Alex Palou provided a shot of encouragement for Chip Ganassi Racing at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Saturday morning by topping the times in the second practice session ahead of Sunday’s NTT IndyCar Series season finale.
Ganassi came into the weekend with both Marcus Ericsson and Scott Dixon still in mathematical contention for the title, but struggled in the hot and slippery conditions that greeted the cars for opening practice yesterday, with Ericsson the only one of the team’s four drivers to make the top 10.
The scene on Saturday morning was dramatically different, with heavy cloud cover and track temperatures more than 20 degrees F cooler than Friday, and Palou responded at the very end of the session with a 1m11.3847s. The Spaniard’s best time came amid a flurry of fresh tire runs in the final minutes as teams scrambled to find a compromise between squeezing in a qualifying simulation and trying to save their tires for when they’ll really matter.
Alexander Rossi carried Andretti Autosport’s solid Friday form into Saturday morning by going second fastest, 0.3s down on Palou, leaving two of Penske’s contenders in Will Power and Josef Newgarden — the latter responding well to some late changes to his car — third and fourth fastest respectively. Andretti’s Colton Herta rounded out the top five ahead of Dixon, but you had to look towards the other end of the timing screens to find the other championship hopefuls, with Penske’s Scott McLaughlin finishing up 18th fastest, and Ericsson two spots further back.
The session was interrupted twice by brief stoppages. Graham Rahal triggered the first 15 minutes in when he appeared to get onto the power a touch early at the top of the Corkscrew and spun harmlessly to the inside. He rebounded to complete 18 laps and finish up 14th-fastest.
Pato O’Ward was responsible for the second red flag 10 minutes later when he spun at the entry to Turn 10 and skated through the gravel. The runoff did its job well enough to scrub off most of his speed, but not quite enough for him to avoid a gentle tap into the tire wall.
Pushing hard and going for a ride.@PatricioOWard ends up in the gravel in practice.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) September 10, 2022
The car appeared to have escaped serious damage, but the time lost to clearing debris out of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet left him stuck in pitlane for most of the remainder of the session. He did manage to get back out in the closing minutes, but finished up at the bottom of the table.
A knock-on effect of O’Ward’s red was a bizarre off by Jimmie Johnson, who was cruising back to the pits at low speed after the reds came out and somehow lost the car at the entry to the hairpin and went firing through the dirt to the outside. The “holy s***” that crackled over the radio suggested that the driver of the No.48 Ganassi Honda was just as surprised as everyone else.
UP NEXT: Qualifying, 5:05pm ET, Peacock