By: Spencer Neff
August 23, 2019 | 2:47 PM
In the first four oval races of the season, Team Penske has dominated. With the veteran trio of Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, they combined to win every race on the slate. In the opening hour-long practice for Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500, that all changed.
During the session on the 1.25-mile WorldWide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Santino Ferrucci posted the fastest lap. Continuing an impressive rookie campaign, the Dale Coyne Racing driver posted a best lap of 184.801 mph (24.3501 seconds).
Following on the speed chart would be fellow rookie driver Marcus Ericsson of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
With a lap that clocked in just .0366 seconds behind, it was a rookie 1-2. Just behind, Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon made it a Top 3 sweep for Honda.
In fourth, points leader Josef Newgarden headed up the Chevrolet drivers. This weekend, he will look to duplicate his 2017 performance at Gateway. Two years ago, he won in the track’s IndyCar return and strengthened his points lead en route to the title. This afternoon, Newgarden also ran just 36 laps, lowest of the field.
After a disappointing Lap 1 crash in this race last year, Ferrucci’s teammate Sebastien Bourdais ended the first session in the Top Five.
Drivers focus on Qualifying Preparations
With qualifying scheduled for this afternoon, the latter half of this afternoon’s practice centered around setup preparations. Included in those preparations were a switch to “sticker” (new) Firestone tires.
In all, the Top Five drivers all ran laps above the 184 mph mark. Additionally, the field separation between Ferrucci and James Hinchcliffe in 22nd was just .633 seconds.
Following a frightening Lap 1 crash at Pocono, Felix Rosenqvist returned to the cockpit five days later. In the opening practice, the Chip Ganassi Racing rookie turned a session-leading 62 laps. In all, the field completed 1,042 laps.
With such a narrow margin between the field, qualifying will be even more critical. In the track’s nine previous races, the eventual winner has started in the first two rows six times.
Conversely, the farthest back a winner has started in this race has been 11th. In 1998 and 1999, Alex Zanardi and Michael Andretti won the race from that spot on the grid.
At 5:15 pm local time, the 22 drivers will qualify for Saturday night’s race. As is the case for all ovals excluding Indianapolis, they will qualify in ascending order of entrant points for two laps each. First out to run in qualifying will be Carlin Racing’s Conor Daly, with Newgarden running last.
For television coverage, head to NBCSN.
Later at 8:15 this evening, final practice will be held. As teams look to dial in race setups, 60 minutes will be allotted to them.
For Saturday night’s race, NBCSN again has television coverage at 7:00 pm local time. At 7:40, the command to start engines will be given, with an expected green flag time of 7:45 pm.
Stay with Open-Wheels.com and our social media platforms for all the latest on the Bommarito Automotive Group 500.
Header Image By Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR