Herta fastest in messy opening IndyCar practice at Laguna Seca

Colton Herta topped a messy opening practice session for this weekend’s NTT IndyCar Series season finale at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Friday.

Herta’s 1m07.5382s in the No. 26 Andretti Honda was just enough to edge out Pato O’Ward’s best of 1m07.5911s in his No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevy, but constant interruptions by red flags during the second half of the 75-minute session hampered everyone’s efforts to set a truly representative time.

This was illustrated by virtually the entire field switching to the softer-compound red tires for a restart with 15 minutes left on the clock, but being unable to string enough corners together to learn much about how they work before another incident forced them all back to pitlane. Most drivers, including those at the top of the timing screens, set their best times on the harder Firestones.


“From the few corners that I did get sort of at temp, [the reds] seemed all right,” said O’Ward. “Not as big of a balance difference as usual, but maybe it changes once you are actually in the lap. I was super-happy with my black lap.

“[The track] is so high-commitment. If you get it slightly wrong, as we’ve seen with a few cars, you’re straight off. It’s like Barber, but I think this will bite sooner.”

The rash of stoppages was reminiscent of Thursday’s test, and the main culprit once again seemed to be the massive drop-off in grip as soon as a car wanders fractionally off-line. Several drivers took harmless excursions through the gravel during the opening half of the session before Romain Grosjean became the first to suffer any real consequences when he lost the rear at Turn 4 — the same spot where Alex Palou crashed in testing – and looped the No. 29 Andretti Honda into a spin that ended with him tank-slapping the tire wall, tearing off the rear wing.

Next was Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin, who had the rear step out on the way into Turn 1 with 20 minutes left on the clock and ended up backwards in the gravel. It was while the No. 3 Penske Chevy was being rescued that teams started reaching for the reds, but no sooner had the session gone green again that Scott Dixon speared off at Turn 6. He was able to keep the car out of the barriers and continue, but moments later Agustin Canapino did exactly the same thing at exactly the same spot and stalled, prompting another red while the No. 78 JHR Chevy was retrieved.

The final restart came with five minutes remaining – and the final red came one minute later. On this occasion, the culprit was Will Power, who’d gone fastest during testing on Thursday. The 2022 series champion had survived an early off unscathed, but this one — again at Turn 4 — resulted in a lot of rearranged parts at the back of Penske’s No. 12 Chevy, and the end to the day’s running for the entire field.

UP NEXT: Practice two, Saturday, 10:00 a.m. PT


Story originally appeared on Racer