Photo: Walter G. Arce/ASP, Inc.

Herta Hustles Around St. Petersburg to Lead Second Practice

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Day two in St. Petersburg is off and running, with Colton Herta and Andretti Global topping the charts in practice on Saturday morning with a lap of one minute, 0.133 seconds in his No. 26 Honda.

The 2021 winner of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg jumped to the head of the line in the final 10 minutes of practice, eclipsing the Team Penske duo of Josef Newgarden and Will Power.

“The car has been good so far,” Herta said. “I think first practice, we didn’t really execute it. Got some traffic and some red flags, so we weren’t able to show our pace. I felt good that session. The car felt good and had some really decent runs really out on track alone.

“That was nice. Good to feel the car in that environment and get ready for qualifying.”

Newgarden, a two-time winner at St. Petersburg, improved handily from first practice on Friday, where he timed in 11th fastest.

“Pretty good, Newgarden said. “Yesterday we were trying to get back up to speed and get comfy, sort of the similar story to today. The PPG car feels fast. It’s just about putting it together. Trying to trend with the track. I think that’s probably what you were seeing with times. The track started in one condition and we sort of built to a different condition and everyone’s car reacts differently to that.

“I think we have to stay on top of that for qualifying. See how much rubber is going to be laid down, but Chevrolet has done a great job for us. Really excited for this weekend and the whole year. Hopefully we’ve got some speed for qualifying. It would be nice to start up front.”

Pato O’Ward, who looks to bounce back from his heartbreaking loss in this race one year ago, finished the session in fourth, followed by Romain Grosjean giving Juncos Hollinger another great run to round out the top-five fastest in practice.

The remainder of the top-10 in the session went to Rinus VeeKay, Kyle Kirkwood, Scott McLaughlin, Scott Dixon, and Marcus Armstrong.

Felix Rosenqvist, who was the hot shoe on Friday, just missed out on the top-10 in 11th.

The 45-minute session only saw one car with issues after Kirkwood got into Turn 2 wall with less than 20 mins remaining, causing damage to the right front suspension on his Andretti Honda. Prior to the hit, he had put in the third fastest time.

“Just the nature of street course racing, right?” Kirkwood said of the incident. “Pushing everything we can. We’re learning a lot, we’re making big changes this time of the weekend.

“For me there, I just had my left side tires ready, but not my right side. The nature of this track, it’s dominantly right hand corners, so you’re more likely to heat those left side tires up a lot quicker. As soon as I go through the first right hander on my first push lap, the car snaps out on me and I tapped the wall. But at 120 mph, a tap is a big hit in one of these race cars.

“Disappointed to end the session like that, but we had some issues yesterday that we were able to resolve for today and we were really fast out of the gate. Right now, we’re P5, everyone is running new tires. I think we definitely would have went quicker. The time I did earlier on in the session was with an old set, with a flat spot, so I’m really happy with the car. I’m happier than I was yesterday, even though we’re out of the session right now.

“Minor, minor, minor fix to the car. We’ve just got to change one of the wishbones. Maybe a little bit of floor damage. We’ll be good to go for qualifying.”

Next up for the NTT IndyCar Series will be qualifying at 2:00 pm ET on Peacock, setting the 27-car field for Sunday’s 20th annual Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.