By David Morgan, Associate Editor
MADISON, Ill. – As the sun was setting at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway on Friday, a new challenger emerged in final practice, as Graham Rahal put his Honda on the top of the board.
Rahal’s lap of 25.319 seconds (177.728 mph) was enough to bump six-time champion Scott Dixon from the top spot with only a few minutes remaining in the session, marking a steady progression through the day for the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team as he was seventh fastest in first practice.
Though Rahal and the team stumbled in qualifying and will have their work cut out starting from 17th, the driver was happy with the improvements the team made to the car in final practice.
“Good improvement,” Rahal said of his practice result. “Found some really good stuff in that session. Went through a ton too, so very proud of everybody on the No. 15 iPacket machine. Like I said, I though we got through a lot. You know, most of our test list, which is hard to do in a session like this.
“All in all, good. Tomorrow is going to be a dogfight. We start 17th, which is not where you want to be, but I think everybody can see in that session that we’ve got some pace. Improved the car a lot from qualifying and we’ll go to battle tomorrow.”
Rookie David Malukas continued to show speed as he timed in third-fastest and held onto the fast time for much of the session before being overtaken by Dixon and Rahal. Romain Grosjean was fourth at the end of the hour, with defending series champion Alex Palou rounding out the top-five.
Reigning Indianapolis 500 champion Marcus Ericsson finished practice in sixth, followed by Takuma Sato, Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden and Devlin DeFrancesco as the drivers in the top-10.
The session was brought to an early end when Jimmie Johnson spun on pit road with only a few minutes remaining. It was no harm, no foul for the seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion as he didn’t appear to hit anything in his No. 48 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda during the incident.
Prior to final practice, nine drivers were given the task to rubber in the high lane in an effort to put on a better race on Saturday with multiple lanes and Alexander Rossi led the way during the half-hour that was set aside for that endeavor.
Pole sitter Will Power took part in that session and was optimistic for how the second lane will fare during the race.
“There’s a ton of grip up there,” Power said. “There’s more grip than on line because it’s not polished. As soon as it came in, it’s hooked up. It got better and better, but came in very quickly. It’s immediately evident there’s a heap of grip. If people go there the first 20 laps, we’re going to have an awesome race.”