Colton Herta fastest in treacherous IndyCar practice on new Laguna Seca asphalt

IndyCar: Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey - Practice 1
IndyCar: Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey - Practice 1

MONTEREY, California – Colton Herta continued to rule the “House of Herta” as the second-generation driver was the fastest in Friday’s 75-minute practice session for this weekend’s IndyCar Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

The 23-year-old son of two-time Monterey winner Bryan Herta had the fastest time on Friday with a lap of 1 minute, 7.5382 seconds at 119.292 mph in the No. 26 Dallara-Honda for Andretti Global.

The 11-turn, 2.238-mile WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca is where Herta’s father, Bryan, scored his first CART victory in 1998. He made it two in a row with another win in 1999.

INDYCAR FINALE AT LAGUNA SECA: Details, schedules for watching on NBC, Peacock

FRIDAY PRACTICE: Click here for speeds from the session

Colton Herta scored his second career IndyCar victory of his rookie season at Monterey in 2019. Because of the COVID shutdown, there was no racing in California in 2020, but Herta made it two in a row with another Monterey win in 2021.

Herta also learned how to race professionally as a teenager at this course, went on to compete in the European Junior Formulas before returning to the United States as a teenager in the IndyCar ladder system, including two years in what is now Indy NXT in 2017 and 2018.

Herta still has the touch at Laguna Seca and showed it during Friday’s practice session, which again was plagued by incidents after a five-hour test Thursday produced 13 red flags.

Herta’s fastest speed was on the Firestone primary tire compound but did not have a chance to complete a proper, full-speed lap on the alernate red tire as Team Penske’s Will Power crashed in Turn 4 to bring out the final red flag late in the session.

“We only got an out-lap there before Will Power ended up in the wall, and brought out the red flag,” Herta said. “We didn’t get to do a proper run there, my teammates did. That’s a good thing for me to understand what they do and how we can make the car better.

“It’s really close. It’s a good-looking race car this weekend and we will try to make it to victory lane with it.”

Herta’s No. 26 Dallara-Honda features a throwback paint scheme to his father’s famed No. 8 Ford-Cosworth/Reynard that he drove to victory here in 1998.

With just 3:30 left in the session, Team Penske’s Will Power, the fastest driver in Thursday’s five-hour test session, made contact with his rear in Turn 4, collapsing the back of his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet to bring out yet another red flag.

Herta’s Honda finished on top. He was followed by Pato O’Ward’s No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet with a fast time of 1:07.5911.

“From the few corners that I did get, the reds seemed fine, slightly faster,” O’Ward explained. “I don’t think it will be a full second faster than the blacks, maybe five- or six-tenths.

“It seemed all right, not as big as a balance difference as usual. Maybe it will change when we are on a fast lap.

“We’re ready for tomorrow.”

Because the track is repaved, O’Ward said it takes a high commitment.

“If you get it wrong, you are straight off,” he said. “It reminds me of Barber.

“This track will bite sooner. This track is physical, man. It is fricking physical.

“The race is going to be gnarly.”

O’Ward’s teammate, Alexander Rossi, was third at 1:07.6336 in the No. 7 Chevrolet.

Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth in the No. 8 Honda at 1:07.7913 with Andretti Global’s Kyle Kirkwood rounding out the top five at 1:07.8502 in the No. 27 Honda.

Juri Vips, in just his second IndyCar Series race, was sixth at 1:07.9175 in the No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda. Teammate Graham Rahal was seventh in the No. 15 RLL Honda.

“Having not raced all year, it’s not just about IndyCar, but other series, I’m not used to pushing a car around the track so that was the main thing last week, getting the car up to speed and learning the car,” Vips said. “Jumping in for the test on Thursday, I was much more comfortable and more ready for the weekend, as well.”

Thirty minutes into the session, Herta had the fast time at 1:07.5382. He was followed by Rossi, Ericsson, Kirkwood and Vips.

But two minutes later, Romain Grosjean was entering the high-speed fourth turn and the rear of his No. 28 Honda, smacking hard into the Turn 4 wall. That pretty much destroyed his car.

The driver from Geneva, Switzerland, was able to climb out of the car as the AMR Safety Crew tended to the damage.

When asked how quick it took for the rear end to snap loose from the high-grip pavement, Grosjean explained.

“Very, very quickly,” Grosjean told NBC Sports' Dillon Welch. “The car swapped ends on me. I’m going to have a look and try to see what happened and have a go and see again.”

Vips came to a stop going up the hill toward "The Corkscrew," to bring out a red flag with 29 minutes left.

Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske was the next to bring out the red flag when the driver from Christchurch, New Zealand, beached the No. 3 Chevrolet in the gravel pit.

Agustin Canapino was another red flagger when he spun out in Turn 6 as he was set up to go up the hill.

Canapino’s Chevrolet was refired, and the track went back to green with 6 minutes left. Pato O’Ward and Rossi were among a number of drivers who put on the Firestone reds to see how fast the car would be on the softer compound tires.

But they never got more than an out lap as the session came to an early end after Power’s crash in Turn 4.

IndyCar is back on track for a one-hour practice session from 1-2 p.m. ET Saturday. Knockout qualifications for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey is set for 5 p.m. ET.

Follow Bruce Martin at @BruceMartin_500