A slick surface, a driver change, and Pato’s great idea: IndyCar practice day at Road America

A slick surface, a driver change, and Pato's great idea: IndyCar practice day at Road America

ELKHART LAKE – Road America is slipperier and slower than it was a year ago, and at least one of those is perfectly fine with Santino Ferrucci.

Ferrucci ranked third Friday after the first NTT IndyCar Series practice session for Sunday’s XPEL Grand Prix on the rolling 4.014-mile, 14-turn course behind the two drivers who battled for the victory a year ago.

“Last year we were actually competitive here, which was nice,” said Ferrucci, who ran in the top 10 before finishing 14th. “We were able to take some of that and mix it in with our Penske alliance. … So putting everything together, we have a pretty good car.”

Two-time and defending winner Alex Palou posted the fastest lap of practice at 1 minute 43.1709 seconds in one of the Chip Ganassi Racing Honda entries. Colton Herta, who started last year’s race from the pole, was second at 1:43.2506 in a Honda for Andretti Global. Ferrucci covered the distance in 1:43.3618 in an A.J. Foyt Racing Chevrolet.

The top 15 were all in the 1:43 bracket, which is about two seconds per lap slower than 2023, IndyCar’s first race on the new asphalt.

Chip Ganassi Racing Honda driver Alex Palou races through the woods during NTT IndyCar Series practice Friday at Road America. The two-time and defending race winner turned the fastest lap of the session.

More: Road America is front of mind, but IndyCar teams also are preparing for Tuesday’s important visit to the Milwaukee Mile

“With the repave last year, the track had this peak of grip, which was phenomenal for our cars. I mean, it was incredibly fast,” Ferrucci said. “When we saw the practice with the Indy Lights, the Pro 2000 Series, the USF Pro, we saw they were about a second off. We figured we’d be a little bit slower.

“We didn’t quite know what the car balance would be like. But, yeah, the conditions are incredibly technical. Honestly it makes it a lot of fun.”

More noticeable than the speed drop-off, though, was the number of drivers who spun or went off track, including veterans Scott Dixon and Will Power.

The biggest problem of the day came when Romain Grosjean ran through the catch pit at Turn 14 and into the tire barrier which protects the wall. The impact damaged the left front suspension on his car, and he was finished for the session without completing a lap.

“I had my fair share of dropping wheels, too, flying through the dirt, especially coming onto the main straight,” Ferrucci said. “I think everyone will agree the balance of the cars is probably pretty snappy right now. … I’m definitely very happy and that has a lot to do with it.”

A mild surprise of the session was Pietro Fittipaldi in 11th in a Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda on one of the many IndyCar tracks he is visiting for the first time.

“Hopefully we keep evolving,” said Fittipaldi, who has his sights on a top-10 finish Sunday. “We’ve just got to keep working, keep improving. But for sure the way I’ve been adapting to the tracks, new tracks, I’ve been learning them faster and faster, I’ve been getting more comfortable in the car.”

Fittipaldi’s family has some history at Road America. Emerson, his grandfather, won at Road America in 1986, ’88 and ’92, and uncle Christian won in 1999.

“Even though it was a long time ago, the principles of racing are the same,” said Fittipaldi, 27. “Condense the brake zone, carry as much momentum as you can, get at full throttle as quickly as possible.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda driver Pietro Fittipaldi races off Turn 3 during NTT IndyCar Series practice Friday on his first trip to Road America.

Nolan Siegel in for Agustin Canapino

Indy NXT frontrunner Nolan Siegel was a late addition to the IndyCar grid for Juncos Hollinger Racing as Agustin Canapino has taken a “leave of absence” this weekend, the team said.

Canapino came under fire for his fans’ online abuse of rookie Theo Pourchaire and his denial of Pourchaire’s contention that he received death threats after their on-track incident Sunday on the Detroit street circuit. The team’s statement – which came shortly before practice – said the change came about in the interest of “the safety of Augustin and the rest of the competitors.”

Driver Pato O’Ward of Arrow McLaren answers questions before practice Friday at Road America.

Pato O’Ward enjoys a day at the Beach

The sandy viewing area at the exit of the Carousel recently took on title sponsorship from Mission Foods, which has backed IndyCar’s most popular driver, Pato O’Ward. Consequently he and Arrow McLaren teammates Pourchaire and Alexander Rossi visited the area Thursday before their race weekend began.

O’Ward has some ideas for additions to the volleyball court the area already has.

“Hopefully it’s packed,” O’Ward said. “Sadly there’s no ocean. Be good to see some bikinis walking around.”

Wisconsin-based Pabst team fast in junior series

Driving for Pabst Racing Services of Oconomowoc, Simon Sikes earned front-row starting spots for the two USF2000 Pro races Saturday. Sikes qualified second for the first race (8 a.m.) and then won the pole for the second (4:10 p.m.) with teammate Christian Brooks alongside. A third race is scheduled for Sunday.

Another Pabst driver, Max Garcia, won the pole for the USF2000 races at 12:30 and 5:05 p.m. Saturday.

This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Road America IndyCar practice: Track slick, Siegel in, O’Ward’s idea


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