Rookie Colton Herta led the way among the 22 drivers in Friday’s practice with the fastest overall lap of 222.451 mph on the 1.5-mile oval. However, it was defending race winner and series champion Scott Dixon who clocked the best lap without benefit of an aero tow from a leading car, at 219.492 mph.
Herta, driving the No. 88 GESS Capstone Honda, admitted his lap was aided by the cars in front of him cutting through the air. But the Harding Steinbrenner Racing pilot still felt good about how his car felt by itself and in traffic on the demanding, high-banked superspeedway.
“I did get a nice tow, obviously, but that’s not what we’re really looking at right now because it was new tires, trimmed (for low downforce) and a tow,” said Herta, winner of the earlier race in Texas this season, the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas in Austin. “It was just the perfect lap and everything came together.
“But the car feels good when we’re running in dirty air on older tires. And when we did get a gap and ran some (qualifying simulations), it feels good as well. That’s more what I’m focused about.”
Trailing Herta on the overall speed chart was Takuma Sato, at 220.974 mph in the ABeam Consulting Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi was third at 220.734 mph in the No. 27 GESS/Capstone Honda featuring a very similar livery to that of Herta.
Will Power was the top Chevrolet runner in practice, at 220.412 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevy.
While Dixon was sixth on the overall speed list, the three-time Texas winner topped the no-tow chart, with Rossi second (219.058 mph), Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay third (218.331) and James Hinchcliffe of Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports fourth (218.086).
“Qualifying is important,” reminded Hinchcliffe, who finished second to Graham Rahal in the 2016 Texas race by 0.0080 of a second, the closest in track history. “Track position is certainly more important here than it used to be. Qualifying is going to be pretty key.”
NTT P1 Award qualifying features each car turning two timed laps, which the quick time earning the pole position. The qualifying order is based on entrant points, meaning Conor Daly is first in line in the No. 59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet and points leader Josef Newgarden last in the No. 2 Fitzgerald USA Team Penske Chevrolet.
Saturday’s race will be the 31st for the NTT IndyCar Series at Texas Motor Speedway since the track opened in 1997 (the track hosted two races a year on separate dates from 1998-2004 and a same-night doubleheader in 2011).
The pole winner at Texas hasn’t gone on to win the race since Ryan Briscoe for Team Penske in 2010. Dixon accomplished the feat in 2008 when he won at TMS for the first time.