By: Spencer Neff
March 22, 2019 | 12:07 PM
The NTT IndyCar Series has completed their first practice session for this weekend’s IndyCar Classic. The 24-car field was given 45 minutes on the 3.41-mile, 20-turn Circuit of The Americas road course in Austin, Texas. When the session was over, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden was at the top of the charts (1m48.6567s).
Continuing the success from his season-opening win at St. Petersburg, the 2017 series champion was the lone Chevrolet-powered car in the top six.
Following Newgarden on the time sheet was Harding Steinbrenner Racing rookie Colton Herta. Posting a fastest lap of 1m48.7939s, he was the fastest rookie and the fastest Honda-powered machine in the 24-car field. Unfortunately, Herta would run into trouble towards the session’s final third – more on that later.
After Newgarden and Herta, Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay slotted in third and fourth. It comes as no surprise that the trio of Herta, Rossi and Hunter-Reay have been quick at COTA since Andretti and Harding Steinbrenner share a technical alliance this season.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal finished fifth. The top five was separated by 0.8509 seconds and they were the only drivers to run a lap quicker than a 112 MPH average.
Two drivers will also make their 2019 debuts this weekend. In the first of 13 scheduled races with Carlin Racing, 2018 Indy Lights Champion Pato O’Ward finished his first practice session of the season in 16th (1m50.4896s). O’Ward was also the session’s busiest driver, as he logged 10 laps on track.
2017 Indy Lights Champion Kyle Kaiser also returns to Juncos Racing after making four starts with the team in 2018. Kaiser finished the session 23rd overall with a best lap time of 1m51.7955s.
After suffering a dislocated finger in a crash at St. Pete, Ed Carpenter Racing with Scuderia Corsa’s Ed Jones has been cleared to return to racing action. While there is no definitive answer on the session result, Jones may be dealing with a bit of pain since he ended the session dead-last in 24th (1m52.6301s).
The practice was relatively uneventful, save for an incident that hampered the efforts of one of the aforementioned Herta.
With less than 18 minutes remaining, Herta’s success at COTA was quickly overshadowed when smoke and fire began pouring from the back of his Dallara-Honda. In a designed safe-mode mechanism, the rear wheels eventually locked up, causing Herta to spin in Turn 7 and bring out a red flag.
He later relayed to NBCSN’s Marty Snyder that the engine had blown up, facing a similar fate seen by Honda competitors two weeks ago. Herta’s engine issues come after fellow Honda drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay dropped out of the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with engine issues.
With less than three minutes remaining, the session went green once again. Although drivers had a chance to record one lap at full speed, no one competitor was able to surpass the lap Newgarden had posted earlier.
Due to the red flag, teams were limited in their track time. Rossi, as well as Chip Ganassi Racing driver Scott Dixon and Meyer Shank’s Jack Harvey, logged just four laps apiece.
Teams will now shift their focus to this afternoon’s practice, scheduled for 3:05 p.m. Eastern time. In the second session, teams will have a full hour on-track as opposed to the 45-minute practice seen this morning. At the conclusion of the 1-hour practice, teams will be given 30 minutes to practice pit stops.
On Saturday, there will a final 45-minute practice at 11:00 a.m. Eastern. The three-round, knockout-style qualifying session will begin at 3:00 p.m. ET. Each session will be available for viewing via the NBC Sports Gold INDYCAR Pass, while qualifications will be shown live on NBCSN.
As with each IndyCar Series on-track session, the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network will also provide commentary via RaceControl.IndyCar.com – where you can also find timing and scoring.
Sunday’s 60-lap race is scheduled for a 1:40 p.m. Eastern green flag. Stay with Open-Wheels.com and our social media accounts for all the latest news and developments.
Header image by Matt Fraver/INDYCAR.