juncos Hollinger Racing revealed a new member as Argentinian Andres D’Ambrosio takes over as team manager of the squad’s INDY NXT by Firestone efforts for 2023. Reece Gold and Matteo Nannini drive for the team in INDYCAR’s development series.
- In the first INDY NXT practice with Firestone tires new to the series this season, the gap from leader Jacob Abel to second-place Nolan Siegel was just .0364 of a second. Just .4044 of a second separated Abel from 11th place Nannini.