Herta tops IndyCar Open Test on Thursday

Colton Herta
Colton Herta

Harding Steinbrenner's Honda rookie Colton Herta showed the veterans the way at Laguna Seca Thursday with a time of 1m10.072s on the undulating Laguna Seca road course.

Herta's time of 1m10.072s easily beat Team Penske's Will Power by 0.4663s – a whopping margin for Laguna Seca.

Ganassi Honda rookie Felix Rosenqvist was third quick while championship leader and soon to be 2019 IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden was 4th quick.

Graham Rahal rounded out the top-5 on a day when no one wanted to really show all their cards just yet.

A Helping Hand

Rossi in Hunter-Reay's car
Rossi in Hunter-Reay's car

With Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Hitachi Chevrolet) and Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 DXC Technology Chevrolet) in championship contention, Team Penske might have its opponents outnumbered but Andretti Autosport is using its former series champion to help Alexander Rossi (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) win this season's title.

In Thursday's six-hour open test at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in preparation for this weekend's Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey, 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda) did something uncommon in INDYCAR, switching cars with Rossi to explore different setup options.

Hunter-Reay drove seven laps in Rossi's car while Rossi made five circuits in Hunter-Reay's.

"With the open test, an extra day like this gave us the opportunity to come here with drastically different setups," Hunter-Reay said of the team's plan. "What would take you maybe two-and-a-half hours to change setups (didn't take additional time)."

It helps that Rossi and Hunter-Reay are nearly the same size, which means they can fit in each other's car without significant modifications.

"Alex and I like similar things in the car, similar setups, (have) similar driving styles," Hunter-Reay said.

They also ran each other's cars at the same time of the day, allowing for comparable conditions to get "a clear read as to the two setups," Hunter-Reay said.

"We can then go forward with the rest of the weekend," he added. "Maybe some things from one car apply to qualifying and others to the race. It was definitely a beneficial exercise for us."

Hunter-Reay said the best thing he can do for Rossi in Sunday's 90-lap race is to take points away from Newgarden, the series leader, and he is certainly capable of that. Last year, Hunter-Reay won the 18th Indy car race of his career from the pole at the season-ending race at Sonoma Raceway. A pole also comes with a bonus point. Rossi trails Newgarden by 41 points heading into the double-finishing points season finale. Pagenaud is third in the standings, 42 points out of the lead.

As for Thursday's action, Newgarden was fourth, Pagenaud eighth and Rossi ninth among the 24 drivers. Chip Ganassi Racing's Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Honda) was sixth. He is the only other driver in contention for this year's title, although it will take a lot for him to overcome the aforementioned group.

Epic

There is considerable excitement in the INDYCAR paddock this week with the NTT IndyCar Series making its debut at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca and open-wheel racing returning here for the first time since the Champ Car race of 2004.

Scott Dixon competed on the 11-turn, 2.258-mile permanent road course that sits atop a gorgeous Monterey Peninsula hill in 2001 and ’02 while in CART. He called it “an epic track." Graham Rahal (No. 15 United Rentals Honda) is in total agreement.

“The biggest elevation drops here of anywhere you’re ever going to go, drive or see," the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver said. “Everybody always asks, ‘What is it like to go through the corkscrew (at Turn 8)? What does it look like?’ It looks like nothing; you can’t really see. You’re waiting for the first thing to land and that’s what you get.

“It’s a tremendous track. We talk about Road America (and) Mid-Ohio. Here, they just don’t build them like this. … These are the old-fashioned-style racetracks that we don’t see anymore. That’s why I think a lot of people are excited to be back."

Session 2 Results

Pos No Name Time Diff Gap Speed Engine Team
1 88 Colton Herta 1:10.072 –.—- –.—- 114.979 Honda Harding Steinbrenner Racing
2 12 Will Power 1:10.538 0.4663 0.4663 114.219 Chevy Team Penske
3 10 Felix Rosenqvist 1:10.590 0.5176 0.0513 114.136 Honda Chip Ganassi Racing Teams
4 2 Josef Newgarden 1:10.640 0.5684 0.0508 114.054 Chevy Team Penske
5 15 Graham Rahal 1:10.771 0.6989 0.1305 113.843 Honda Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
6 9 Scott Dixon 1:10.789 0.7174 0.0185 113.814 Honda Chip Ganassi Racing Teams
7 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 1:10.809 0.7370 0.0196 113.782 Honda Andretti Autosport
8 22 Simon Pagenaud 1:10.813 0.7411 0.0041 113.776 Chevy Team Penske
9 27 Alexander Rossi 1:10.823 0.7511 0.0100 113.759 Honda Andretti Autosport
10 26 Zach Veach 1:10.831 0.7588 0.0077 113.747 Honda Andretti Autosport
11 7 Marcus Ericsson 1:10.888 0.8156 0.0568 113.656 Honda Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
12 19 Santino Ferrucci 1:10.947 0.8750 0.0594 113.561 Honda Dale Coyne Racing
13 25 Conor Daly 1:10.948 0.8756 0.0006 113.560 Honda Andretti Autosport
14 18 Sebastien Bourdais 1:11.075 1.0029 0.1273 113.356 Honda Dale Coyne Racing w/Vasser-Sullivan
15 59 Max Chilton 1:11.171 1.0985 0.0956 113.204 Chevy Carlin
16 5 James Hinchcliffe 1:11.231 1.1586 0.0601 113.109 Honda Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
17 14 Tony Kanaan 1:11.282 1.2102 0.0516 113.027 Chevy AJ Foyt Enterprises
18 98 Marco Andretti 1:11.299 1.2275 0.0173 112.999 Honda Andretti Herta w/Marco & Curb-Agaj
19 23 Charlie Kimball 1:11.366 1.2942 0.0667 112.894 Chevy Carlin
20 60 Jack Harvey 1:11.369 1.2969 0.0027 112.890 Honda Meyer Shank Racing w/Arrow SPM
21 4 Matheus Leist 1:11.380 1.3084 0.0115 112.871 Chevy AJ Foyt Enterprises
22 21 Spencer Pigot 1:11.392 1.3199 0.0115 112.853 Chevy Ed Carpenter Racing
23 30 Takuma Sato 1:11.414 1.3418 0.0219 112.819 Honda Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
24 20 Ed Jones 1:11.438 1.3655 0.0237 112.781 Chevy Ed Carpenter Racing

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