A Ganassi 1-2 in the opening Long Beach practice on Friday was followed by a Penske 1-2-3 in the following session.
With seven races on tap at the 41st Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the 23 Verizon IndyCar Series entries had two 45-minute practice sessions to prepare for Saturday’s qualifying and for Sunday’s 85-lap contest around the 1.968-mile, 11-corner street circuit. The first took place early afternoon with the second edging toward mid-afternoon.
Before the practices even got underway, IndyCar revealed updates to the aerodynamic body kits, changes that were mandated by race day on Sunday. Chevrolet has to add a tether to its front winglets or remove them entirely, something that many in the paddock elected to do. Honda, which requested its change, has added reinforcements to its rear wheel guards. All of this is being done in the name of safety for participants and fans alike.
Moran and Munoz make contact
Practice 1 ran extremely cleanly, with only a bit of debris noted at the entrance to the picturesque fountain turns; there was a single red flag in the second practice when contact ensued in the first turn between Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz and newcomer Rocky Moran in the second Dale Coyne entry. Moran was towed back to the paddock; Munoz continued through the practice session. Moran admitted he hadn’t realized Munoz was there as the second year driver left his braking for that tight left-hand corner to the last moment, thinking the rookie would yield to him.
Once the huge crowd of sun-drenched fans had seen both practices, some familiar faces sat at the top of the timing sheets. Reigning titleholder Will Power was quickest at 67.5485 seconds (104.885 mph) in his No. 1 Verizon Chevrolet/Firestone entry from Team Penske; teammates Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves were second and third, all setting their quick laps in the second practice.
We are the fastest Honda but we have a little work to do to catch the Penske cars
The IndyCar track record here at Long Beach is held by Justin Wilson at 66.902 seconds(105.898). It’s extremely likely that will get broken tomorrow once the Indy cars use their Firestone alternate red tires in Firestone Fast Six qualifying. And Power does think “it’s always super tight around here when it gets to qualifying. The top six are usually separated by about a tenth and a half (of a second) or something,” he said. Power said the aero kits give him a shorter braking zone. “You carry more speed through the fast stuff; its little gains on tracks like this… “
Pagenaud thinks the changes IndyCar has made to the aero kits for this weekend are good for the safety of the fans. “But you’ve got to make it fair for the manufacturers as well. As long as it doesn’t slow down one manufacturer or accelerate the other one, then it just has to be fair.”
A quick glimpse at the timing sheets saw practice 1’s quickest driver, Scott Dixon fourth, Juan Pablo Montoya fifth and Josef Newgarden sixth, all driving Chevy-powered cars. Graham Rahal was the first Honda in seventh, while Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti rounded out the top 10.
As the quickest Honda driver at 68.1294 (103.990 mph), Rahal came into the media center to discuss his day. He did have a mechanical issue in the earlier session that left him 13th on the timing sheets. “We are the fastest Honda but we have a little work to do to catch the Penske cars,” Rahal said. I was on a lap that was about a tenth (of a second) and a half quicker but I just screwed it up, ate too much curb off in Turn 8 and lost it. I feel like there is a lot of potential. But we’re in the hunt.”
The Indy cars have a final 45-minute practice starting at 10AM Saturday before qualifying takes place in the traditional knockout style at 2PM PDT. Weather conditions may be different as dense fog is forecast for the morning and temperatures in the mid-60s rather than the high 70s we’ve experienced today. That could mix up the order a bit.