Simon Pagenaud has quickest practice time on hot day – San Bernardino Sun

LONG BEACH — The 47th edition of the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on Friday kicked off the first of three racing days with its first NTT IndyCar practice session and when it was done, Simon Pagenaud of Meyer Shank Racing had the fastest lap of 1:07.1991.

This is Pagenaud’s first season with Meyer Shank after spending the previous seven with Team Penske. He won in Long Beach in 2016, also winning the series championship that season.

The second-quickest lap went to Alexander Rossi, who had back-to-back victories in Long Beach in 2018 and 2019. Rossi, of Andretti Autosport, came in at 1:07.6012.

Current points leader Scott McLaughlin of Team Penske had the third-fastest lap at 1:07.6720. McLaughlin enters this Sunday’s main event with a season-opening victory in St. Petersburg, Florida and a second-place finish at the XPEL 375 in Texas for 97 points.

McLaughlin finished 11th here in September, when the race was run nearly six months later than usual because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Defending champion Colton Herta of Santa Clarita was sixth at 1:07.8783. Herta finished the 2021 season with victories at Laguna Seca and Long Beach. Herta drives for Andretti Autosport with Curb Agajanian.

Qualifying is Saturday at 12:05 p.m. Sunday’s 85-lap main event is slated for 12:45 p.m.

It was 95 degrees when the practice session began around 3:30 p.m., and the on-track temperature was over 130 degrees. That was a hot topic afterward.

That could make things a bit different for qualifying, when the temperature is expected to be in the mid-70s. Sunday should be even a bit cooler.

“Yeah, it’ll certainly change, for the better, though,” said Rossi, of Nevada City, California. “I think everyone, including myself, was blown away with the pace out of the box and the level of grip there was.

“I don’t know if there’s more support events here or IMSA (a support series) has different rubber or what. But the track was black. Like, there was a huge amount of grip. And not always does other rubber translate to performance for us on Firestones, but it did and was already very fast despite it being over 130 degrees … so tomorrow morning I think it’s going to be astonishing how quick we go.”

Pagenaud, of France, finished fifth in the 2021 race here.

“It’s always super nice to be here,” he said, “and I just love this race track. It is very grippy, so we unloaded really fast. The car was just perfect for the conditions.”

Pagenaud laughed when asked about those conditions.

“I wish now that I know how the car is, I wish the conditions would not change,” he said. “But it is what it is and we’ll have to adapt. Obviously, we’ll see how the tarmac responds to the colder temperature. I’m assuming it’s going to be even more grip, and we’re just going to have to keep up with the balance.

“But with the aerodynamics, when it gets colder it does change a little bit, so we’ll have some adjustments to do, but nothing too dramatic, I think.”

Josef Newgarden of Team Penske had the fourth-fastest time of 1:07.7282, Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing was fifth at 1:07.8425 and Alex Palou was seventh at 1:07.9113. Palou, of Chip Ganassi Racing, is the defending series champion who finished fourth here in 2021.

The eighth-best lap time Friday went to Will Power at 1:08.0000. Power won this race in 2008 and 2012 and was 10th in 2021.

Perhaps a surprise was the practice time of Callum Ilott. He came in at No. 9 in 1:08.0201. He competed in just three races during the 2021 campaign. He was 25th in Portland, 22nd at Laguna Seca and 26th in Long Beach.

“I’m pretty happy,” said Ilott, of England, who is officially a rookie. “And we’ll have to adapt tomorrow because of the change of the conditions; a lot cooler.”

Rookie Kyle Kirkwood had the 10th-fastest time at 1:08.0221.

Scott Dixson, a six-time series champion and 2015 winner at Long Beach from Chip Ganassi Racing, was 11th at 1:08.0478.Helio Castroneves of Meyer Shank Racing had the 12th-quickest lap at 1:08.1579. Castroneves in May will try to become the first driver to win five Indianapolis 500s.

NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson, in his second season in IndyCar, was 24th with a fastest lap of 1:09.6203. He is coming off a sixth-place finish at the XPEL 375 in Texas.

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