By David Morgan, Associate Editor
AUSTIN, Texas – Team Penske served notice to the rest of the paddock that it’s the team to beat this weekend for the inaugural IndyCar Classic at Circuit of The Americas. Josef Newgarden and Will Power put up the fastest times of the day to sweep Friday’s opening practice sessions.
Newgarden, the 2017 NTT IndyCar Series champion and current points leader after winning the season opener at St. Petersburg two weeks ago, got things kicked off for the team in the morning session with a lap of one minute, 48.6567 seconds (122.980 mph) to top the board on the 20-turn, 3.41-mile road course.
“I think Session 2 is going to be more telling,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 PPG Chevrolet. “It’s always good to start with speed in Session 1, but we had a long red flag and not a lot of people got to run for very long. It’s probably not the best indicator, but a little bit of speed in the car at first is always a good sign.
“We’ve made some good progress compared to the test. Is it going to be enough for the whole weekend is really what we’re going to need to find out in the next session.”
Newgarden would be followed by rookie Colton Herta, who lost an engine in the session. Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, and Graham Rahal rounding out the top-five fastest cars.
Mid-afternoon, the drivers and teams went out for the second session of the day, but found themselves facing a much different track after baking in the Texas sun for a few hours.
Despite the changing track conditions that saw track temperatures exceeding 105 degrees, Team Penske was on top of their game once more when Power, who pilots the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet, laid down his fast lap to jump up the leaderboard with a time of one minute, 47.4401 seconds (114.259 mph).
This go around it was another rookie in Felix Rosenqvist that slotted in second in the session, while Rossi and Hunter-Reay mirrored their runs in the first session to take third and fourth, respectively. Ed Jones, who was medically cleared to race after suffering a fractured finger in the season opener, rounded out the top-five.
“Turn 19 is obviously just interesting,” Power said when asked of his first impressions of the track. “You got to use the rule to be fast. The rest, it’s a difficult track. Very technical. Hard to get the car right. I felt like we got in a pretty good window that session. Felt like we found where we need to be.”
With two practices done, the NTT IndyCar Series will shut it down for the night before returning on Saturday for final practice and qualifying to set the field for the 60-lap main event on Sunday.
There will be added incentive to win the pole on Saturday after Circuit of The Americas announced a $100,000 bonus earlier in the week for any driver that can capture the pole and go on to win the race.
However, Power noted the bonus won’t be the biggest thing driving the teams to accomplish the feat this weekend.
“Everyone is going for pole,” Power said. “Doesn’t matter how much. Even if it was a million bucks, everyone is putting in as much as they can because they want to get the pole, win the race. You’re never out there thinking it’s worth $100,000, you’re just out there wanting to beat everyone.”