The first practice session for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season took place today, on the streets of St Petersburg.
Rookie Matheus Leist led the morning practice session for AJ Foyt Racing. Ryan Hunter-Reay had the fastest lap of the day at 60.8295 seconds, trailed by fellow Honda driver James Hinchcliffe. Will Power was the top Team Penske car, with Scott Dixon and reigning series champion Josef Newgarden rounding out the top five on Friday.
There were a total of 816 laps turned in by all 24 drivers, and no major incidents ruined the opening day of practice. Simon Pagenaud did lost control of his Chevrolet in the afternoon practice session, making light contact with the outside barrier. Tony Kanaan and Rene Binder each had a spin as well, but managed to avoid any damage.
Friday Combined Practice Results
There are only four current drivers that have won a race at St Petersburg – Power, Hinchcliffe, Sebastien Bourdais, and Graham Rahal. Oddly enough, Rahal has not finished inside the top ten here since 2010. Many drivers were talking about how different the 2018 car handled today on the bumpy street course.
Champions and Indy 500 winners Dixon, Kanaan, and Hunter-Reay have a combined 37 starts at St Petersburg. They have a total of 14 podium finishes, 19 top-fives, and 25 top-tens, but zero wins.
Pagenaud could be a strong player this weekend. While he hasn’t won here, his last four finishes at St Petersburg are 5th, 5th, 2nd, and 2nd. There will be one final 45-minute practice session tomorrow at 11:10 AM, followed by qualifying for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg, which begins at 2:20 PM.
Photos courtesy of IndyCar
Josef Newgarden: “We had a smooth enough first practice session today, and we were really just trying to figure out the new car and how it handled here on the streets of St. Pete. We started to work some things out in Session 2 and we’re starting to feel really good about the Hitachi Chevrolet. We still have some work to do, but I know the Hitachi Team Penske guys are the best in the business. Team Chevy is doing a great job giving us all we need, so we’ll be back it for practice and qualifying on Saturday.”
Matheus Leist: “The whole day was pretty good, I think. The first practice we were P1, so I was impressed with myself (laughs) and probably the team was, as well. It was a good start to the weekend, and I think the second session went good as well. We probably had a car to finish in the top-five, but I just had too much traffic when I was on reds. P12 is still good I think. I’m looking forward to the weekend and the season. Probably tomorrow is going to be a better day than today, and we’re going to be up there with the top guys.”
James Hinchcliffe: “The 2018 car is very different, I can tell you that. I think you’re going to hear that a lot over the weekend and a lot over the year as we go to the racetracks the first time with it. St. Pete, it’s always interesting on Friday, super low grip, a lot of different series out there laying rubber down and all the rest of it. Some interesting challenges today, a lot to learn with the new car, our side personally with the new team, new personnel on the team I should say. But, yeah, a solid start to the day.”
Robert Wickens: (How this first experience compared to his practice session experience at Road America in 2017) “It’s a lot more relaxed. That Road America thing was so last minute. I got a phone call on a Thursday to ask if I was even in North America, flew out, and arrived in Chicago at 1 a.m., two-hour drive to Elkhart Lake, two hours of sleep, and the whole day was just stressed and rushed. I couldn’t really enjoy it. Whereas now, I got the proper Thursday set-up day preparation, running through the whole program today was a lot more relaxed. I feel a lot better about it. I’ve had a really good day in the No. 6 Lucas Oil Honda. You couldn’t ask for much more than to be top ten in both sessions today. Hopefully that can be a trend for the rest of the weekend.”
Scott Dixon: “It was a tricky start to the weekend for us. The car is just very different from what we had last year. The car is skating everywhere and that last session I think we just got a little bit unlucky with traffic in the PNC Bank car. I think we’re right there and the car has the speed, we just need to get out of traffic a bit and we hope to show that tomorrow in qualifying.”
Ed Jones: “It was a tough day today, but it was the same for everyone with the new car here at St. Pete. I think we all probably had less grip than we thought we would and that was the case for me in the NTT DATA car. It’s a new challenge, but one we’re up for. I don’t think our speed was reflective of the car we have, we just got caught in traffic. I don’t think we’re too far off though. A few changes for tomorrow and we’re right back up there.”
Will Power: “The Verizon Chevy was very good today – it was definitely a good start. I think we’re very close to getting the car where we need to be. We’ll work on fine tuning things, but we’re headed in the right direction. This new car is so fun to drive. It goes so much faster on the straights and it’s very quick in the turns as well. I think it’s definitely going to make for some entertaining racing this year.”
Tony Kanaan: “It was a decent first day. The biggest accomplishment we wanted to do was have the ABC Supply team running all day. We did that and everybody stayed calm. We had a very good first session and I knew people were going to step it up (in the second session), so now we just need to keep our heads together. It was a decent second session, we’re there. The goal obviously is to win races, but we came here to be realistic and I think if we are in the top 10 for this first race and what we’re building, it would be really good. We’re there right now (inside top 10), so we’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
Graham Rahal: “We went down a path in testing at Sebring, and unfortunately Sebring is a high grip circuit, which we knew, and I think it just misled us. I fully believe that overnight we will find some changes and get ourselves pointed in a much better position. We are struggling with the rear of the car ,which is very strange. We did at our first test, as well, but in general I think it hasn’t been an issue to this magnitude. We have a lot of work to do. Obviously Taku (Takuma Sato) did a good job putting a lap in and I just didn’t. We are going back to the drawing board for tomorrow and make the United Rentals car quicker.”
Sebastien Bourdais: “It wasn’t a bad day. We made a change for the second practice and we didn’t go in the right direction. A lot of guys improved on reds (Firestone alternate tire) and we got a red flag when we went out on reds. Then I didn’t get any laps that were representative because there was traffic in front of me. You probably have one lap, maybe two if you don’t hit it too hard, but with the red flag and the traffic, it was game over. On the blacks (Firestone primary tires), it’s not bad. It’s just we are looking for front grip and we haven’t found a friendly way to do it.”
Zachary Claman De Melo: “We had a good morning session, I was really happy with how it went. Then I struggled a bit more in the afternoon session with the heat and there was a lot of traffic that I wasn’t able to put a lap together. We know where we are with the car, I know where I need to get better, so I’m pretty confident we’ll be fine come practice tomorrow. It’s really exciting driving on the St. Petersburg track aboard an Indy car. It’s a handful with the new universal aero kit, but I’m really enjoying it and I’m sure it’s going to be a really close qualifying and race for everyone.”
Jordan King: “There’s not too many dissimilarities between this car and the ones I used to drive (Formula 2, 2015-2017). There is a lot of crossover, which has made it a lot easier to jump in and drive the car. However, there’s so much to learn procedurally. I have to learn the circuits, the way the tires behave, the way the mechanics work. So there’s a lot more going on than just driving the car. I’ve not driven any of these circuits before, so it will be a new experience each weekend. There’s always going to be learning, right up until the end of the season. I do feel comfortable within the car and driving it, which is a positive because the goal is to be as comfortable as possible as quickly as possible.”
Spencer Pigot: “We are better than what came out on the time sheets. Where we struggled the most as getting clear track. There was a lot of traffic and a lot of cars, so it was really tough to get clear space when the tires were at their best. We missed that today, so hopefully we will be able to get clear track in Practice 3 tomorrow morning and really see where we stack up. There are still a few areas where we need to do some work and find some more speed, but overall, the Autogeek car feels pretty good.”
Simon Pagenaud: “The morning session went pretty well for us on the Menards Chevy and we were trying some different things in the afternoon and it didn’t really work out. We made some changes with red Firestone tires to see if what we did last year would still apply this year and we learned that it just didn’t transfer. Late in the afternoon session we lost traction late in Turn 2 and the car spun. Thankfully we only brushed the wall and minimized the damage. The Menards Team Penske guys will do a great job fixing it up and we’ll be ready to go for tomorrow.”
Charlie Kimball: “We’ve learned a lot every time we’ve been on track in the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet, whether it’s been testing or during today’s two practices. When you’re starting from scratch informationally, any time you do a lap you make progress. We actually made quite a bit of progress today and we learned a lot. We have a good direction to head tomorrow, and obviously tomorrow is when it counts with qualifying, so we need to try and maximize the setup on the car. I know the guys at Carlin have already made a monumental effort to have such a trouble-free day on our first day at a racetrack for a race weekend, and I know tonight we’ll work to make it even better for tomorrow.”
Zach Veach: “Overall it was a productive day. We didn’t really get to show how good our car was. We got caught up in traffic all through the second session. It seemed like every time we put a set of tires on we seemed to run into someone on track. We’re happy with where things are. Obviously with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) being quick, it shows where our cars have some good pace. Hopefully we have a cleaner track tomorrow. There are a few things I need to go back and work on tonight, but I think we have a good shot of getting the Group One Thousand One car in the top 12 during qualifying and we’ll see where we can go in the race from there.”
Alexander Rossi: “I think it was positive day for the team overall – it’s a good way to start the weekend. We actually did our best time on our third attempt on Firestone Red (Alternate Tires) because of a multitude of issues. I think the pace of the NAPA AUTO PARTS car is pretty good – we’ll work on it overnight. Everyone is going to learn a lot tonight, so we’ll have to take a step ahead with them. All-in-all I think it was a positive start to 2018.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay: “Finishing first overall today is not a bad way to start the season. We’re still in the early days and will need to all put our heads together at Andretti tonight and figure out how we’re going to make these cars go faster tomorrow. I think everybody left today feeling like they left something on the table, ourselves included, but it’s nice to see the No. 28 DHL Honda up at the sharp end – right up in front. Hopefully we can carry that momentum into tomorrow and see what we have for qualifying.”
Takuma Sato: “It always feels great to get on track for the opening race of the season. I love the atmosphere of St. Petersburg. There are already a lot of fans here on a Friday; it’s fantastic. We didn’t quite have as good of a first session as we wanted. A few things about the car were a little bit unexpected. Practice 1, I couldn’t do as many laps as I wanted. The second practice was a good improvement. We still need to work hard on some things but hopefully we can improve again for tomorrow.”
Rene Binder: “We ended the day on a positive note with valuable lessons learned. I improved quite as the day progressed. My time improved substantially from the first practice today. We tried a new set up with more front wing, which did not work out for me. Ultimately, I lost it at the high speed corner, but luckily there was no contact. We made a good step forward and we will see what tomorrow brings.”
Max Chilton: “We got a lot of miles in today for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet. It was the first day of a milestone weekend for the team, being their first-ever Verizon IndyCar Series race weekend. We kept the car running and got loads of information, but we aren’t quite where we want to be yet. With this being our first race weekend with the new team, Charlie (Kimball), and I just have to make sure that we’re giving as much feedback as possible to help ourselves learn as quickly as we can. Obviously we’re sort of on the back foot, being a rookie team, but I believe in Carlin and what the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet can do.”
Jack Harvey: “I think the day went pretty well. We have a good pace right now and there is definitely more to come out of the car. The first session was a solid run and gave us lots of room for improvement which I think was a good starting spot. There were areas where I was improving every lap and now I just need to put my quickest lap together. Overall, I feel like it is a pretty solid start for where we want to be. I haven’t driven here in a few years, so things have changed a lot on the track but it’s just like I remember it. It’s quick and a bit wild in places but overall it was a lot of fun.”
Gabby Chaves: “Our first official day as a full-time team in the season opener at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete. We started not where we wanted, but we quickly realized what our issues were, addressed them and got them sorted for Practice 2. Now we can have an optimistic outlook on the weekend and work from here to get the best result we can in our debut.”
Marco Andretti: “It was a decent first day. We were on for a top-three lap time there when the red flag came out, so we’re happier than the times look. We’ve made big improvements from Practice 1 to Practice 2. We just have to maintain our progression. I’m happy with the car on the Firestone reds (alternate tires), which is where we need to be. I feel pretty confident in the Ruoff Home Mortgage / Curb machine moving into tomorrow.”