O’Ward shoots ahead in opening Long Beach GP practice

Pato O’Ward put Arrow McLaren on top in first practice for the 49th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, heading Team Penske’s Will Power and Scott McLaughlin in a Chevrolet 1-2-3.

Power was the first driver to lap the 1.968-mile 11-turn course under 68s, with 1m07.6561s which he then lowered to a 1m07.4264s on his seventh lap. Felix Rosenqvist of Meyer Shank Racing took a strong shot at top spot but fell 0.0160s short, before Colton Herta bumped Power by 0.0047s with a 1m07.4217s effort for Andretti Global.

Teammate and defending pole- and race-winner Kyle Kirkwood suffered downshift issues in his Andretti Global Honda in the early part of the session, unable to select first gear, while McLaughlin scraped the wall exiting Turn 8 on his way to fifth fastest at the time. Power would do something similar and take a trip into the Turn 9 runoff, while Newgarden moved himself up to seventh, just behind fellow two-time champion Alex Palou who was the top Chip Ganassi Racing driver at the time.

With his 12th lap, McLaughlin bounded to the top with a 1m07.3976s, just 0.0508s ahead of Herta who took a brief trip into the Turn 8 runoff, while Ganassi’s rookie Kyffin Simpson locked up and stalled in Turn 9 runoff, obliging race control to throw a red flag, just before the checkers.

As explained here, IndyCar continues to work on its format for first practice sessions on road and street courses, so after 45 minutes of all 27 cars being allowed on track, there was a five minute break. Thirteen cars were then allowed out for 10 minutes before parking, then the other 14 took to the circuit. The exception was for rookies who were allowed to participate in both 10-minute sessions. Most teams took the gap as the natural break in which to make the switch to Firestone’s alternate tires, using the guayule-sidewalled Firestones.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan’s Christian Lundgaard went fastest with 1m07.0855s before Pato O’Ward monstered his Arrow McLaren-Chevrolet around in 1m06.6874s, an average of more than 106mph.

His erstwhile teammate Rosenqvist jumped to second ahead of Lundgaard just before the checker fell, while Indy NXT champion and rookie Christian Rasmussen went fourth fastest in a very encouraging performance for Ed Carpenter Racing.

Out came the other half of the field for their 10 minutes, and Newgarden elected to run three laps on primaries at the start of the session. His teammates McLaughlin and Power delivered 1m06.8s to cement second and third fastest, albeit 0.1384 and 0.1553 off O’Ward’s benchmark, but a fraction ahead of Rosenqvist, Palou, Lundgaard and late improver Alexander Rossi (McLaren). Another red flew when Simpson needed a jumpstart from the Turn 9 runoff, but then Power made a late improvement to trim his deficit to O’Ward down to just 0.0937s. McLaughlin missed the chance to do the same when he went into Turn 1’s runoff.

Formula 2 champion Theo Pourchaire, substituting for the injured David Malukas, finished the session in 21st, 1.5983s off top spot, but happy that he could have done much better had he not encountered traffic while running the alternate tire compound. He turned 34 laps, more than any other driver.

Agustin Canapino excelled, clocking 11th for Juncos Hollinger Racing, while Kirkwood finally got a representative flying lap under his belt – despite a blank dashboard – and jumped to ninth spot.


Story originally appeared on Racer