Ryan Hunter-Reay topped a busy Mid-Ohio IndyCar practice session ahead of this weekend’s double-header, as Arrow McLaren SP title hopeful Pato O’Ward crashed out.
The IndyCar Series ends a run of five oval races with the rescheduled Mid-Ohio weekend, with practice taking place in conditions that are expected to be much cooler than the mid-afternoon sun forecast for qualifying later today.
Alexander Rossi was the standout of the early running, repeatedly punching in times that sent him to the top of the timing screens. The habitual title contender is 18th in the standings after a woeful 2020 season so far.
He established the best time over the first half of the hour-and-a-quarter long session – when most drivers were on the harder tyre – before late qualifying simulation runs on the softer red tyre.
Crucial practice time was lost when O’Ward crashed with 40 minutes remaining in the session.
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) September 12, 2020
O’Ward ran slightly wide in the Turn 11 quick left-hander, and lost the rear end – believing the car bottomed out – crashing into the tyres at the entry of the last corner known as the Carousel.
With qualifying two hours after practice, the team will have its work cut out but the damage appeared minor to the left front and rear, and O’Ward believes the car will be ready.
With 28 minutes remaining times tumbled as drivers began to switch to qualifying simulations.
It was Rossi’s Andretti Autosport team-mate Ryan Hunter-Reay who pumped in two laps within the last five minutes, going quicker with the second lap although both were good enough to lead the session.
Renowned strong qualifier Will Power was a late improver and took second for Penske, 0.0918s behind Hunter-Reay as the top 16 was split by less than a second.
Rossi delivered third in the last five minutes, and runaway points leader Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing took fourth despite an early spin.
Before the O’Ward red flag, last year’s Mid-Ohio winner Dixon lost the rear end in the Keyhole left-handed hairpin, and had to reverse out.
Luckily the damage was cosmetic and his chances of sealing the IndyCar title this weekend remain intact if he can extend his lead (currently 96 points) to at least 141.
Santino Ferrucci set a blistering lap for Dale Coyne but was deposed from a temporary top spot in the last five minutes and fell to fifth, while Dixon’s closest rival and Gateway winner last time out Josef Newgarden managed sixth for Penske.
Rookie Alex Palou revisits the track where his first IndyCar test with Dale Coyne last year was enough to secure him a one-year contract, although he enters this weekend fighting for his seat even though the team appears keen to keep him.
He was seventh fastest, ahead of Colton Herta. Along with Marco Andretti in 10th, that made it four of the Andretti five in the top 10.
Splitting Herta and Indianapolis 500 polesitter Andretti in ninth was Conor Daly, who returns to the Ed Carpenter Racing seat he occupies for road courses after recent oval duties for Carlin.
Qualifying for race one takes place at 2pm local time today, using a two-groups format with each filling one side of the grid rather than the standard road course event four-part knockout system.
On Sunday there is no practice, with qualifying to the same format at 10.15am local time and the race at 1pm.