Colton Herta backed up his encouraging start to IndyCar Spring Training at COTA by ending the opening day comfortably fastest in the No.88 Harding Racing Honda.
The rookie had earlier topped the morning session, and carried that same form into the afternoon, culminating with a best lap of 1m46.6258s: a 1.1s improvement on his best lap from before lunch, and the only sub-1m47s lap of the day.
“I’m super happy with how the day went,” said Herta, whose car is running in plain black. “We did some great things to the car and I’m very happy with how the boys got everything together in time for this test. Everyone did a fantastic job and there were no issues with the car, it was perfect. We kept chipping away and kept finding time, by the end of the day we were quickest by quite a margin. I can’t wait for tomorrow now.”
Best of the non-Hardings was Will Power, 0.4s slower at 1m47.1044s. The reigning Indy 500 champion completed 47 laps during the afternoon; his 48th being cut short by a spin into the gravel that brought the session to an end two minutes early.
Penske teammate Helio Castroneves, at COTA to serve as a fourth point of data for the team, ended the day third-fastest a further 0.5s down on Power, leaving Felix Rosenqvist and Scott Dixon to complete a Ganassi 4-5.
For most though, it was a day geared towards learning more than lap times. In some cases that meant experimentation – Josef Newgarden, who finished 13th-fastest, believed that his genuine pace was in the neighborhood of Power’s – and in others, it was a matter of flatting the learning curve of a new type of racing.
“We’re still trying to scan through a lot of things for me to build experience on what different changes do,” said Arrow SPM’s Marcus Ericsson, who was busy trying to unlearn everything he’d gleaned about the track during his time in F1.
“It’s a one-spec series but there are tons of things we can work with, and that’s the process we’re in at the moment – to explore things for the team, but mostly for me to feel different changes and learn how they feel. So we continued that today and found some interesting stuff, and I feel like we’re getting somewhere.
“It’s a tricky little car to drive – it moves around a lot, you put on new rubber and it gives you grip but it’s not super-sticky. The biggest thing right now is trying to get my head around the new tires and understand how they work. And here I’m having to really reset my reference points and try to drive in a different way. But it was a productive day. We did a lot of running, I was more or less on the pace, and we went through a lot of setup changes that I think will be useful during the year.”
One driver who did not get as much from the outing as he’d hoped to was Tony Kanaan, whose running was limited to 16 laps due to a gearbox problem on the No.14 A.J. Foyt Racing Chevy.