Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsport’s Simon Pagenaud proved the fastest man of the day on Friday, after the second of two practice sessions for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach saw considerably improved times.
“It’s been good,” enthused Pagenaud. “The track is – as usual – one of the funnest to drive on. Everything is fine, the sun is shining and it’s pretty nice so far. The car’s been wonderful, I think the team’s done a great job over the winter at helping the car on the curbs and on the bumps.
“I think obviously as the track rubbers up, the softness of the car needs to go up or needs to go down, and that’s what we’ll have to adjust for the red Firestone tires that are going to give us more grip,” he added. “It’s quite exciting, I’m actually really excited about tomorrow already.”
The 45-minute session ran uninterrupted without any red flat stoppages for on-track incidents, and early laps saw Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport) trading the top spot on the timing screens.
However as the clock started to tick down to the end of play for the day, a flurry of fast laps concluded with Pagenaud leaping to the top with the day’s fastest lap on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn street circuit, and his final time of 1:09.1488s was two thirds of a second faster than the top time set by James Hinchcliffe in the morning practice.
Pagenaud was 0.012s ahead of his fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais in the #11 KVSH Racing car, and there was another impressive display by Verizon Indyar Series rookie Jack Hawksworth who took third place for Bryan Herta Autosport just ahead of AJ Foyt Racing’s Takuma Sato.
“You need the balance and it can be a very difficult place,” reported Bourdais. “I’m pretty happy with where we’re at, we still have a bit of work to do, but the KVSH Group has done a whole lot over the winter and we’re showcasing in the Mistic car this weekend and hopefully we can put it up front.
“It’s going to be hard to make a move on somebody on Sunday, so track position is going to be crucial more than ever,” he added. “But every time we say that we end up seeing more passing than any other race!”
As for Hawksworth, he was thoroughly enjoying his first experience of Long Beach in an IndyCar: “I like this circuit a lot!” he beamed. “I enjoyed it last year in Indy Lights. It’s a little bit more of a generic street circuit compared to St Pete – I’ve always thought St Pete was very tricky to get the balance right. I’m enjoying it. It’s a great location and a great event and it should be a good weekend.”
Five different teams were represented in the top five, with Honda having a 3-2 edge, but in general the balance of Honda and Chevrolet entries was remarkably evenly distributed through the timings. After Bourdais, the top-ranked Chevy entry was Team Penske’s Will Power in fifth place, with Ryan Briscoe the top-placed driver for the rival Chip Ganassi Racing squad in seventh place.
In total, 19 cars managed to stay within a second of the top time. The only driver who failed to improve on his morning time was Penske’s Helio Castroneves; after finishing second in the first session, the Brazilian dropped to 17th place in the combined standings after the second practice.
“The last practice was a little bit of a struggle,” he admitted. “The AAA Chevy felt comfortable in the first session but we definitely lacked there at the end. We will all just go to work and come up with a game plan for the rest of the weekend. I love this racetrack but we will need to qualify well.”
Almost more important than setting flying laps was the practice for the new standing start that will be used for the first time at Long Beach on Sunday since the CART event in 2008.
Drivers will have one more practice session on Saturday morning ahead of qualifying in the afternoon consisting of the familiar elimination round format capped by the Firestone Fast Six. Teams will also have a short warm-up session on Sunday morning before the race itself at 1.45pm local time (9.45pm BST).