Wind and cool temperatures greeted the NTT IndyCar Series Saturday morning at St. Petersburg as preparation for Sunday’s 100-lap race and qualifying later today filled every driver’s run plan.
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden was the pacesetter for the second time this weekend, posting a lap of 1m00.0622s in the No. 2 Chevy.
“We made gains from last year in October,” Newgarden said. “Hopefully. that’s a good thing for qualifying. Fingers crossed we keep the momentum up.”
Behind Newgarden, the top six was comprised of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi in the No. 27 Honda (+0.1127s), Jack Harvey in the No. 60 Meyer Shank Racing Honda (+0.1570s), Andretti’s Colton Herta in the No. 26 Honda (+0.1594s), Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson in the No. 8 Honda (+0.1597s), and Penske’s Simon Pagenaud in the No. 22 Chevy (+0.2113s).
It was the remainder of the top 10 where mild surprise or frustration was found as Penske’s Scott McLaughlin was solid in seventh, Ganassi’s Scott Dixon was slightly distant in eighth, Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing’s Romain Grosjean impressed in ninth, and last week’s fastest man, Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward, caught big slides on the way to P10.
The 45-minute session opened with a penalty for Ganassi’s Jimmie Johnson after he was given the instruction to pull away from the pit box by his team before IndyCar started the session. Grosjean was the first to set a quick lap and was followed by Jack Harvey and Alexander Rossi as P1 traded hands.
By the halfway point in the session, it was O’Ward who went to the top as teams placed their focus on race preparations with Firestone’s black primary tires before moving to qualifying simulations in the last 15 minutes on the red-banded alternate tires.
Herta leapt to P1 with 10 minutes remaining on his first red-tire run, and as the clock wound down, teammate Alexander Rossi moved to P1 as Ganassi’s Palou went from nowhere to fifth during his qualifying simulation. With five minutes to go, Newgarden shot to the top and held P1 until the checkered flag waved.
Fastest Driver: Josef Newgarden, 1m00.0622s
Slowest Driver: Jimmie Johnson, 1m02.3598s
Most Laps Turned: 30, Takuma Sato, P20
• Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud ran long into Turn 4 and spent a few minutes waiting to be pulled to a safe spot by the AMR Safety Team and refired. Arrow McLaren SP’s Felix Rosenqvist would do the same at Turn 4 with less than five minutes to go on a qualifying sim, but kept the No. 7 Chevy and resumed on his own.
• Graham Rahal expressed his displeasure with Marcus Ericsson on his final red-tire run by flipping the bird at the Swedish driver who was unaware Rahal was on a flying lap. Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Takuma Sato closed FP2 in P19 and P20, respectively.
• The split between Andretti Autosport’s four cars has continued at St. Pete with Rossi and Herta up front and James Hinchcliffe (P15) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (P18) mired towards the back. Strangest of all was Penske’s Will Power as the St. Pete pole master was unable to muster a quality lap and ended the session in P13.
UP NEXT: Qualifying, 1:45 p.m. ET, on Peacock