By David Morgan, Associate Editor
ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – Speeds and heartrates were up as the NTT IndyCar Series took on the freshly repaved Road America circuit in the first practice session of the Sonsio Grand Prix weekend.
When all was said and done, Alexander Rossi put his No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet on top of the board with a lap of one minute, 41.779 seconds to take the early advantage.
“You never get all you want out of it because usually you’re limited on the amount of tires you have and everything,” Rossi said.
“It was interesting for us, having tested here last week, to understand the difference in the tire that Firestone brought for this weekend because no one that tested here had the actual tire. Obviously trying the reds for the first time. So, it was an interesting session.
“Definitely lots to digest overnight.”
David Malukas timed in second fastest in the 90-minute session, followed by points leader Alex Palou and six-time series champion Scott Dixon in third and fourth. Pato O’Ward rounded out the top-five in another Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.
Malukas, a Chicago native, explained that he is hopeful to be able to perform well at his home track and Friday’s early results indicate a positive trajectory for his Dale Coyne Racing team.
“We tested here, we found a couple things,” Malukas said. “At the end of the day, we were kind of like, Speed is still there, car feels very good. Our hopes were high coming into today.
“Obviously went out and, again, we definitely found something. I think we’re a little bit closer now and kind of can restart our season. The way I’m explaining it is we had a mid-season slumber, the car was sleeping, getting ready, now we’ve awakened and we’re ready for the second half.”
Marcus Ericsson ended practice in sixth, with the remainder of the top-10 going to Christian Lundgaard, Felix Rosenqvist, Colton Herta, and Marcus Armstrong.
After the struggles that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has faced recently, Lundgaard explained that being back on a road course would be a good reset for his team to get back into form as they look to break out of their current slump.
“I think obviously starting the month of May with a pole and not ending it as we hoped for, then we struggled out in Detroit, here we’re back to a road course,” Lundgaard said.
“We’ve sort of reset. We were competitive at Barber as well. I think in Barber I basically averagely finished seventh in all sessions. Now we’re here starting with a seventh again. Not too bad.
“We were a relatively competitive here last year. It wasn’t one of our worst, for sure. We knew that we needed to do something different, and we have as a team, as an organization. I mean, obviously we hope for it to be the right thing. That’s the path we’ve gone down now, so we’ll wait and see.”
There were no stoppages during the session, but a number of close calls did occur as drivers felt out the fast, new pavement on the 4.048-mile circuit.
Saturday will bring another practice session at 10:55 am ET, followed by qualifying at 1:55 ET, where drivers have their eye on taking down the long-standing track record.
“What is it, a 39.8 or something?” Rossi inquired of the current record before replying with a sly grin across his face.
“We can do that.”