Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year Patricio O’Ward continued his strong form for Arrow McLaren SP by going fastest in practice for this weekend’s Gateway double-header.
O’Ward was straight onto the track at the start of practice as part of a circuit rookie group afforded 30 minutes of extra time to acclimatise.
When the circuit opened to everyone for a subsequent hour, it signalled the start of one of the trickiest events of the year as teams deal with a short practice session, one qualifying for the two races and honing a race set-up for a shorter oval after last weekend’s Indy 500.
O’Ward – third in the championship after his sixth in the 500 – was quick immediately, although he traded times at the top of the leaderboard with Carlin’s Conor Daly.
Last year’s Gateway event was where Carlin’s strong short/medium oval speed really began with a sixth in that race followed by a number of impressive performances including the team’s first pole with Daly at Iowa just before the 500 this year.
Returning to Carlin after spending the 500 with Ed Carpenter’s team, Daly lost his stranglehold on a top two spot when a number of drivers bolted on a fresh set of rubber to simulate qualifying.
This event will work the same as Iowa, with drivers’ first lap setting the grid for Saturday’s race one and the second lap forming the line-up for race two on Sunday.
Jumping around the top five was Will Power, the 2018 winner at this race, who trailed O’Ward by just 0.0783s with his late effort, at a track that has favoured the Penske team Power drives for in the past.
Dominant points leader and Indy 500 runner-up Scott Dixon was third for Chip Ganassi Racing, with Daly in fourth.
Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato – who won this race last year when it was not a double-header – complained of his car bottoming out earlier in the session, but the Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver was another to run a fast late lap, earning fifth.
Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey was sixth quickest, ahead of Alex Palou who notched up 101 laps of running for Dale Coyne Racing, the most of any driver as he was helped by the bonus 30-minute rookie session.
Dixon’s team-mate Marcus Ericsson scored eighth, ahead of rookie Rinus VeeKay and the top Andretti driver, Colton Herta.
Currently second in the championship, the man who dominated this race last year – reigning IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden – was 12th quickest.