ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — The last two drivers that were quickest in the second NTT INDYCAR Series practice session on the streets of St. Pete ended up in victory lane a day later. One of those was Colton Herta in 2021. The Andretti Autosport driver led the way two years later during the messy Saturday morning session today that saw all 15 extra minutes used due to three on track stoppages for incidents.
In that second session, Herta (1:00.0779-seconds) topped the speed charts with a late lap in his No. 26 Dallara-Honda. He looks like the early race favorite as he was also second in yesterday’s session (1:01.6475-seconds) and second in this practice a year ago too.
Last year’s winner, Scott McLaughlin, was second on Saturday morning at 1:00.2511-seconds in his No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet. He was obviously P1 in this session a year ago and 10th on Friday afternoon.
Rinus VeeKay (1:00.4601-seconds), Kyle Kirkwood (1:00.5294-seconds) and Alex Palou (1:00.6960-seconds) rounded out the top five in the session which was stopped multiple times for on track incidents.
Turns 3 and 4 were once again a problem areas on Saturday morning as the culprit of those crashes. A day after we witnessed several drivers get into the wall in either turn, more drivers found the concrete walls in that portion of the 1.8-mile track in the second practice session of the weekend. The most severe was rookie Sting Ray Robb crashing into the third turn wall at 10:35 a.m. ET and veteran Scott Dixon doing so towards the end of the session.
Devlin DeFrancesco also found the wall as well in that area but was able to limp back to pit road without bringing out the yellow.
That section of track is treacherous due to the repaving of those areas between this year and last. Normally, a repave means more grip. This time, it’s far from it. That and the brake issues getting into Turn 4, a passing zone at that, could be problematic in qualifying later as well as during the race on Sunday.
The top laps of this session went to drivers who put the green alternate tire on late. However, not every driver got a clean lap due to the massive amount of traffic on the short street course. With only 1.8-miles of real estate and 27 cars on track, it’s hard to find a clean lap.
Hence why the drivers up front were there because they got the clean air for a quick time. Which also leads to a lot of unknown for qualifying later because some drivers never got to show what they’ve got.
Herta (2nd, 1st), McLaughlin (10th, 2nd), VeeKay (6th, 3rd), Kirkwood (4th, 4th) and Palou (3rd, 5th) seem to have the speed to contend for the Fast 6.
Graham Rahal (26th, 23rd) is struggling for grip. Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Callum Ilott (12th, 21st) and his rookie teammate of Agustin Canapino (19th, 22nd) seem to be a step behind thus far. So does fellow rookies Benjamin Pedersen (27th, 25th) and Sting Ray Robb (24th, 26th).
Then, what about the Penske’s? Will Power was only 8th on Friday and just 19th on Saturday. He’s an 8-time St. Pete pole winner. Josef Newgarden has found the wall both days and was just 22nd and 16th respectively in his No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet. Newgarden has three top two finishes in his last four St. Pete tries.