ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Team Penske flexed its collective muscle in practice for the KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America, locking down the top four positions on today's combined time sheet after a pair of 45-minute sessions.
Josef Newgarden led the Penske parade up front, setting the fast lap this afternoon in the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet at 1 minute, 42.8229 seconds (140.537 mph) on the 4.014-mile, 14-turn permanent road course. Action continues Saturday with Verizon P1 Award pole qualifying. The race, the 10th of 17 on this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, is set for Sunday afternoon.
“I was happy with today,” said Newgarden, who won earlier this season on the road course at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. “I thought it got a little loose in the afternoon with the temperature coming up slightly. We were working on that, but pretty smooth run on the (Firestone alternate) reds, which was nice to see. We'll try to carry it into tomorrow and see what we've got.”
Directly behind Newgarden on the time sheet were teammates Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, 1:42.8720), Simon Pagenaud (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, 1:43.1370) and Helio Castroneves (No. 3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet, 1:43.2227). Power is the defending race winner at Road America.
“I think we've got good, strong cars across the board,” Newgarden said. “It’ll be tough to be on top of our group, but I think we have probably the best cars here. It’s fun to be with Team Penske.”
The first non-Penske and non-Chevy on the combined speed chart was Alexander Rossi, whose lap of 1:43.3285 in No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda topped the morning practice and held up for fifth quick on the day.
Rossi, however, had issues on two occasions in the afternoon practice. First, the Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian driver slid off course in Turn 14 and contacted the tire barrier to bring out a red-flag stoppage. Later in the session, he skidded through the grass in Turns 12 and 13 before regaining control and pulling into the pits.
Esteban Gutierrez, who made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut three weeks ago with Dale Coyne Racing at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, was named Thursday to drive the team’s No. 18 Honda for the remainder of the season. Gutierrez was 17th in practice today with a lap of 1:44.0868.
“I enjoyed a lot competing in INDYCAR (at Detroit) and, therefore, we tried our best to continue for the rest of the season,” Gutierrez said, “and here we are. So I'm very, very happy.
"It was a bit of a mixed day. Obviously driving at Road America is always a pleasure, so I really enjoyed it. We had a small issue in the first session that cut our session a bit short. In Practice 2, it was slightly better, but I'm still not 100 percent comfortable with the car on braking, so this is an area that we need to focus on and fix for tomorrow."
Touring car driver Robert Wickens was a quick-fix substitute for Mikhail Aleshin in the No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, after visa issues prevented Aleshin from returning to the United States in time for today’s on-track activity. Wickens, who tested a Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Indy car in February as part of a ride swap with friend James Hinchcliffe, ran 20th in each of today’s sessions with a best lap of 1:44.7085.
“I’m really happy with today,” Wickens said. “Obviously, you always want to make as much progress as possible, and you never know if you’ve done enough or if I should achieve more.
“The biggest thing for me is the car is still in one piece and I haven’t made a terminal error yet,” Wickens added with a laugh. “The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team has done a fantastic job getting me up to speed and making me comfortable.”
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is hopeful Aleshin will arrive in time to be in the car Saturday.
“It’s been a strange day because I’m not really sure if I’m doing the next session, since I don’t know when Mikhail is arriving or if he’s arriving,” Wickens added. “So I’m going to work overnight as if I’m driving tomorrow morning, and if not, then hopefully I can help out the team somehow.”
Verizon IndyCar Series action resumes with a third practice at noon ET Saturday that streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Three rounds of knockout qualifying begin at 4 p.m. and conclude with the Firestone Fast Six to decide the pole position. NBCSN has a same-day telecast of qualifying starting at 5 p.m. ET.
Sunday’s race will be 55 laps around the iconic circuit – five laps longer than a year ago. Live coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.