IndyCar is back at Laguna Seca, for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey and the drivers had a go at the infamous Corkscrew for practice one. Last year the race was canceled due to the COVID pandemic and this is the first time the drivers had the aero-screen on their car other than the few teams that tested at the track previously this year. Practice one was a learning curve for some drivers especially the ones that have never been on this track before. While for others like Josef Newgarden who was fastest in practice one, Colton Herta who finished second, there was a sense of excitement to be back at this challenging California track.
Newgarden and Herta last raced at this track in 2019. Herta won the race that year which was also his rookie year in IndyCar while Newgarden won his second IndyCar championship. It’s no surprise that these two drivers were happy to be back at Laguna Seca for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.
At the post-race press conference, Herta and Newgarden were asked what it’s like to be back at Laguna Seca. Herta replied:
“Yeah, it's amazing. This track is a lot of fun, has all sorts of challenges. Especially once you kind of get that second or third run on tires, the (indiscernible) go off, it makes it even that much more challenging. Yeah, a track with a good flow of high speed, low speed corners kind of everything that you want.”
“This place is great. That's it”
Penske driver Newgarden described how his practice session unfolded, stating that they didn’t run a lot of miles because they were trying to preserve the engine, however, he feels like the car is in the window for a good result they just have to be consistent throughout the weekend so he can stay in the fight for the championship. Newgraden replied:
“Actually we didn't run a lot of miles oddly enough because we were trying to save some of those miles on an engine. We ended up changing it anyway, so I kind of wish we had some more running. Overall we unloaded pretty good. I felt like that matched this morning. Small differences here or there, but for the most part globally it felt like the car was in the window. Just got to look after it.”
“Obviously things can change quickly. In Portland we were pretty sorted out in practice one, we choked in qualifying and were pretty far off the pace. That's the number one thing for us in the 2 car, have a consistent run all the way through. If we can do that, we'll be in the fight.”
Herta on the other hand discussed the challenges he had with using one set of tires during practice and how the car felt different from the test the team did earlier in the year:
“I think it's tough to do a 45-minute session on one set of tires. Waiting for most of it, waiting to see what kind of lap times guys were doing. Compared to when we were at the test, I think the track was a lot better. It was quite nice. Even though it seemed like it was similar temperature, seemed to be a little bit more grip today. Car felt a little different to the test for me. So I think we have some adjustments to make to kind of get it back in the window. But we're right there. Great start to be P2 and less than a 10th off.”
Current IndyCar championship leader Alex Palou ended his practice session in third. Palou’s other Chip Ganassi Racing teammates who are also in the battle for the championship Marcus Ericsson was tenth fastest for practice and Scott Dixon was eleventh overall.
Pato O’Ward, who is currently second in the championship standings had a fourteenth place finish for practice one. The Arrow McLaren SP driver depicted his practice session as “messy” and affirmed that the team will work to analyze everything but overall he is confident that they can find more pace for the race weekend ahead. O’ Ward’s post-practice statement:
"Today it was a bit messy during the first practice session. Not too messy, but we just didn't roll off the truck exactly where we wanted to be today. The team will work to analyze everything tonight and we will come back and attack qualifying tomorrow. We know we can find more pace here so I'm excited to get back on track tomorrow."
Three were also some notable moments at the challenging Laguna Seca track as four-time Indy 500 winner Hélio Castroneves locked up and hit the barrier in turn 2, the Andretti Hairpin causing a red flag, Alexander Rossi went off in turn 3 almost hitting a barrier but managed to save his car from having significant damage. Sèbastien Bourdais spun and Scott McLaughlin’s car stopped on track on the track towards the CorckScrew.
With another practice session before qualifying, the drivers and teams have some time to fine-tune and experiment with different setups and on a demanding track like Laguna Seca, they will need all the time they can get.