Hunter-Reay Ahead Of Title Contenders In Monterey

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Ryan Hunter-Reay was fastest on Friday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. (Al Steinberg photo)

MONTEREY, California – For Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, Friday’s practice sessions for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey were fairly smooth.

However, for Hunter-Reay’s teammate Alexander Rossi, the two practices have elevated the pressure to win a championship.

Rossi, who is just 41 points behind Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden in the battle for the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series title, was 23rd quickest out of 24 cars on track.

Rossi’s fastest lap was 1:11.0234 around the 11-turn, 2.238-mile WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca. That equated to an average speed of 113.439 mph.

By comparison, teammate Hunter-Reay’s Honda sped around the course in 1:09.9105 (115.244 mph).

Rossi has another practice session Saturday morning before Saturday afternoon’s knockout qualifying, which culminates with the Firestone Fast Six and the fight for the NTT P1 Award.

“I think this morning was difficult because we didn’t get a lap in on Blacks,” Rossi said of the Firestone tires. “We kind of sacrificed the second session to try and get as many runs in as we could to find out – go through a checklist, and we saved the new Reds for the warmup session, so I think we’re getting there.

“We used yesterday and today to try and run through a lot of things to make sure we leave no stones unturned. I think we’ve flipped most of the stones. There’s a couple more to come tomorrow morning, but we’re just trying to make sure we have everything squared away for tomorrow and Sunday.”

In Friday morning’s session, Rossi had to get out of his No. 27 NAPA Honda so the crew could replace a broken bolt. Friday afternoon was spent working on his checklist.

Meantime, Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda found the fast way around Laguna Seca.

“I’m feeling better about the car, but it’s still very tricky out there, very small window to get it all right, so I’m not really resting on this one,” Hunter-Reay said. “We’ve got a lot of work to do still, and it’s tough out there for everyone. To nail the last one, like I said, it’s a very small window to get it right, so the margin for error is very, very thin.

“I think we made the car better today as we went through the day, and working with Alex, I think we’re headed in the right direction, so hopefully we can put these two cars in the front row.”

Rookies Felix Rosenqvist and Colton Herta were second and third respectively. Rosenqvist’s No. 10 NTT DATA Honda made it around the track in 1:09.9305 (115.212 mph). Herta’s No. 88 Capstone Energy Honda lapped the track in 1:09.9317 (115.210 mph).

Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud was the fastest Chevrolet driver with a lap at 1:10.1353 (114.875 mph). Pagenaud was followed by another rookie, Santino Ferrucci, in a Honda at 1:10.2066 (114.758 mph).

NTT IndyCar Series points leader Newgarden was sixth. He takes a 41-point lead over Rossi into Sunday’s race. Pagenaud is third in points, 42 points out.

Scott Dixon, the last driver mathematically eligible to win the championship at 85 points out, was seventh quick in a Honda.

Hunter-Reay is out of the championship fight, but is attempting to win a race for the first time this season.

“I sure hope so,” said the Floridian. “I think it’s going to be a track position race. I think tire degradation will be a big deal, so we’ll have to be smart about how we go about the weekend. But qualifying is extremely important, as it always is, and we want to leave here with a win and the 27 (Rossi) with a championship, so we’ll do what we can to make that happen.

“Right now, for me I just need to focus on going as fast as we can. But yeah, it’s a good start to the weekend, and hopefully we can continue to progress from here.”