Will Power went nearly four seconds below his record-setting 2022 pole time at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Thursday as the NTT IndyCar Series field christened the track’s new surface with a test day ahead of this weekend’s season finale.
Power set a 1m.07.2762s in Team Penske’s No. 12 Chevy, comfortably shading the 1m11.6127s lap that took him past Mario Andretti’s all-time pole record at the classic Californian road course during qualifying last year.
While the lap was comfortably quicker than the cars could manage last year, it was barely enough to edge out Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Christian Lundgaard, who came up just 0.03s short of Power’s time.
The Penske/RLL pattern repeated immediately behind them, with Scott McLaughlin going third fastest in Penske’s No. 3 Chevy, and Juri Vips warming up for his second career IndyCar start by planting RLL’s No. 30 entry fourth on the timing screens. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson rounded out the top five.
“The new surface is very nice, very smooth; lot of grip,” Power said. “Obviously it’s tough offline. But it’s incredibly fast. You’re almost flat in Turn 9, almost flat in Turn 4. It feels like the same sort of rhythm, same gear, but a lot more speed; a lot more grip. So much so that I couldn’t turn the wheel in Turn 9.”
Power’s enthusiasm for the new surface was echoed by Alexander Rossi, who ended the day sixth fastest for Arrow McLaren.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It feels like we have really fast, cool, modern race cars. It’s amazing. You feel like you’ve unlocked a lot of stuff, performance- and balance-wise. There’s a lot of grip. It’s a lot of fun. This track was always a driver favorite, but certainly in years past it was fun for a couple of laps and then the tires would start to drop off — which made the race super-exciting, but it was less enjoyably inside the cockpit. Whereas now, as hard as you want to try, and as brave as you want to be, there’s lap time there. It’s pretty cool.
“Not only are you recalibrating your mind to the limit of the car in the corner, but every time you go out there’s more rubber that’s going down, so even on your second, third run on tires, you’re still improving. It’s a moving target for a while but then it will reach a point where it’s not, and that’s where it gets challenging.”
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Power’s point about the surface being tricky off the racing line was illustrated by the steady parade of red flags that punctuated the day. The most significant incident was reserved for a driver who comes into the weekend with little to play for: Alex Palou, who sealed the 2023 championship at Portland last weekend, hit the tires at Turn 4 mid-way through the afternoon. The Spaniard was checked by medical personnel and has been cleared to race.
Earlier, Devlin DeFrancesco had an incident at the hairpin, and while the extent of the damage to the No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda was unclear, the car spent a considerable chunk of the day in the garage, leaving the Canadian with a field-low 26 laps completed.