DETROIT – Pato O’Ward led an eventful opening practice Friday for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, as drivers spent as much time learning the new downtown street circuit as they did paying attention to the time sheets.
O’Ward was fastest at 1 minute, 3.0773 seconds in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile circuit in downtown Detroit. The event moved back to downtown Detroit this year for the first time since 1991, as it took place on Belle Isle on the Detroit River since 1992.
SEE: Practice Results
“It’s definitely a unique track,” O’Ward said. “I think it has a lot of characteristics from all the other street courses that we go to in terms of pavements, certain type of corners. Yeah, we rolled off strong.”
Six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon was second at 1:03.1759 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Kyle Kirkwood, winner of the Long Beach street race in April, was third at 1:03.5140 in the No. 27 AutoNation Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport.
Championship leader and 2021 series champion Alex Palou was fourth at 1:03.6388 in the No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda, putting two Chip Ganassi Racing cars in the top four.
“It was a big challenge,” Palou said of the bumpy circuit. “We went through the runoff quite a few times. Hopefully we don’t do that anymore during the weekend. Honestly, it felt pretty good. We had some speed in there. There’s a big difference between the blacks (Firestone primary tires) and the alternates. It should be a fun weekend.”
Arrow McLaren drivers took the next two spots, as the team claimed three of the top six positions on the time sheet. Felix Rosenqvist was fifth at 1:03.6929 in the No. 6 onsemi Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, followed by Alexander Rossi in sixth at 1:03.7277 in the No. 7 NTT DATA Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.
Newly crowned Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Josef Newgarden ended up 15th at 1:04.4376 in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.
There were six red flags in the session as drivers learned the tricky new circuit and found the limits of grip on the combination of asphalt and concrete. Many drivers ended up in runoff areas, especially in Turn 3 at the end of the longest straightaway, or in full opposite lock sliding through corners. There was no significant contact in any of the incidents.
No drivers were immune from the risks of finding the limit. Even the quickest driver of the session – O’Ward – triggered the sixth and final red when he entered the runoff area in Turn 8 near the end of the session.
“It’s a challenging track; I can tell you that,” O’Ward said.
Up next is practice at 9:05 a.m. ET Saturday, followed by NTT P1 Award qualifying at 1:20 p.m. (both sessions live on Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network). Live coverage of the 100-lap race starts at 3 p.m. Sunday on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.