Picking up where he left off the last time the Verizon IndyCar Series visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Team Penske driver Will Power set the fastest lap time of both Friday practice sessions for Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix. The Australian driver set a quick time of 1:10.086 (125.279mph) while completing 18 laps in the first session, and a quick time of 1:09.875 in the second session of the day after 20 laps.
In session one, Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi continued his hot streak in this early Verizon IndyCar Series championship by posting a time of 1:10.119 (125.220mph) while Ed Carpenter Racing’s rookie Jordan King continues to impress on the road and street circuits in 2018. He was third quickest with a time of 1:10.155 (125.157mph).
Behind them were notables Sebastien Bourdais in fourth with Dale Coyne Racing, defending Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato in fifth with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and defending series champion Josef Newgarden rounding out the fast six with Team Penske.
Also of note, Helio Castroneves made his official return to IndyCar competition in that first session and was 10th-quickest in his Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet with a time of 1:10.458 (124.617mph). Another driver making a notable return to the track this weekend is Zachary Claman de Melo, filling in for the recently injured Pietro Fittipaldi in Dale Coyne’s No. 19 Paysafe Honda. Claman de Melo was a respectable 14th fast in the session while turning 16 laps.
Towards the bottom of the pile during first practice, the series’ freshman teams struggled across the board. Carlin drivers Charlie Kimball (21st) and Max Chilton (23rd) continued to lack pace while the Harding Racing crew led by Gabby Chaves were uncharacteristically low in 22nd. Kyle Kaiser and his Juncos Racing machine was slowest in the session with a lap time of 1:11.375.
In the first session, the top 20 drivers all ran their quickest lap time in the 1 minute 10 second range. The top five drivers were separated by just two tenths of a second.
For practice two, it was again Power who led the way in his silver-painted Team Penske Chevrolet. In the second session, many drivers set their quickest times on the alternate Firestone red compound with only Chilton and Kimball finishing on the Firestone primary tires.
Jordan King was once again impressive and continues to establish himself as a legitimate threat on the road and street courses. He posted a time of 1:09.912, just a few hundreths slower than Power. Alexander Rossi is showing genuine consistency today as well by placing 3rd in the second session with a quick time of 1:09.980.
Power, King and Rossi will be prime candidates for the Firestone Fast Six in qualifications on Friday afternoon.
Following Rossi, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie Robert Wickens placed fourth on the time sheets. His teammate, James Hinchcliffe, had a much more difficult session as he struggled to find the braking points on both ends of the course. By the end of the session, Hinchcliffe was only 18th-quickest which included a spin on the entry to Turn 1.
While Power led the way for Team Penske again in session two, he was joined by teammates Simon Pagenaud (5th) and Helio Castroneves (6th) in the session’s fast six. Castroneves improved on his 10th place finish in the first session while fellow Penske teammate Josef Newgarden dropped to 10th place.
Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Scott Dixon and Ed Jones did not have the outright speed in this session and placed a lukewarm 13th (Dixon) and 14th (Jones) on Firestone red tires. Chevrolet drivers were a bit better this session than the Honda brigade by placing seven Bowties inside the top ten while Honda had just the trio of Rossi, Wickens and Bourdais.
For Power, it was a welcome sight to visit the IMS road course after a less-than-satisfying start to his 2018 campaign.
“I love this track,” Power told INDYCAR. “It’s probably my favorite road course because it’s so technical and smooth and European-like. But mean, they’re all corners that lead into complexes. You’ve got Turn 1-2, so there’s give-and-take there, and then you’ve got the (Turns) 7-8-9 complex, which is really technical. Yeah, all the sets of complexes are all equally fun and interesting.”
Qualifications for the fifth annual INDYCAR Grand Prix will commence this afternoon at 4:30 p.m. Eastern with coverage shown live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Here are the qualifying groups for round one.
Stay tuned to Open-Wheels for coverage of all things Indianapolis this month as INDYCAR competes at the Racing Capital of the World.
Images courtesy of Chris Owens/INDYCAR Media.