Graham Rahal set the pace in Friday’s final NTT IndyCar Series practice session ahead of Saturday evening’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Rahal popped up in the final minutes with a 177.728mph to put the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda ahead of Scott Dixon, whose 177.459mph had stood as the benchmark for just over 15 minutes. Dixon’s move to the top had come at the expense of rookie David Malukas, who’d claimed it just two minutes earlier, but the Dale Coyne Racing driver’s 176.724mph was still good enough to stand as third-fastest when the checker waved. Fourth-fastest belonged to Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean, who recovered nicely from a minor sensor problem right at the start of the session.
With qualifying out of the way and the track conditions representing what the drivers expect to face in tomorrow’s race – sketchy weather forecast notwithstanding – teams brought a very different plan into the session compared to the earlier running. In addition to regular race preparations, the hour-long session had been preceded by a special 30-minute outing for nine drivers (Andretti’s Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren SP’s Felix Rosenqvist, Ganassi’s Dixon, Coyne’s Takuma Sato, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly, Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Callum Ilott, Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud, RLL’s Jack Harvey and Team Penske’s Will Power) to attempt to rubber in a possible second lane – or even just a half-lane – and hopefully allow the track to race better.
Initial feedback was promising, albeit only at one end of the track.
“It was fun to have another hour trying the higher line in 1,2, 3 and 4,” said Ganassi’s Alex Palou, who finished the evening fifth-fastest. “It didn’t really work out in 3 and 4, but the car is good. The car is fast; learned some stuff. Hopefully we’ll be ready to try and win tomorrow.”
Palou was relieved to end the evening with his car in good shape after being called upon to make a huge save in the early minutes. (“Wooooooo,” he yelped over the radio after steadying the car. “I think I’ll bring it in.”) Less lucky was Rosenqvist, whose first session had been derailed by a spin, and then had his second outing cut 30 minutes short by a problem with the car.
“The team just said it’s a technical issue and we’re not going to be able to solve it before the end of the session,” he said. “Not great for us, but it is what it is. Just going to have to switch it on tomorrow.”
The session seemed primed to run completely under green before Jimmie Johnson mistimed his downshift from second to first at pit entry and looped the No. 48 CGR Honda with just two minutes left to run. The car escaped significant damage, but the incident brought the session to an early end.
UP NEXT: Race, Saturday, 6pm E.T.