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What Mattered for IndyCar: Friday at Mid-Ohio

LEXINGTON, Ohio— Josef Newgarden’s heartbreak at the last NTT IndyCar Series race at Road America seems to be behind the Tennessee native as the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet led opening practice for Sunday’s (July 4th) Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Newgarden’s lap of 1 minute, 7.2524 seconds averaged to 120.870 mph, giving the 2017 race winner a small pick-me-up after 45 minutes of practice.

“I thought it was a good start, I was really happy with my car, to be honest, right out of the box,” Newgarden said. “It’s still hard to warm up here, like always, but once we got going I was super pleased with the car. I felt like I was really locked down. We made some improvements without a doubt compared to last year.”

Pato O’Ward was second fastest with Jack Harvey in third. Fourth fastest was Alexander Rossi, who has had a bit of a rough career patch, to say the least.

Rossi’s last win was at Road America in 2019 and the California native’s luck can best be described as none. Between start crashes, spins from the lead and other mechanical trouble, the 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner has not had a year to his liking with only five top-10 finishes all year long with a best finish of seventh twice.

“We’re just missing results, I think the team’s doing a good job in most areas,” Rossi said. “It’s just one of those things, when it’s meant to be it’s meant to be. When it’s not, it’s not. You’ve got to keep doing what you’re doing each day and hope that it’s your turn and you can get that kind of momentum swinging back. I promise you I am.”

Of note in the top half of the field, Romain Grosjean was sixth fastest. Grosjean did a one-day test at Mid-Ohio last week in the No. 51 Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing Honda and the former Formula One veteran has a new teammate this weekend.

Ryan Norman is making his NTT IndyCar Series debut in the No. 52 Honda and the Aurora, Ohio native was 22nd of 26 cars in the opening practice session.

Looking more at the rookies, Scott McLaughlin was third in his No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet while Jimmie Johnson was 26th on the speed chart.

James Hinchcliffe was 10th fastest in opening practice, which is a nice change of pace for the Canadian. Hinchcliffe’s 2021 season has been below expectations for the 2016 Indianapolis 500 polesitter as he is the second-lowest driver in the IndyCar points standings that has competed in every race in 2021.

The No. 29 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport Honda was just .5699 seconds off of Newgarden’s fastest lap.

“It’s no secret it’s been a bit of a struggle kind of across the board, but specifically on our car as well,” Hinchcliffe said. “So it’s nice to have a clean session. I think certainly a lot of what the team did successfully last year transferred to that first practice.

“We’ll see how it evolves. The days are getting hotter and hotter as the weekend goes on, that’s going to change things for us. But it’s nice to have the Capstone car in the top 10 to start and hopefully we can keep going from there.”

Moving down to the Road to Indy, the USF2000 championship had their first of three races of the weekend on Friday and Michael d’Orlando took the checkered flag first as he won from Kiko Porto and Simon Sikes.

Porto led the first 13 laps and d’Orlando managed to get around the points leader to lead the last seven laps and score his second victory of the season.

In the top step of the Road to Indy, Kyle Kirkwood took pole position for the first Indy Lights race of the weekend while in Indy Pro 2000, points leader Christian Rasmussen won pole position for the first Indy Pro 2000 race of the weekend.

Saturday’s (July 3rd) IndyCar practice is at 9:05 a.m. ET with qualifying at noon and final practice at 3:30 p.m. ET. The 80-lap race is Sunday on NBC with the green flag at 12:05 p.m. ET.

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