By David Morgan, Associate Editor
FORT WORTH, Texas – Simon Pagenaud is off to a flying start on the first day of NTT IndyCar Series action at Texas Motor Speedway.
Aided by new downforce options for the 2022 running of the XPEL 375 and a clear, cool morning, Pagenaud piloted his Meyer Shank Racing Honda to the top of the board early on in the first practice session of the day with a lap of 23.2376 seconds (223.087 mph) and remained there throughout the hour of on-track activity.
“It was a good welcoming to the car on an oval,” Pagenaud said. “It felt really nice and we had a seamless session. Obviously, we had a tow at the beginning of the run, but at the end, we did some Q runs and it seems like we’re in the game.
“We’re starting 13th in line this afternoon, so it’s going to be hard to go get pole, but I feel like the car is fast and it should definitely be an interesting race.”
Felix Rosenqvist timed in second fastest, followed by Colton Herta, rookie Callum Ilott, St. Pete winner Scott McLaughlin, five-time Texas winner Scott Dixon, defending race winner Pato O’Ward, Marcus Ericsson, Romain Grosjean, and defending series champion Alex Palou.
The session went incident-free, aside from two cautions early on for the slowing cars of David Malukas and Jimmie Johnson, both of whom had fuel issues, but returned to the track later on in practice.
Teams will now have approximately two hours to get their cars switched over to qualifying trim before getting back out on track at 1:00 pm ET to set the field for Sunday’s race.
The day’s on-track activity will conclude with final practice at 5:45 pm ET, which will be preceded by a half-hour session focused on trying to rubber in the high groove in an effort to mitigate the effects of the PJ1 stained asphalt that remains from past years of NASCAR using the substance to artificially generate grip for its cars.
“I don’t know if the high lane will come in this year,” Pagenaud said of his expectations for the race. “We’re going to have a group that’s going to try and go in the high groove this afternoon, so we’ll see how that goes.
“Personally, I think the package is better in terms of downforce. You can follow cars closer and it doesn’t disturb you as much as it did in the past years. So, you can pin it down, keep it flat, and you have good runs on the exit of (Turn) 2. I think they did a great job at IndyCar to get the package right.”