By: Tanner Watkins
March 9, 2019 |10:30 AM
After a rather uneventful pair of practice sessions yesterday, this morning’s third practice in preparation for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg was stunted by four red flag periods. One constant remained from Friday, though, as Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay sat atop the timesheets at the end of Saturday morning’s 45-minute session.
Hunter-Reay registered a best lap time of 1m0.8966s in practice number three, just edging ahead of Team Penske driver Josef Newgarden, who posted a lap at 1m0.9005s.
For Newgarden, the Tennessee native was left in dissappointment after a subpar opening day on Friday. The 2017 series champion was much happier at the end of Saturday morning’s session, signaling that the No. 2 Chevrolet is headed in the right direction.
“We are better,” said Newgarden after practice. “The car felt a lot faster than yesterday. It is just, INDYCAR is so tough now. You can’t be confident or comfortable anymore, and I think it just speaks volumes to the competition level. The amount of teams that we have that are all good, the drivers and the driver qualities.
“I thought we showed up with really good race cars, we weren’t as fast as we wanted to be, and now we have made it a bit better. So I think we are in a better window – the Hitachi car was close yesterday, and I think we got it a lot closer to where it needs to be today.”
Behind Newgarden was 42-year-old Takuma Sato, slotting his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda in at third-quickest with a time of 1m0.90s. The remaining two Team Penske drivers, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, finished fourth and fifth with times at 1m1.05s and 1m1.07s, respectively.
As mentioned above, the session was marred by three red flag periods that kept many drivers from registering clean laps to set a best time.
Sophomore Andretti Autosport driver Zach Veach brought out the first caution period when he slid the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda into the tire barrier rear-first at the final hairpin. Veach would finish the session P19 with a lap time of 1m1.72s.
About 15 minutes later, the rookie entry of Ben Hanley and DragonSpeed stalled on-track, forcing another red flag period and continuing the difficult weekend for the first-time team. They finished the session last, 2.6 seconds off the pace with a lap time of 1m3.49s.
The third red flag came when Max Chilton stalled his Carlin Chevrolet in the runoff area, ending his session as he got to watch the final six minutes (angrily) from behind the wall. It was a difficult session for Chilton as a whole, finishing P21 with a lap time of 1m2.04s.
The fourth and final session-ending red flag came with about one minute left in practice. Ed Jones – who had a solid practice in the No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet – stalled his car broadside in the runoff area. Jones finished the morning session P6 with a best lap at 1m1.09s.
This morning’s practice was a bit better for Chevrolet than the Honda dominance seen yesterday. Four Chevrolet drivers placed in the top six spots this morning with Hunter-Reay and Sato being the only Honda’s.
Still, 10 of the first 15 spots belonged to Honda teams and it seems that HPD has the edge heading into qualifications this afternoon. Additionally, Honda teammates Sato and Graham Rahal had the most laps completed in the session with 21.
Qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will go green at 2:30 p.m. Eastern, shown live on television by NBCSN as well as streaming by the IndyCar Radio Network.
Header image by Karl Zemlin/INDYCAR.