McLaughlin quickest in opening INDYCAR practice at Texas on Saturday morning, recap with my top 5 takeaways

Scott McLaughlin picked up where he left off a year ago here. The Team Penske driver paced the NTT INDYCAR SERIES field for 186 of the 248-lap race and narrowly lost out on the win as he was nipped by teammate Josef Newgarden in an exhalating photo finish.

On Saturday morning, the third-year driver led all 28 drivers, the biggest entry-list here in over a decade (2011) with a top speed of 223.747 mph in his No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet. He was fifth quickest in practice 1 last year.

Behind McLaughlin was a trio of Arrow McLaren Racing drivers. They took three of the next five position on the speed chart with Pato O’Ward (223.518 mph) being second in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet, Alexander Rossi (223.468 mph) third in his No. 7 Dallara-Chevrolet and last year’s pole winner, Felix Rosenqvist (222.913 mph) being sixth in his No. 6 Dallara-Chevrolet.

Rosenqvist was pushed down to sixth with a late lap by Andretti Autosport’s Devlin DeFrancesco who went 223.225 mph late in the hour long session. His teammate, Colton Herta, went 223.318 mph which was good enough for fourth in his No. 26 Dallara-Honda.

Speeds Higher For Good Reason

The speeds this morning were a tick higher than last year but that’s because the session took place at 8 a.m. locally to where the track was at its best conditions. Cooler temps lead to more grip in the track, especially when the entire first and second turn and backstretch started off in the shade.

The other factor was that the series added even more downforce to the cars this year on this superspeedway aero package which as a result makes these cars able to handle better.

Ilott Quietly Strong Again

Callum Ilott was fourth quickest in practice 1 last year (222.257 mph). This year, he was seventh (222.885 mph) in his No. 77 Dallara-Chevrolet. With a crowded field up front of the big teams (9 of the top 10 all Penske, Ganassi, Andretti and McLaren), to see a Juncos Hollinger Racing car solidly in the top 10 was great to see.

Penske Behind Bigger Teams, But Not Worried

Yes, Scott McLaughlin was quickest, however, Josef Newgarden (222.484 mph) and Will Power (221.736 mph) were ninth and 14th respectively. Between McLaughlin and Power were two Andretti cars, all three McLaren’s, three Ganassi’s, Callum Ilott (Juncos Hollinger Racing) and Simon Pagenaud (Meyer Shank Racing).

Penske and Ganassi have alternated wins in each of the last five years and 7 of the last 9 overall. RLL and AMSP are the only exceptions with Graham Rahal’s win in 2016 and Pato O’Ward’s in Race 2 in 2021. RLL also won the 2020 Indy 500 too.

Last year, Penske and Ganassi swept the entire top 7 of the final finishing order.

Right now, Penske looks a step behind Ganassi and McLaren, however, it’s early….

RLL’s Puzzling Pace

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was beaming with confidence entering this season. They felt like they fixed their speed deficit in a lot of areas. However, they looked off in practice in the season opening weekend in St. Pete and once again, looked off in Practice 1 at Texas.

They took the bottom three spots on the speed charts with Graham Rahal (219.600 mph) being 26th, Jack Harvey (219.548 mph) in 27th and Christian Lundgaard (215.983 mph) being last in 28th.

RLL lacked on superspeedway’s last year, most notably in qualifying. They started 24th, 26th and 27th at Texas and 21st, 31st and 32nd at Indy.

Watch Out For Ferrucci

Santino Ferrucci hopped in an RLL car last year without any practice or qualifying here at Texas and put it in the top 10 in the end. That was the best result for the 45 car all season. Now in a car with AJ Foyt Racing that’s been good on superspeedway’s over the years, he was already on my radar. He proved me right on Saturday morning. Ferrucci (221.998 mph) was 12th quickest ahead of Alex Palou (13th), Will Power (14th), Helio Castroneves (17th) and Marcus Ericsson (19th).

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