By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
AUSTIN, Texas– Graham Rahal was quick during spring training at Circuit of the Americas and was fifth fastest during the first Friday practice session for Sunday’s INDYCAR Classic. However, the No. 15 TOTAL Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was 13th in the second Friday session, leaving the six-time winner in the NTT IndyCar Series scratching his head.
“This morning we definitely had some pace, this afternoon the thing was sloppy,” said Rahal. “We’ve got to put our heads together a little bit this evening and figure out what we need to do because at the test we were fifth, this morning we were fifth pretty easily, it wasn’t really up to speed this morning or pushing hard and we were fifth and then I couldn’t match that lap time on blacks this afternoon. We need to take a deep look and dive into things and figure out why when it was hot we weren’t as good.”
Rahal’s fastest lap of the day was 1 minute, 48.5328 seconds to average 113.109 mph around the 20 turn, 3.41 mile natural terrain road course. The fastest lap of the day was turned by Team Penske’s Will Power at a 1 minute, 47.4401 seconds (114.259 mph).
The Ohio native said that the team didn’t change anything from spring training but the track doesn’t have the same amount of grip it did back in February.
“The track’s lost a lot of grip, I mean that’s for sure,” said Rahal. “Even when we run reds (alternate tires), we’re not as quick as we were at the test so the track’s definitely lost some grip, which is a little bit weird. There’s not a lot of on track activity this weekend, it’s one thing I’ve noticed and that probably hurts a little bit too but it’s the same for everybody so at the end of the day we have to figure out how to make it go quicker.”
Rahal wasn’t the only driver to struggle after showing initial pace. Josef Newgarden led the first practice session in his No. 2 PPG Industries Chevrolet but the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion was ninth in the second session.
“The day was OK,” said Newgarden. “We lost a little bit in Practice two and we didn’t put up a very good lap on reds (Firestone alternate tires). We look strong on blacks (Firestone primary tires), but we just need to look at the data tonight, especially if we get that rain tomorrow. Overall, I feel good. The PPG Dallara/Chevrolet feels comfy and we need to make sure we execute tomorrow.”
Rain has been in the forecast for Saturday and with limited support series running, the track won’t take in as much rubber as tracks like Mid-Ohio or Road America would with all of the Road to Indy support races going on.
Third practice for the INDYCAR Classic starts at 10:00 am CT with the first Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires race at 12:45. Indy car qualifying is at 2:00 pm.