Herta Leads The Way In Mid-Ohio Practice

Colton Herta set the fastest lap in NTT IndyCar Series practice on Friday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. (Al Steinberg Photo)
Colton Herta set the fastest lap in NTT IndyCar Series practice on Friday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. (Al Steinberg Photo)

LEXINGTON, Ohio – It was a tale of two rookies in Friday’s practice sessions at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for Sunday’s Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio.

The first rookie is Colton Herta, the fastest driver of the day with a fast time of 1:05.7292 for a speed of 123.671 mph around the 2.258-mile, 13-turn road course .

That was the fastest of the 23 drivers that ran 726 laps on Friday.

The second rookie was R.C. Enerson, making his first NTT IndyCar Series the 2016 season finale at Sonoma Raceway. He drew the ire of several drivers, including veterans Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Herta, for passing those drivers on one final timed lap after series points leader Josef Newgarden crashed in turn nine brought out a red flag late in the session.

“It’s because you’re guaranteed a lap at the end,” Herta explained. “It’s kind of like attacking your teammate in a yellow jersey in the Tour de France. It’s a gentleman’s sport in that sense.

“Once you get out of the pit lane for your 45 seconds, you’re guaranteed a lap at that point. You can take however long you want. It screws you when somebody passes you on the out lap, it backs you up, the car maybe behind you are backed up, so…”

Simon Pagenaud, the second fastest driver of the combined practice sessions at 1:05.9313 (123.292 mph), chimed in, “I got Takuma Sato at the end. It’s complicated. It’s 25 cars on the track, I believe.

“You’re always going to get someone at some point,” Pagenaud continued. “I didn’t get anyone in the session, but it’s going to happen.

“It is what it is. At the end of the day, it’s about you should have done your lap earlier anyways. Yeah, people get excited. People get frustrated sometimes. It’s racing. I love it. I just love to see this stuff. Tension is high. It’s great. It’s the end of the season. I think that’s what you guys want to see, as well. It’s great for the sport.”

Newgarden, who backed into the tire barrier after sliding through the gravel trap, enters the weekend with a 29-point lead over Alexander Rossi in the NTT IndyCar Series standings. By bringing out the red flag, Newgarden lost his fastest lap. He finished the day 11th at 1:06.3064 (122.595 mph).

Rossi was 14th at 1:06.5806 (122.090 mph).

Team Penske driver Will Power was third at 1:05.9935 (123.176 mph) followed by rookie Felix Rosenqvist’s 1:06.0218 (123.123 mph). Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the top-five at 1:06.0286 (123.110 mph).

They were all chasing Herta’s Honda for fast time on Friday, even though he was nearly apologetic about it.

“It was not a full representation,” Herta said. “That red flag I think screwed a few of the big guys, especially Josef (Newgarden). So, yeah, I don’t think (Alexander) Rossi got his red tires in. Josef obviously didn’t. He’s usually fast around here. There are a few guys.

“I was really confident in the car. Even the guys that got full runs in, Will (Power), Simon (Pagenaud), (Ryan) Hunter-Reay, guys that were quick in first practice, usually quick around here, not as happy with it.

“Even though it wasn’t a full representation, it’s still a good benchmark to look at.”

Practice continues Saturday from 10:30-11:15 a.m. Eastern Time. Three rounds of knockout qualifying are set to begin at 2:35 p.m. ET.