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Will Power tops practice chart on opening day at INDYCAR Classic

by racedaysaeditor | Posted on Friday, March 22nd, 2019

Courtesy of the NTT IndyCar Series

AUSTIN, Texas – A fixture up front in qualifying on permanent road courses last season, Will Power was perched atop the leaderboard following three opening-day practices for the INDYCAR Classic, in preparation for the first NTT IndyCar Series race at Circuit of The Americas.

Will Power. Photo by Joe Skibinski

Driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Power posted the best lap of the day in the second of the three sessions, when teams first tried a set of the softer, faster Firestone alternate tires. The 2014 NTT IndyCar Series champion and reigning Indianapolis 500 winner soared around the spectacular 20 turn, 3.41-mile circuit in 1 minute, 47.4401 seconds (114.259 mph).

“It’s a difficult track, very technical, hard to get the car right,” said Power, whose 35 career wins are tied for seventh most in Indy car history. “I felt like we got in a pretty good window that session. Felt like we found where we need to be.”

INDYCAR CLASSIC: Practice 1 results I Practice 2 results I Warmup results I Combined practice results

Power qualified first or second at five of the six 2018 NTT IndyCar Series races on permanent road courses but was only able to convert one – the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – into a victory and finished third in the season championship.

Will Power. Photo by Joe Skibinski

“We’ll just keep massaging on it,” Power said in anticipation of NTT P1 Award qualifying on Saturday and Sunday’s 60-lap race. “It’s going to be tight, it always is.”

Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Felix Rosenqvist continued to impress on the heels of his fourth-place finish in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 10. The Swede was second fastest Friday with a lap of 1:47.6150 (114.073 mph) in the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda.

“I really like this place,” Rosenqvist said. “COTA is a track that has a lot of different characteristics in one lap, actually. It has high-speed areas and some very low-speed areas. You need a car that is good everywhere, to be honest. You can’t be happy everywhere, and you have to have a setup with a lot of compromise. 

Colin Herta. Photo by Matt Fraver

“We’re happy with the setup so far with the NTT DATA car and will keep working on it.”

Rookie Colton Herta had the most eventful day. The son of former Indy car driver Bryan Herta was second in the morning practice but suffered a mechanical issue late in the session that forced a lengthy red flag to halt practice. Herta’s Harding Steinbrenner Racing crew worked feverishly to replace the engine in his No. 88 Honda, and while he missed the entire second practice, he was able to turn valuable laps in the warmup to get a sense for how the car reacted on the Firestone red-sidewall alternate tires.

“Today was a challenging day, to say the least,” Herta said. “We were quick in Practice 1 but struggled in (the warmup). We just couldn’t get the balance right on the red Firestone tires, but I know the car can be quick and we have the pace. 

“Overall, I am so proud of how hard the No. 88 Latitude Vacation Club guys and how hard the Honda guys worked in between today’s practice sessions to get us on track for warmup. We have such a good group at Harding Steinbrenner Racing, I just hope we can get that quick qualifying result I know we’re capable of getting.” 

Only a single 45-minute practice remains at 11 a.m. ET Saturday (livestream on INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold). NTT P1 Award qualifying begins at 3 p.m. and airs live on NBCSN, NBCSports.com and INDYCAR Pass.

The INDYCAR Classic is the second of 17 races on the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series schedule. Coverage of the race starts at 1 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. Circuit of The Americas is offering a $100,000 bonus to the driver who wins the pole position and the race.

‘What They’re Saying’ from INDYCAR Classic practice

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet): “The day was OK. We lost a little bit in Practice 2 and we didn’t put up a very good lap on reds (Firestone alternate tires). We look strong on blacks (Firestone primary tires), but we just need to look at the data tonight, especially if we get that rain tomorrow. Overall, I feel good. The PPG Dallara/Chevrolet feels comfy and we need to make sure we execute tomorrow.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We just finished the first day here at COTA. Unfortunately, not the performance we were looking for. I think we are lacking grip more than we were expecting to, so a lot of work to do for tomorrow. In general, (I’m) just happy to be here with the crew, the ABC people and the Foyt family, so I’m looking forward to a better day tomorrow. Tomorrow we have one more practice before qualifying; we’re going to try to set up the car as good as we can and as fast as we can to have a good race on Sunday.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “Today was a bit frustrating. Obviously, this morning, nobody really got any laps in (due to the red flag). This afternoon was kind of our only real practice session; and with the lap being so long, you only get a couple of laps even in an hour session. For us, we feel the track conditions have changed a ton from the test, which is too bad because we thought we had dialed the car pretty well for the conditions then. We definitely have some work to do. I think a lot of guys are struggling. It’s just the nature of this track when it gets hot like this with a bunch of rubber down, but we can certainly make it better. I don’t think we’re as bad as it might look. I made two pretty big mistakes on my red (Firestone alternate) tire lap, but we can definitely work on the car a little bit. I can work on my driving a bit, and hopefully, we can move the Arrow car up tomorrow.”

MARCUS ERICSSON (No. 7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “It’s been a challenging day. Obviously Practice 1 was a bit short with the red flag, so we didn’t get many laps. In Practice 2 we got plenty of laps, but we didn’t really get the Arrow car to where we wanted, so I’m struggling a bit when we do our qualifying sim runs to get a good feeling. When we put more fuel in the car and do longer running, we’re very competitive and I feel very good in the car. It’s a bit similar to how we were in St. Pete, as well, where we struggle a bit with the low fuel, and with high fuel, we’re stronger. We need to analyze and see how we can fix that, so the car has a similar feeling with high and low fuel because then we can be super competitive tomorrow and Sunday.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing): “We had some kind of steering column issue in Practice 1 that really limited our on-track time. By the time we went out on track, the session went red for the No. 88 car. After they got that all cleaned up we were only really able to get one clear lap in the PNC Bank car. We worked on a lot of changes in Practice 2, which will hopefully set us up for a good qualifying run tomorrow.”

FELIX ROSENQVIST (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing): “I really like this place. COTA is a track that has a lot of different characteristics in one lap, actually. It has high-speed areas and some very low-speed areas. You need a car that is good everywhere, to be honest. You can’t be happy everywhere and you have to have a setup with a lot of compromise. We’re happy with the setup so far with the NTT DATA car and will keep working on it.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske): “Turn 19 is obviously just interesting. You have to use the rule to be fast. The rest, it’s a difficult track. Very technical. Hard to get the car right. I felt like we got in a pretty good window that session. Felt like we found where we need to be.” (About the importance of track time at a new venue): “Yeah, it’s funny. You can do all these miles in testing, come back, and it’s different for the race. You get the basics down, get some good data and such to go away and think about it. Definitely running a different package to what I ran at the test. So, yeah, we’ll just keep massaging on it. It’s going to be tight, it always is. I think the weather looks pretty good actually. We will have a nice weekend.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing): “It was a difficult day. As a team, when you’re searching for that big jump, you have to make big swings and we haven’t been fortunate enough to find a good swing. We found what didn’t work today and it was a struggle, but that’s how we learn. We’re not the type of team to give up, so we’ll take a bad day and try to turn it into a positive day tomorrow.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 TOTAL Honda): “Practice 2 was a little frustrating for us. I don’t know that we got a great lap on the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but still I don’t know that we quite have the pace to be in the top five yet. At the test, we were fifth and this morning in the first practice we were fifth pretty easily and weren’t even really up to speed yet. We were pushing hard and I couldn’t match that lap time on blacks (Firestone primary tires) this afternoon. We need to take a deep dive into things and figure out why, when it was hot and the sun was out, why we weren’t as good. We’re going to work hard overnight to try to get the TOTAL car faster. Takuma (Sato) set about the same time as us, so we’re going to put our heads together and try to figure out how to go quicker.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 SealMaster Honda): “The No. 18 SealMaster Honda was not too bad this afternoon compared to the opposition. That’s really all you can ask. It’s gotten hot and the grip kind of went away, so it’s tricky. We are P8 (position eight) on blacks (Firestone primary tires) and P10 on reds (alternate tires). Not where we want to be, but not dramatic. I think there are a couple of things we can polish and hopefully do a bit better. The Honda engine is still very fresh, so we didn’t really run it at full power. I am hopeful that we can sneak well inside the top 10 in qualifying. If we can do that, I will be pretty happy. We’ll see what happens.”

SANTINO FERUCCI (No. 19 David Yurman Honda): “It was a long learning day. The track is really different from the test. We have a lot of work to do tonight going into qualifying tomorrow. I have a lot of confidence in our No. 19 David Yurman crew that we’ll sort everything out. We’ll see what we can do.”

ED JONES (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet): “The day started off with a tough Practice 1. We had an issue with the throttle sticking, which compromised the session a lot. I think we ended up last, so it really wasn’t representative of our pace. We didn’t really get a good read which really put us on the back foot for Practice 2. We worked hard making good progress on each run and the (Firestone alternate) red tires worked really well. We also had a good long run at the end there. I feel pretty confident, we just need to keep working overnight and make sure we keep up with how the track evolves.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): “We tried a lot of things today, some things worked better than others, but we got a lot accomplished. The good thing was our teammate was quick, so we can compare notes to see where we were different and where we can make improvements. We’ll put it all together tomorrow.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “I’m really excited. The Menards Chevrolet is driving well. The whole team is doing awesome – Team Penske, these guys just never stop digging. We are working on different things. We tried a setup on the red (Firestone alternate) tires that I didn’t like. We put it back to a normal setup and getting back to normal. I think we will be in good shape tomorrow. The car feels really nice. This is a fun track.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda): “It was an up and down day for the Gainbridge team, but we’re going in the right direction for sure. We were P18 in the first session, but P6 in the second – and the second session is similar to what we are going to face in qualifying tomorrow. I feel like we’ve got good momentum. I think the Andretti Autosport cars are fast as a whole; we definitely have a shot to get into the Firestone Fast Six tomorrow. We’re going to see what we can do better tonight and then capitalize on that tomorrow when it matters.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “It was a very uneventful day, which I guess is a good thing sometimes. We ran through some changes and have a pretty good idea of where we need to be tomorrow. I think it will be about maximizing the (Firestone alternate) red tires for the conditions that present themselves in qualifying. Generally, it was a pretty drama free day – I think we have the NAPA AUTO PARTS car in a good spot ending day one.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “I think it was a positive day, we ended up fourth overall. We’ve got some areas we need to improve on, so we’ll work on that overnight. I definitely have a few areas on the track where I’d like the car to improve. Everything is a compromise at tracks like this between the front and the rear of the car – it’s about getting that compromise right and putting it all together on track. That’s what we’re working on for the DHL team, and I think we have a direction to head in to help.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “We had two practice sessions as well as a warmup today, which is new since we usually do it on race day. We made long runs with full tanks. The car improved a lot from the test, but the conditions compared to then were much different. It was much warmer today than when we tested, so we had less downforce and the tires started to slide, so it was a difficult for everyone. We seem to have a good speed for one lap for qualifying, but we have a lot of work to be done on our long run. It’s exciting to be at COTA; the fans are very enthusiastic. I think we have a lot more speed, so we will keep working on it.”

PATRICIO O’WARD (No. 31 Carlin Chevrolet): “I’d say it was a good first day of practice here at COTA. Obviously, I would’ve liked to end the day a little bit higher on the timing sheets, but I know that I’m a bit behind the curve with not having two full testing days here like the rest of the field had back in February. This track requires a lot of technique even in the slow areas, so there really isn’t a lot of room for mistakes, which is why I’m working so hard to get up to speed as quickly as possible. There are definitely some things I need to work through before qualifying tomorrow afternoon, but it’s obvious that the whole Carlin team is very buttoned up and will get me to where I need to be. I think, overall, we’re in pretty good shape heading into qualifying tomorrow.”

KYLE KAISER (No. 32 NFP Chevrolet): “We finished up our first practice day here at COTA. Not the results we wanted, so we have a lot of work to do. We will be going over data and will make some changes to the car to find the time that we are lacking right now. The team is doing a great job, they are putting in a lot of effort. I am working hard looking for time. I am looking forward to making some progress for tomorrow, and hopefully, we can put the No. 32 NFP car further up on the grid so we can have a great race. It’s going to be a long race and a challenging race, but I think we will be fine come race day.” 

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet): “It feels good to be back here racing at COTA – it’s just such a great track and I really enjoy driving here. I’d say that it was a pretty productive day for the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet. We continuously made steps forward throughout both practices and by the end of the second practice we were feeling good about how we ended the day heading into qualifying tomorrow.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda): “It was kind of a weird day. I’m not 100 percent if we had a decent day and we just need to put all the pieces together or maybe we are lacking a little bit. We will all get together later today and see where we are at. Aspects of today were great, we had a pretty good pace on reds (Firestone alternate tires) and warmup seemed to go pretty well for us. I’m confident in the guys and we will put it all together tomorrow.” 

COLTON HERTA (No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda): “Today was a challenging day, to say the least. We were quick in Practice 1, but struggled in Practice 2. We just couldn’t get the balance right on the Firestone red (alternate) tires, but I know the car can be quick and that we have the pace. We’re focused on getting fast with the red tires because we know what to look for now. Overall, I am so proud of how hard the No. 88 Latitude Vacation Club guys and how hard the Honda guys worked in between today’s practice sessions to get us on track for warmup. We have such a good group at Harding Steinbrenner Racing, I just hope we can get that quick qualifying result I know we’re capable of getting tomorrow.”  

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “We were really struggling in Practice 2 and caught some traffic on a fast lap, so didn’t quite get there. We used the last 30-minute warmup and found a few things – and ended up P5. We still need to find a bit more out of the car, and out of myself as well, so we’ll keep working.”

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