IndyCar St. Pete: Herta tops first practice, McLaughlin stars

Colton Herta put Andretti Autosport-Honda top in opening practice for the IndyCar season finale, but Team Penske Chevrolet’s Scott McLaughlin was only half a second slower in his first official session in the series.

IndyCar St. Pete: Herta tops first practice, McLaughlin stars

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist was the first driver to duck into the 61sec bracket, turning a 1min01.8248sec lap of the 1.8-mile street and runway course, an average speed of 104.812mph.

Then with 25mins remaining, eight-time St. Pete polesitter Will Power of Team Penske-Chevrolet joined him in that bracket and next time by eclipsed him with a 61.6276.

Soon after, Takuma Sato of Rahal Letterman Lanigan, rookie Alex Palou of Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh, and Sebastien Bourdais of AJ Foyt Racing were also in that 61sec zone.

After outbraking himself at Turn 3, Bourdais channeled his frustration into brilliance and sprung to P2. Then Marcus Ericsson of Ganassi headed into the Top 3.

But the next star of the show was Scott McLaughlin, in his IndyCar debut, strapping on fresh primaries and all-but matching teammate Power’s P1 time.

The three-time Supercars champion – confirmed yesterday as an IndyCar full-timer in 2021 – made a couple of errors on his first flyer on alternates but appeared to be getting it right on his third until running into Turn 10 runoff.

However, the session had already been red-flagged with five minutes to go, as Rosenqvist spun and stalled heading into the final turn.

Meanwhile, James Hinchcliffe and then Andretti Autosport teammate Herta had moved the benchmark to 61.2279 and 61.1306sec respectively.

The session restarted with just 2m30sec remaining, but then Oliver Askew – returning to the #7 Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet after a one-event absence – skated straight on at the final turn and nosed into the tire barrier, while McLaughlin made a similar error without contact, and so the session ended under red.

Palou grabbed third ahead of Sato and Bourdais, while Alexander Rossi was sixth but needed his toe-link replaced after tagging a wall.

Other drivers made wall contact, including Ganassi's championship leader Scott Dixon ,who reported that the Firestone alternate tires go through a lull before offering their ultimate grip. He finished the session in 16th, just behind his teammates, but said the car was plenty fast enough and that his best lap had been ruined by a red flag.

The only man who can prevent Dixon taking the title, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, finished the session in eighth, just ahead of Power and McLaughlin, and just behind Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay, who will claim IndyCar Rookie of the Year honors when he starts the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg tomorrow.

Qualifying begins at 3.05pm local (Eastern) time and reverts back to the normal IndyCar method of knockout qualifying. With one second covering the top 21 cars, it promises to be very tight.

Cla Driver Team Laps Time Gap Mph
1 United States Colton Herta Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Autosport 33 1'01.130   106.003
2 Canada James Hinchcliffe United States Andretti Autosport 37 1'01.227 0.097 105.834
3 Spain Alex Palou Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh 44 1'01.431 0.301 105.483
4 Japan Takuma Sato United States Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 33 1'01.482 0.351 105.396
5 France Sébastien Bourdais United States A.J. Foyt Enterprises 41 1'01.515 0.384 105.340
6 United States Alexander Rossi United States Andretti Autosport 31 1'01.578 0.447 105.232
7 Netherlands Rinus van Kalmthout United States Ed Carpenter Racing 44 1'01.612 0.482 105.173
8 United States Josef Newgarden United States Team Penske 36 1'01.620 0.489 105.161
9 Australia Will Power United States Team Penske 38 1'01.627 0.497 105.148
10 New Zealand Scott McLaughlin United States Team Penske 45 1'01.677 0.546 105.063
11 United States Santino Ferrucci Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan 39 1'01.695 0.564 105.032
12 United States Ryan Hunter-Reay United States Andretti Autosport 34 1'01.707 0.577 105.011
13 United States Oliver Askew Arrow McLaren SP 36 1'01.722 0.591 104.987
14 Sweden Marcus Ericsson United States Chip Ganassi Racing 45 1'01.727 0.596 104.978
15 Sweden Felix Rosenqvist United States Chip Ganassi Racing 42 1'01.729 0.598 104.975
16 New Zealand Scott Dixon United States Chip Ganassi Racing 36 1'01.845 0.715 104.777
17 Mexico Patricio O'Ward Arrow McLaren SP 32 1'01.872 0.741 104.732
18 France Simon Pagenaud United States Team Penske 35 1'01.876 0.745 104.725
19 United States Conor Daly United States Ed Carpenter Racing 36 1'01.921 0.791 104.648
20 United States Marco Andretti Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco & Curb-Agajani 31 1'01.993 0.862 104.528
21 United States Charlie Kimball United States A.J. Foyt Enterprises 37 1'02.125 0.994 104.305
22 United Kingdom Jack Harvey United States Meyer Shank Racing 32 1'02.168 1.038 104.232
23 United Kingdom Max Chilton United Kingdom Carlin 35 1'02.215 1.085 104.153
24 United States Graham Rahal United States Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 40 1'02.326 1.196 103.968
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