Herta Paces St. Petersburg IndyCar Practice

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Herta Paces
Colton Herta. (IndyCar photo)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Colton Herta of Andretti Harding Steinbrenner Racing was the fastest driver in Saturday’s only NTT IndyCar Series practice session.

Herta’s fast lap in the No. 88 Honda was 1:01.1306 around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit that includes city streets and the Albert Whitted Airport runway.

The practice session was red-flagged with four minutes and 53 seconds left in the session when three-time Australian Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin drove off course into the runoff area. Felix Rosenqvist’s Honda spun off course at the same time.

McLaughlin’s No. 3 Shell Chevrolet was quickly re-fired and he drove back to pit lane. Meantime, another safety crew tended to Rosenqvist’s Honda. The second-year driver from Sweden was also able to get re-fired and return to the course.

Practice resumed with 90 seconds left in the session and Herta’s Honda on top. But with 30 seconds left in the session, Oliver Askew locked up his car and went into the tire barrier in the final turn of the course to end the session. McLaughlin also locked it up in that area.

James Hinchcliffe of Andretti Autosport was second at 1:01.2279 in the No. 26 Honda.

Scott Dixon, who takes a 32-point lead in the standings in the final race of the season, was 15th fastest at 1:01.8459.

“The car was pretty good, but when we went on the next set of Blacks, we hit the wall and had to spend some time working on the car,” Dixon said. “I think we have some speed on the Reds. It’s weird because when you leave the pits, you have grips, then it goes for a lull and then it picks up again.”

Josef Newgarden, who is 32 points behind Dixon, was eighth fastest at 1:01.6200 in the No. 1 Chevrolet.

“It was a bit of a nightmare, but I think we have something to work with,” Newgarden said.

Herta is attempting to win the final race of the season for the second year in a row. Hinchcliffe was second followed by Alex Palou’s Honda, Takuma Sato’s Honda and Sebastien Bourdais’ Chevrolet.

McLaughlin’s first official day as an IndyCar driver saw him finish 10th, although he did have two incidents.

“I felt strong, felt comfortable, but there is still a lot more for me to learn,” McLaughlin said. “I have plenty to learn. It’s hard to lean on a track with concrete walls. I’m creeping up on it. I feel nice. Whenever you have grip, it’s nice. We just want to complete every lap and get it sorted. I need to work on my clutch control.”

This is the 17th Indy car race on the streets of St. Petersburg and the first time that the Indy car championship will be decided at the track. The temporary street circuit routinely hosts the season-opening race and has done so since 2011.

This is the 15th consecutive year that the NTT IndyCar Series champion will be determined at the final race of the season.