It wasn’t your typical Friday morning IndyCar practice at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course as three red flag periods plagued the 45-minute session. In the end, it was Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais pacing the field in his vibrant yellow and black SealMaster Honda.
The practice started slow with only a few takers – mainly rookies and part-time entries – laying rubber down on the 2.4-mile road course. About 20 minutes into the session we saw A.J. Foyt Racing rookie Matheus Leist take a trip into the grass as he safely kept his Chevrolet out of the tire barriers.
After a quick re-fire, Leist was back on his way with only some added weight to his car considering the gravel and grass that entered the cockpit.
Just after green flag conditions resumed it was another red flag that was displayed, this time for Robert Wickens. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver was seen off the pace with smoke billowing out of the back of Wickens’ No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda. At the time, the Canadian driver was 5th-fastest.
“I just picked up a nasty vibration and lost drive,” Wickens reported after exiting his machine. “Something in the back half of the car, but we won’t know for sure (what the problem is) until we get it back.”
As the session’s middle portion was stunted with red flag periods, INDYCAR race control allowed teams an extended push-to-pass period to close out the practice.
In the practice’s final stages the intensity level was ratcheted up a few notches. Drivers searched for an opening in traffic to lay down their best push-to-pass laps, with best lap times coming in rapid succession.
During this time we saw Zach Veach and Jordan King each exit the racing surface, but the two rookies were able to continue on without drawing a red flag.
With the checkered flag in hand to close out first practice, hell seemed to break loose when Will Power stalled his car at the crest of Turn 8.
Power’s spin was somewhat a result of teammate Simon Pagenaud being off the pace. As Power reached the blind right-hander that is Turn 8, Pagenaud slowed quickly in front of the Aussie driver. Power jumped on the brakes and subsequently spun his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet in essentially the worst part of the track.
Multiple drivers, including Veach and Jack Harvey, were on the scene quickly and had to take evasive action to miss the stalled Power, sitting broadside across the inner half of the turn.
Most of the field made it through the melee safely, until Tony Kanaan and Charlie Kimball reached the scene.
It appeared that Kanaan saw the danger rather early and jumped on the brakes as he approached the stalled Power. Kimball was much slower to react, as he was on a flying lap to close the session and was not prepared for a stalled car in the racing line.
Kimball jumped on the brakes but was unable to avoid the slowed Kanaan, punching him off of the road and destroying the nose of Kimball’s Novo Nordisk Chevrolet.
In the end, it was Bourdais (P1, 1:05.5784) who could lay claim to the fastest lap in an unusual first practice session. He was followed by a couple of championship contenders in Josef Newgarden (P2, 1:05.9167) and Scott Dixon (P3, 1:06.2157), as well as outside challengers Takuma Sato (P4, 1:06.2424), Spencer Pigot (P5, 1:06.2546) and Ed Jones (P6, 1:06.2717).
Other notables include Andretti Autosport’s two remaining championship hopefuls Ryan Hunter-Reay (P7, 1:06.2758) and Alexander Rossi (P10, 1:06.3956). The Honda duo will look to crack the Fast Six in second practice as they continue to chase Dixon.
In all, 24 cars took times in the weekend’s first practice with 335 total laps completed.
That included laps by rookie driver Pietro Fittipaldi (P17, 1:07.0696) who is returning from injury this weekend for Dale Coyne Racing; Jack Harvey (P22, 1:07.3029), driver of the part-time Michael Shank Racing entry; and Conor Daly (P24, 1:07.7274), back again with Harding Racing this week after a successful cameo at the Honda Indy Toronto.
Another side note: James Hinchcliffe was 9th-quick in the session (1:06.3287) working with SPM technical director Todd Malloy this weekend as the engineer.
The Verizon IndyCar Series will return to the track at 2:35 p.m. Eastern time with a 1-hour practice, followed by 20 minutes of pit stop practice for their crews. Both sessions will be shown live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.
Image courtesy of Chris Owens/INDYCAR Media.