Photo: Luis Torres/Motorsports Tribune

Rookie Contenders Sweep Opening Practice at Laguna Seca

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

MONTEREY, California – The three NTT IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year title contenders swept Friday morning’s practice charts at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca with Colton Herta being both fastest and snake bitten by “The Corkscrew” to close out the 45-minute session.

Herta’s time of 1:10.7335 was just 0.0719 seconds faster than rookie points leader Felix Rosenqvist. Santino Ferrucci rounds out the top-three as he was 0.1502 seconds behind.

In the closing seconds of practice, Herta’s rear of his No. 88 Capstone Turbine Corporation Honda locked up and spun in Turn 8 and beached his car, bringing out the second and final red flag of the session.

The 19-year-old admitted of pushing his car to the limit where he had three adventurous moments where the last ending his session.

“I just went in there a little bit too hot,” Herta said. “Locked the rears going over the rise and in The Corkscrew. That sent me spinning even before I can turn. It was a mistake on my part.”

Balancing issues was Herta’s issue after the track conditions were much warmer than Thursday’s testing.

“The times aren’t really anywhere near what we’re doing yesterday,” Herta said. “Even though the track theoretically should be better. It was quite cold yesterday. Today, it’s little more warmer and a lot more rubber down.”

Rosenqvist, who had his No. 10 NTT Data Honda sideways in Turn 8, felt having the extra set of tires being given to the rookies did help him out. Notably, the first set of tires paying big dividends as he felt the 2.238-mile circuit being slippery as INDYCAR were the fourth group of cars out on the track.

“The tires are going off a bit quicker,” Rosenqvist said. “Other cars have been around the track before us. I think yesterday was optimal conditions as there’s only Firestone rubber on the track. Today we have bunch more, which will be more relevant for the race week. It’s probably not going to get better.”

Ferrucci commented how both test sessions which lasted a combined total of six hours was helpful for him building a comfort zone in a track where 20 out of the 24 drivers haven’t competed in an Indy car race at Laguna Seca.

“Nobody really knows this track or at least has a lot of experience in the past decade,” Ferrucci said. “For us, it’s pretty helpful and we can show that we’re also a little more competitive. We’ve spent a lot of time in the off-week working with the engineers to really dial down a car for this place is a little bit more unique. I’m actually a lot more comfortable than I’ve been all year.”

While the super competitive rookies topped the charts, the four title contenders weren’t so hot as Simon Pagenaud was fastest but only clocked in sixth quickest, 0.4184 seconds off Herta’s pace.

Championship leader Josef Newgarden was ninth, followed by Scott Dixon in 14th and second place points man Alexander Rossi was the caboose in 24th.

Newgarden said his No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet was okay and wasn’t able to run full laps after making spring changes as the will of going out right away this morning was hesitant.

“No one wants to go out. Then when we go out, we get all the reds,” Newgarden commented. “You’re taking your medicine there because if you don’t want to deal with the reds, you should go out early. I think Session No. 2 is always a lot easier. Everyone goes out early because we have multiple tires to use.”

Newgarden has a 41-point lead over Rossi and his goal for the longer afternoon session is to get a long run and try different setup because he wasn’t satisfied with the stuff his Penske team tried. More importantly, a cleaner run without any issues from he or other competitors.

“We didn’t get a great run. I thought the car felt okay,” Newgarden said. “We tried some stuff from last night. I think we got a direction on what we like and didn’t like. I think some stuff we put on from yesterday we didn’t like today. We’re going to go back to something else in Session No. 2. Hopefully, we’ll have a cleaner run, it just wasn’t clean run for us to start out.”

Friday afternoon’s practice session for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will begin at 5:10 pm EST. The 45-minute session will be followed with an additional 30-minute pit stop practice/warm-up session. Both will be streaming live on NBC Sports Gold.

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a two-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.