Colton Herta emerged from the red-tire frenzy to pace Saturday’s first and only practice session for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The 20-year-old second generation star turned a lap of 1m01.130s in his Andretti Autosport Honda around the 1.8-mile street circuit to edge teammate James Hinchcliffe’s best of 1m01.227s as the top 10 drivers were only separated by five-tenths of a second.
Rookie Alex Palou continued to shine for Dale Coyne’s team with a lap of 1m01.431s and Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato was fourth fastest for RLL as Honda claimed the four best lap times in the 90-minute session.
Sebastian Bourdais, a three-time winner at St. Pete, was the quickest Chevy and gave A.J. Foyt’s team reason for optimism with a lap of 1m01.515s, followed by Alexander Rossi at 1m01.570s in another Andretti entry and rookie Rinus Veekay at 1m01.602s for Ed Carpenter.
Josef Newgarden, who trails Scott Dixon by 32 points going into the IndyCar season finale, wound up eighth for Team Penske while Dixon was 15th in Chip Ganassi’s car — seven-tenths off Herta’s lap.
But the story of the session was Scott McLaughlin. In his IndyCar debut, the Aussie Supercars star turned in the 10th-fastest lap on black tires for Team Penske.
“I had a couple of misdemeanors but it was a solid session and everything I’d dreamed up,” said McLaughin, who was officially named Friday as Penske’s fourth driver for 2021.
Felix Rosenqvist, driving with a broken right hand from an injury suffered at IMS in the Harvest GP earlier this month, brought out the red flag with five minutes to go when he spun in Turn 13 before Oliver Askew and McLaughlin ended the session by locking up in the final corner.
UP NEXT: Qualifying is this afternoon at 3:05 p.m. ET and airs live on NBC Sports Gold. NBCSN will air qualifying tonight at 8 p.m. ET.