NTT IndyCar Series points leader Pato O’Ward carried his early-season form into the opening practice session on the streets of Long Beach on Friday.
On an afternoon where the field spent the 75-minute session trading hundredths of a second, O’Ward popped up in the final three minutes with a 1m06.6999s in the No.5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet that shaded the rest of the pack by more than 0.2s. Scott Dixon, who also kept his powder dry until the last couple of minutes, came closest with a 1m06.9649s.
“We just kept chipping at it,” O’Ward said. “We rolled off strong, but we’ve been making adjustments to get it a bit more in the window, and so far it’s good. We’re going to look into it and see where we can make improvements, but I think we’re in good shape for tomorrow. It’s all about executing; it’s going to be tough.”
Prior to claiming the top spot on the timing screens, the standout moment in O’Ward’s session had been a massive lock-up after catching a bump where new and old asphalt meet at Turn 8 and flat-spotting the heck out of his right-front tire.
He was hardly alone in that regard: True to Long Beach form, the session was peppered with incidents, although unusually almost none of them resulted in car damage. The sole exception was Josef Newgarden, who grated a few layers of carbon fiber off the left edge of his floor with a brush against the wall, but even then he was able to complete the bulk of the session after the damage was patched up with some tape.
“I about did that four or five times,” he said. “Some of the settings we started with were probably aggressive. I’m not too stressed out about it for session one, but it would have been ideal not to ruin that first set of tires. We didn’t want to get bad data (so we parked a few minutes early); we just wanted to be conservative.”
Up front, Colton Herta enjoyed a brief spell at the top before eventually being shuffled back to third-fastest in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda, just 0.01s down on Dixon’s time.
“It’s sweet,” Herta said. “Car feels great; everything feels fantastic.”
Marcus Ericsson held the top spot for the majority of the afternoon before ultimately finishing fourth-fastest, leaving Romain Grosjean to round out the top five.
On a day when the top of the screens were largely dominated by Honda, Arrow McLaren backed up O’Ward’s P1 with Alexander Rossi in seventh and Rosenqvist ninth-fastest. Juncos Hollinger continued to punch above its weight with Callum Ilott finishing up eighth-fastest, while Rahal Letterman Lanigan had a solid start with Christian Lundgaard 10th-fastest, Jack Harvey 12th-fastest, and Graham Rahal running well inside the top 10 for most of the session before fading back to 16th as the cars around him switched to their second sets of Firestones.
The only red flag of the session came with just under half an hour left on the clock when Helio Castroneves and Agustin Canapino stalled at different points on the track. Both were rescued quickly, and practice returned to green after just a couple of minutes.