Pagenaud fastest in Long Beach practice on Friday, full recap

LONG BEACH, Calif — Simon Pagenaud laid a blazing hot lap on a sizzling Friday afternoon in So Cal with a top lap among the 26 NTT INDYCAR Series drivers here this weekend. The former Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach race winner topped the charts with a time of 1:07.1991-seconds in his No. 60 Honda.

That lap was less than a second off from the current track record that was set 5 years to the date today, by Helio Castroneves on April 8, 2017. Last year’s pole was 1:08.2241-seconds by Josef Newgarden.

The reason for that is that the tires that Firestone brought to street courses this season have made a jump in the speed department too. For Pagenaud to be this close to the track record and not even have the reds until Saturday morning means we’re likely going to see it shattered again.

Will Power broke the track record in St. Pete earlier this year so expect a record to fall tomorrow with better conditions too when it’s not 95 degrees.

“A lot of it is how the tires will suit the track and how hot the track is,” Pagenaud said. “When it’s colder, the tire doesn’t overheat and produces more grip for you. The downforce also works better. The worst cars tomorrow are going to get better, and it’s going to level up the field, basically. The fastest car is still going to be fast, but the margin will not be as much. You have to expect that.

“With the temperature change, we know what aerodynamical change we need to make on the front wing versus the rear wing. Simulation programs these days really help for these conditions. It’s amazing the technology that goes into it and how much we can trust it.”

So how much does Friday translate over to the rest of the weekend then? Doesn’t seem like much. Conditions are going to be vastly cooler on race day with temps around 25-30 degrees cooler too.

Pagenaud’s a solid sleeper to watch the rest of the weekend anyhow, as he has four top seven finishes in his last five Long Beach starts overall. The Frenchman was an astounding .5 seconds ahead of the rest with two-time Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi (1:07.6012-seconds) chiming in at P2. It was also an Andretti connection there with Pagenaud driving for Meyer Shank Racing who’s an alliance team with Andretti Autosport.

Defending race winner Colton Herta (1:07.8783-seconds) was sixth to give them 3 of the top six speeds on Friday. Can they hold off the field the rest of the weekend?

Team Penske may have something to say about it. They went 1-2 last time out in Texas and was 1-3 on the streets of St. Pete prior.

The Penske trio of Scott McLaughlin (1:07.6720-seconds), Josef Newgarden (1:07.7282-seconds) and Power (1:08.0000-seconds) were 3rd, 4th and 8th respectively on the speed charts in the initial 45 minute long session.

The Ganassi duo of Marcus Ericsson (1:07.8425-seconds) was fifth while defending series champion in Alex Palou (1:07.9113-seconds) were the other two drivers in the top eight. Fitting too. Ericsson, won a pair of street course races last season while Palou was runner-up in St. Pete as well as fourth here last September.

“We were all surprised by the level of grip we had already,” 2021 series champion Alex Palou said. “On the first timing lap, we were doing 69 (1:09), 68 (1:08). It was really grippy. I don’t know if it’s all the rubber from the tires from the other series or just the heat, but it’s super nice to drive. We’re enjoying every lap.”

While the temps may throw a wrench into things, the top drivers lately at Long Beach as well as St. Pete at the end of February were all up front anyhow.

We also saw a few incidents in the short session too. The first being with Jimmie Johnson making contact with the Turn 5 tire barriers. The next was for Dalton Kellett in the same location. Scott Dixon and Pato O’Ward each also had issues too but were able to chime in 11th and 14th respectively.

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