By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
PORTLAND, Oregon — Friday practice has come and gone for the Verizon IndyCar Series ahead of Sunday’s Grand Prix of Portland and the time sheets saw numerous names flying up and down in unexpected places.
While it’s expected to see Sebastien Bourdais near the top and he in fact led the opening session, the midfield was full of happy surprises. Santino Ferrucci was 12th fastest in the opening session in his first IndyCar race since the Chevrolet Duel in Detroit.
Ahead of Ferrucci was Jack Harvey in his Meyer Shank Racing No. 60 Honda. Given that the MSR team is on a part time schedule, this was a good result for the Ohio-based team. It was also great to see Max Chilton in 13th, starting the weekend off strong for Carlin.
However, it was a bit concerning seeing the Schmidt Peterson Racing duo of James Hinchcliffe and Carlos Munoz in 18th and 22nd respectively in the first session. Given that this is Munoz’s first race of the year after Indianapolis, I can understand needing some time to play catch up. He was 16th in the afternoon practice session.
In the afternoon practice, the top five had a couple of other surprises. Marco Andretti was second, Ferrucci was third and Harvey was fifth, the trio helping give Honda four of the top five positions.
Looking through the latter half of the top 10, Gabby Chaves was seventh ahead of Zach Veach, Jordan King and Bourdais. Meanwhile, championship contenders Ryan Hunter-Reay was 17th and Alexander Rossi was 23rd. Of course, it’s impossible to know who was on heavy fuel and who wasn’t but the results are encouraging to have a shake-up of a result.
Pato O’Ward got another bonus point in clinching the pole position for the first Indy Lights race of the weekend tomorrow. That brings the Texas-based Mexican’s points lead to 26 points. With another bonus point available for most laps lead, if Colton Herta gets the maximum for Saturday’s race and O’Ward finishes last, the championship lead will get cut to 10 points. Herta starts second ahead of Aaron Telitz and Victor Franzoni.
Rinus VeeKay continued the trend of points leaders getting bonus points as he got another pole with 2017 USF2000 championship winner Oliver Askew in second. Parker Thompson qualified third with David Malukas qualifying fourth. Putting it mildly, VeeKay only needs to start the first race to clinch the championship since only eight cars are starting. With Askew starting second, this is a prime opportunity for the Florida native to score his first Pro Mazda win.
Kyle Kirkwood scored another pole. A moment of silence for the rest of the field.
Anyway, if Kirkwood can sweep the weekend, it’ll bring him to 12 wins in the Mazda Road to Indy which is half the total Spencer Pigot has as the winningest driver in the MRTI.
Saturday brings with it many more challenges. Let’s see what happens next at Portland.