Story Credit: INDYCAR PR
Photo Credit: INDYCAR Photo
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).
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,” Rossi said. “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).