A flurry of action closed the NTT IndyCar Series’ one and only practice session for Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, and by the end of the 90-minute outing, Team Penske’s Will Power stood atop the 26 drivers in attendance.
Power’s lap of 1m09.9487s in the No. 12 Chevy was 0.1755s faster than Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan’s Santino Ferrucci, who made big progress in the No. 18 Honda. Another surprise followed Ferrucci as Marcus Ericsson led the Chip Ganassi Racing trio in his No. 8 Honda (+0.2161s), and Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward gave the team a boost in fourth with the No. 5 Chevy (+0.2387s).
“It’s hot man, and it’s going to be a tough race in that respect,” Power said of the mid-90s ambient temperatures. “Started the session pretty far off and got it in the window. Hopefully we can go for pole.”
With qualifying on the horizon, teams used the majority of the session to work on race setups, but few drivers performed long runs to gauge the rate of degradation with Firestone’s primary black tires over an extended number of laps. Once teams shifted to performing qualifying simulations on the faster Firestone red tires, the top of the leaderboard repeatedly changed.
Ferrucci’s pace on reds was noteworthy.
“Our car is really well connected today,” he said. “We wanted to roll out with something competitive, and that’s what we did. Can’t wait for qualifying later today.”
CGR’s Scott Dixon, winner of the season opener at Texas, could be one to watch in the 80-lap race after placing fifth in the No. 9 Honda (+0.2567s). Although Dixon wasn’t fastest on blacks or reds, his top-five speed in race and qualifying trim stood out among a number of drivers who fared well in one practice phase but struggled in the other. Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay completed the top six in the No. 28 Honda (+0.3359s).
NASCAR’s Goodyear-shod Xfinity cars will complete their first and second sessions on the road course prior to IndyCar qualifying. By leading the times, Power is allowed to choose whether to run in the first or second group of qualifiers, and in light of the fresh Goodyear rubber to deal with, the Australian opted to let his rivals clean the track during their opening runs.
“For the first guys out, I’m sure it’s going to be different,” he added.
The session presented a few setbacks for a handful of drivers. Andretti Herta Autosport’s Marco Andretti executed a spin shortly after cars took to the track, and his teammate, Andretti Harding Steinbrenner’s Colton Herta, dealt with a misfire in his twin-turbo V6 Honda engine. He’d eventually return to the circuit and post the 11th-fastest time; Andretti was 14th.
A red flag was thrown just passed the halfway mark when Ferrucci and Hunter-Reay clashed at the apex of Turn 7. With the Andretti driver on an out-lap and slowly warming his tires, the at-speed Coyne pilot expected the 2014 Indy 500 winner to give way.
“He centerpunched me; I didn’t even see him,” Hunter-Reay said over the radio. Once the situation was explained to the veteran, however, he accepted the blame: “That’s my bad; I looked twice and didn’t see him.”
Another red flag was required to extract the stalled Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevy of Sage Karam with 31 minutes left on the clock. Persistent issues with the clutch and re-firing the Chevy-powered No. 24 entry gave the AMR Safety Team a few headaches; Karam ended the session 26th and last.
Andretti’s James Hinchcliffe put the closing touches on the extracurricular excursions with a brief off-track trip in the final minute of the session, but no harm was done to the No. 29 Honda, which held 24th at the checkered flag.