By: Spencer Neff
September 20, 2019 | 1:50 PM
Prior to this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, much of the discussion has been on the four-man battle for the NTT IndyCar Series championship.
In Friday morning’s opening practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, it was the drivers in another title fight taking center stage.
With a best lap of 1m10.7335 (113.904) around the 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course in Salinas, California, Harding Steinbrenner Racing’s Colton Herta led a rookie sweep of the top three.
In second, current Rookie of the Year leader Felix Rosenqvist was just .0719 seconds behind and ran 16 laps, most of any driver. Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year winner Santino Ferrucci ran third for Dale Coyne Racing.
After winning the previous round in Portland, Team Penske’s Will Power will look for his third win in four races to close out 2019. Today, he ended the first practice in fourth – the fastest Chevrolet-powered entry.
Making it four Hondas in the first five spots was Andretti Autosport’s Zach Veach.
Struggles among the Championship Contenders
As for the drivers looking to claim the Astor Cup on Sunday, it was a bit of a struggle. In sixth, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud was the quickest among the contenders, as he looks to repeat his 2016 championship.
In ninth, points leader Josef Newgarden joined his teammate as the only contenders in the top ten. After leading through 15 of the first 16 rounds, Newgarden can clinch his second title (2017) by finishing fifth or better.
With a long-shot chance at his sixth title, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon finished the morning in 14th overall. Facing a deficit of 41 points, second-place Alexander Rossi struggled during the opening practice.
After climbing from his car late in the session so his team could fix a hardware issue, Rossi ended the session 24th on the charts – last overall after completing a session-low 4 laps. Like Rossi, several drivers saw issues during the practice.
Drivers Attacking Early
Soon after the 45-minute session began, drivers began taking aggressively to Laguna Seca’s historic track. For pilots like Herta, Ferrucci, and Rossi, that meant brief off-course excursions.
With less than 20 minutes to run, A.J. Foyt Racing’s Tony Kanaan spun in Turn 11. After stopping in the gravel, Kanaan’s spin caused a red flag and he was docked five minutes of on-track running time.
As practice wound down, Herta spun in Turn 8 – known as “The Corkscrew.” After Herta’s spin, practice did not continue and he remained the fastest overall.
This afternoon, there will be another 45-minute practice session.
To end the day, 30 minutes will be allowed in an additional session. In lieu of a morning warmup, Friday’s third practice will focus primarily on pit stops in preparation for Sunday’s 90-lap race.
Here is the remaining schedule of on-track activity for this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. In addition, broadcast info is included. All times are local track time (Pacific Time).
Friday, Sept. 20
2:10 – 2:55 p.m. – NTT IndyCar Series practice 2, NBC Sports Gold (live)
3:10 – 3:40 p.m. – NTT IndyCar Series pit stop practice, NBC Sports Gold (live)
Saturday, Sept. 21
10 – 10:45 a.m. – NTT IndyCar Series practice 3, NBC Sports Gold (live)
1:35 p.m. – Firestone Fast Six Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award (three rounds of knockout qualifying), NBCSN (live)
Sunday, Sept. 22
11:30 a.m. – Driver introductions
11:30 p.m. – NBC on air
12:08 p.m. – Start engines command
12:15 p.m. – Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (90 laps), NBC (live)
Header image by Stephen King/INDYCAR.