Newgarden tops Friday’s INDYCAR speed charts at Laguna Seca, practice report

Like last week, we had a sea of Honda’s up front on the opening speed chart of Friday afternoon’s NTT IndyCar Series practice from Laguna Seca. 10 of the top 11 speeds belonged to the Honda camp. That’s expected in the sense that they looked stout last weekend on a similar track a few hours north in Portland.

Honda went 1-2-3 in session 1 at Portland last Saturday and took 9 of the top 11 overall. In session 2, they took eight of the top nine spots too. For qualifying, they went 1-2-3-5-6-8-9-10. For the race, they swept the top four spots and had six of the top eight in general.

But, this time though, a Chevrolet driver turned in the top lap of the 45-minute long session in his No. 2 Team Penske entry. Josef Newgarden was P1 (1:11.7125-seconds). He needs a good weekend too as he enters 34 points behind Alex Palou in the standings and with two races left, a good showing is a must for the two-time series champion.

His teammates all struggled with him last weekend and they did so again on Friday. Scott McLaughlin was next best in 12th. Will Power was 15th while Simon Pagenaud chimed in 20th fastest.

Palou (3th) got a top five in the session with a top lap of 1:11.9750-seconds. They were surrounded by Andretti Autosport drivers with Colton Herta (1:11.7927-seconds) being second, Alexander Rossi (1:12.0625-seconds) in fifth and James Hinchcliffe (1:12.1885-seconds) in seventh. The only other drivers up front were Ed Jones in fourth (1:12.0166-seconds) and Oliver Askew (1:12.1516-seconds) being in sixth.

Second in points, Pato O’Ward, was only 14th fastest. Scott Dixon is third in points but just 11th himself. The only other championship eligible driver is Marcus Ericsson, but he was 10th.

Ericsson (-75) and Dixon (-49) can’t afford for Palou to beat them across the finish line on Sunday or they likely would get eliminated from championship contention this weekend. Palou, may be a rookie here but the test that they had this past summer helped him feel comfortable in the car. Same thing could have been said for Barber and Portland for Palou and he won both.

Dixon, scored podium (3rd) here in 2019. Ericsson, was 11th in that same race. O’Ward, like Palou, is a rookie while Newgarden was eighth.

We saw four different teams make up the top four speeds on Friday including five of the top six overall. Throw in Jack Harvey’s eighth fastest lap and you get six of the top eight. The only incident of the session came at 2:57 p.m. locally with Helio Castroneves beaching his No. 06 Honda in Turn 2.

With having to conserve tires this weekend, the drivers had to use just one set in practice. That meant saving laps and turning them later in the session as a result. The problem is, with doing that, you couldn’t really make multiple runs due to not being able to change to a new set of tires. You kind of had what you had.

Also, the speeds were slower on Friday too in comparison to 2019, but the drivers noted that it was expected due to the Aeroscreen.

The series will practice on Saturday morning before qualifying to set the field for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) at 5:05 p.m. ET.

Results

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