Drivers wasted no time Saturday morning at Mid-Ohio as the NTT IndyCar Series field took an aggressive approach to learning all they could in the sole practice session of the doubleheader weekend.
With qualifying and the first race taking place shortly after the 75-minute session, the 23-car field used the opening 60 minutes to learn the traits of Firestone’s primary tire where Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi posted the fastest lap of 1m06.9769s in the No. 27 Honda. During the black-tire phase of the session, two interruptions occurred as championship leader Scott Dixon spun at Turn 2 on new tires and found himself in the grass on the downhill slope of the keyhole.
Selecting reverse gear in his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Dixon pulled away with little more than grass and dirt serving as evidence of the excursion. Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward wasn’t able to say the same after slamming the Turn 12 barrier in his No. 5 Chevy. With suspension and bodywork damage to mend, the 21-year-old lost the final 40 minutes of the session as his car was send to the garage for repairs.
Slides, wiggles, and snap oversteer offered plenty of entertainment as drivers switched to Firestone’s faster alternate tires in the closing 15 minutes of the session as they performed qualifying simulations, and it was here where Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay took charge with the top overall time of 1m06.3034s in the No. 28 Honda. Foreshadowing a tight battle for pole position (2 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold), Team Penske’s Will Power was less than a tenth of a second behind in the No. 12 Chevy (+0.0918s), and Rossi was close behind on his red-tire run (+0.1265s).
Dixon’s last-minute qualifying sim promoted the defending Mid-Ohio race winner to fourth (+0.1373s), while a rapid Santino Ferrucci took fifth in his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan Honda (+0.2579s) and reigning IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden closed out the top six in his No. 1 Team Penske Chevy (+0.3918s).
“It’s a good start,” Hunter-Reay said. “Really, it all starts in qualifying, which sets the tone for the weekend.”