O’Ward leads Friday’s opening INDYCAR practice session at IMS

INDIANAPOLIS — The sun was out and baking the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for the early morning NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice session on Friday. In it, Pato O’Ward topped the speed charts with a late lap of 1:09.4981-seconds in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet.

O’Ward has three consecutive top-five starting spots here and enters having qualified in the top six in all four races on the season thus far too. While he was quickest, he wasn’t the top story of the session.

The biggest story was defending race winner Colton Herta having mechanical issues early and never getting to turn a lap. That’s similar to the last race to where Romain Grosjean blew an engine early in Barber on the Friday practice. It ended up being a good weekend for him in qualifying on the pole and finishing runner-up. The difference however is that they had all night to get the car ready for Saturday and in the fact that they were the only ones with a new engine. This weekend, they not only don’t have that luxury with this being a two-day show (2 practice sessions, qualifying all on Saturday) as well as most in Gasoline Alley having new engines already too.

The other big story belonged to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The team has lacked qualifying pace for years. Their race craft has been among the best in the series, but it’s the fact that they’re always racing from behind. Imagine if they could start better.

Well, Friday’s opening session was a nice start to the weekend for them.

Christian Lundgaard (1:09.4988-seconds) was P2 in his No. 45 Dallara-Honda. Jack Harvey (1:09.5976-seconds) was P5 in his No. 30 Dallara-Honda to give RLL two of the top five speeds in the incident free session. Graham Rahal (1:10.0010-seconds) was 13th in his No. 15 Dallara-Honda.

Lundgaard enters having a ton of momentum. He not only qualified in the Fast Six the last time out in Barber, but finished there too. He also qualified sixth here last summer and finished a career-best second too. In three qualifying tries here, Lundgaard has started fourth, eighth and sixth respectively with two straight top 10’s.

Harvey qualified ninth in this race a year ago and has seven top 10 starting spots in eight tries on this road course including a third place start in 2019 and 2021 and a front row appearance in 2020. He’s also finished on the podium twice here too in 2019 and again in 2020.

Alex Palou (1:09.5213-seconds) and Scott McLaughlin (1:09.5465-seconds) rounded out the top five in being third and fourth respectively.

McLaren ended up having first, sixth (Felix Rosenqvist) and 17th (Alexander Rossi). Ganassi had third (Palou), seventh (Marcus Ericsson), eighth (Scott Dixon) and 11th (Marcus Armstrong). Like RLL, Ganassi hasn’t qualified well here lately either.

They’ve had just 5 total podiums here with only two of which since the Aeroscreen was adopted in 2020. In the case of Dixon, the good? 11 top 10 finishes in 13 starts. The bad? none of the last six finishes here have been better than 8th either. Prior to that, he did have four consecutive top two finishes here. It’s qualifying that’s holding him back with his last six qualifying efforts being 12th, 15th, 16th, 26th, 21st and 20th respectively.

He enters having scored three top seven finishes in four races run this season.

Like Dixon, Ericsson finishes well, but not always in the top 5 here. In 8 starts, he has 5 top 10 finishes. However, just 1 of those 5 he’s finished in the top 5 (4th last May). Qualifying has been their crux too. He’s started 9th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 15th, 11th, 18th and 25th respectively.

Palou had a fast car last May before going off course in the rain, was 3rd in May 2021 and had a podium going before his engine blew in the August prior. If luck is on his side, watch out. However, that’s asking a lot for a driver with finishes of 27th, 18th and 10th respectively too. On the season, he’s finished eighth, third, fifth and fifth respectively.

Then you have rookie Marcus Armstrong. He’s never raced here before but does have three top 11 finishes in three attempts this season which includes a 15-spot improvement from 26th to 11th the last time out in Barber.

The practice was a tight one with first to 22nd separated by less than a second. It was only .2830-seconds from the top to eighth. It also featured the top four in points all being in the top seven. Fifth place in the standings, Romain Grosjean, was a surprising 16th. Andretti swept both races last year and this time around, didn’t have a single car in the top 10 at session one. Kyle Kirkwood was the top driver in the speed department in 12th while Grosjean (16th) and Devlin DeFrancesco (22nd) were behind. Herta was last due to his early troubles.

Up Next: Practice 2 at 1 p.m. ET live on Peacock/INDYCAR Radio Network

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