Friday’s INDYCAR practice report from Belle Isle

BELLE ISLE, Mich — It’s amazing how fate pans out. The last 3 drivers in the NTT INDYCAR Series silly season circle ended up 1-2-3 on the speed charts in session 1 of practice on Friday for the scenic Belle Isle street circuit in the shadows of downtown Detroit.

Kyle Kirkwood put down a late flier around the 2.35-mile bumpy course with a top lap of 1:16.1345-seconds in his No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet. They announced a deal earlier this week that Kirkwood will move over to Andretti Autosport to pilot the No. 27 Dallara-Honda in 2023.

“So far so good,” Kirkwood said on Friday. “We knew we were going to be solid here based on performances from last year. Quite happy with the way that ended up. Granted we did do it on two sets of tires. Wish I could say we did it on one.

“The car felt good the entire session. We were tuning it in. Right there at the end felt like there was still a lot left in it. So quite happy with that outcome.”

While being quick on Day 1 is one thing, Kirkwood feels like he actually has a chance to win this weekend though too.

Kyle Kirkwood feels like his No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet has race winning pace already in Belle Isle – Photo Credit INDYCAR Media Site

“It feels like it right now,” said the rookie driver as he’s hoping to give Foyt his 1st win since 2013. “I mean, after that practice session, usually a lot of it is how you roll off the trailer, as many of us know, especially street courses. As the track evolves you want to make sure you have a good car art away.

“Right now it’s looking pretty sharp as long as we can continue.”

The driver he will be replacing was 3rd fastest on the day. Alexander Rossi went 1:16.5146-seconds in an opportunity to end his 43 race winless drought. Rossi has qualified in the top 7 in 7 of his last 8 tries here on the island including 4 of his last 5 efforts being on the front row.

Rossi will be joining Arrow McLaren SP next season and his future teammate Pato O’Ward (1:16.1556-seconds) was 1 spot ahead of Rossi on Friday. O’Ward just signed a new deal to remain with AMSP through 2025 on Carb Day. He’s qualified in the top 4 rows in 3 of his 4 Belle Isle starts but the one time he didn’t…he won.

O’Ward has 2 top 2 finishes in his last 3 starts on the season and a pair of podiums in his last 2 Belle Isle tries too.

“Yeah, I think we rolled off the truck really strong,” O’Ward said. “We can’t read too much into I think practice right now because really messy session, big difference from first run to second runs on tires. I think some people’s true pace wasn’t shown. I think it will be a lot better than that. Maybe I’m completely wrong.

“But, yeah, I’m happy with the car. I think we’re definitely in the window. We just need to (indiscernible) her up a bit, see where the track evolves to. There’s going to be a lot of different rubbers out there. I think it’s going to be significant what the balance is going to be feeling like from qualifying and practicing, so forth.”

Simon Pagenaud (1:!6.6177-seconds) was 4th while Marcus Ericsson (1:16.6574-seconds) rounded out the top five in his No. 8 Dallara-Honda.

Ericsson is hoping to become the first driver since Arie Luyendyk in 1997 to win the Indy 500 and the race after.

Where Are the Penske’s?

Team Penske has won just twice over the last 12 Belle Isle races but are 2-for-2 this season on street courses. However, they were only 7th (Scott McLaughlin), 14th (Will Power) and 16th (Josef Newgarden) respectively on the speed charts.

For a team that started off the 2022 season 3-0, they’re since fallen backwards over the last month.

Andretti/MSR Cars Strong Again

We’ve seen this more times than not this season. Andretti Autosport looks the part on Friday. The problem is, they don’t finish there on Sunday to close out the weekend. In Session 1, Andretti went 3-6-9-13 in practice. If you throw in their alliance with Meyer Shank Racing then you’d get 6 of the top 13 speeds in the 45 minute session.

MSR went 4th (Pagenaud) and 7th (Helio Castroneves) while Andretti had Rossi (3rd), Colton Herta (6th) and rookies Romain Grosjean and Devlin DeFrancesco being 9th and 13th respectively.

Can they put multiple cars in the Fast 6 on Saturday and find one to victory lane on Sunday?

Honda Powers Way To Front In Chevy’s Backyard

Chevy may have went 1-2 on Friday but Honda took the next 5 spots and 10 of the top 13 in Session 1. Is this Honda’s race to lose again?

Chevy started off 4-0 on the season but Honda swept the Month of May in Indy. They’ve also won 4 of the last 6 races in Motor City and would love nothing more to pick up a 3rd straight win on the season on Friday too.

Pole Record?

Through the first six races of the season, we’ve seen pole records fall in half of them. Among the 3, 2 of which were on street courses. However, after seeing session 1 this weekend, I don’t necessarily think a pole record is coming on Saturday.

With being in the 1:16-barrier I don’t necessarily think they can gain 3 full seconds on the reds on Saturday afternoon.

Good Thing For Hour Window

It was a good thing that INDYCAR opened up a 60 minute window to get these practice sessions in. Prior, there was always a tight fitting schedule on road/street courses and you couldn’t hold up the next grouping by a messy session for yourself.

Now though, INDYCAR has booked an hour for their practice sessions even though 45 minutes would be the duration. So, if you go from start to finish in the 45 minute window, you’re good. If you have stoppages like we had on Friday, you have 15 additional minutes to play with.

That came into play.

We got started 2 minutes late due to a brief hold to clear equipment. Then, just 5 minutes into the session, Dalton Kellett stalled his No. 4 Dallara-Chevrolet in Turn 5. We’d be red for 3 minutes before going back green at 3:40 p.m. ET. 15 minutes later, Felix Rosenqvist found the Turn 2 tire barriers as well as Simon Pagenaud stalling on track. That was the second stoppage in the first 23 minutes.

However, instead of going back green at 4:08 p.m ET and being done at 4:17 p.m. ET, the session still went ahead to create more track time for these drivers.

Top Stat

While there’s still 2 more practice sessions and qualifying to be hard this weekend in Belle Isle, this session was beneficial in a future outlook for Sunday’s race in the sense that if you’re in the top 4, you likely will be a winner after 70 Laps of racing.

That’s great news for Kyle Kirkwood, Pato O’Ward, Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud.

Top Quote

“I’m going to miss Belle Isle regardless,” Pato O’Ward said. “I love this place. Feel like it’s a place that has a lot of character.

“I always say it. If you were to describe INDYCAR SERIES, I think this track describes it the best. It’s very old school, very raw. Lots of commitment has to be from the driver’s side to extract a lap from this place.

“Yeah, it’s a really cool place. Sad to see it leave. But I know a lot of people are very excited for downtown Detroit. New tracks are always really cool. Looking forward to that.”

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