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Alexander Rossi fastest rookie in “eye-opening” first day on IMS oval

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INDIANAPOLIS – Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian rookie Alexander Rossi had a solid first day of practice for his first 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, in the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda.

The Californian rookie completed more than 100 laps – 55 in the opening two hours of rookie orientation and then a further 52 in the final four hours in the afternoon – and was fourth overall on the speed charts with a best speed of 226.865 mph.

Rossi also was strong on the no-tow speed charts, at 222.452 mph, which was seventh there.

More than speed though, for Rossi, Monday on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval was a day to get comfortable under ideal weather conditions – mid-60s ambient and low-90s for a track temperature under somewhat overcast skies.

Rossi said there was nothing like his first day on the IMS oval, having also raced at Phoenix International Raceway and tested at Texas Motor Speedway.

“It felt fast. It was definitely eye-opening in terms of not having any kind of prior comparison to a place like this,” Rossi said in the post-practice press conference.

“I was glad we got through ROP without any issues, and this afternoon we got to work and it was a very good day for the team in general.”

The learning process of going into Turn 1 was something Rossi admitted he needed to adjust to, but acclimated to quickly.

“You think about it when you’re turning in, but then you tell yourself, ‘Well it worked last lap, so it will be fine this lap.’ The biggest thing is the group running and getting comfortable in that,” he said. “That was another new experience for me this afternoon. Hopefully we keep doing that as the week progresses.”

After primarily running in single-car runs in the earlier part of the day, Rossi got his first taste of the patented Andretti Autosport several-car practice train in the last hour of the day. Generally, Andretti Autosport runs anywhere from three to all five of its cars to simulate the tow, the draft and race runs and often ends up on top of the timesheets when it does so.

“The last 45 minutes was like that,” Rossi said. “There are a lot of groups out there, and you want to try to find a pack to see what your car does, and how its different from how you’re by yourself.

“It’s something I need to put my focus on. It’s one thing to run by yourself. It’s a whole different ballgame when you’re out there with eight or nine other cars!”

Did he have a “pinch-me” moment about driving at IMS?

“Not today. I had that moment when I came here about a month ago and was wandering around and in the stands and saw the track from a very different perspective,” he said.

“I think the feeling that you’re talking about will come as we get closer to qualifying and race day. At the moment, it’s all about testing and reducing the learning curve as much as possible. And just trying to learn as much as I can.

“You have that in Monaco, for sure. The first time drove Monaco was a race weekend, so once we get to that point, then it will be a similar kind of experience.”

Rossi’s strong first day on the oval follows arguably his best race of the season on the IMS road course this weekend. He finished 10th, but that was a bit misleading since he rose as high as sixth in the race and set the fastest race lap by several tenths of a second.

Alex Palou fastest as several go off course during IndyCar practice at IMS

IndyCar Harvest GP practice
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Alex Palou paced the opening practice Thursday for the IndyCar Harvest GP at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

The Dale Coyne Racing rookie turned a 1-minute, 10.177-second lap around the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course in his No. 55 Dallara-Honda.

Jack Harvey was second, followed by Colton Herta, points leader Scott Dixon and Max Chilton.

PRACTICE CHART: Click here to see the speed rundown from Thursday’s session

FRIDAY AT IMS: Details for watching Race 1 of the Harvest GP

Qualifying for Friday’s race will be at 6:20 p.m. ET Thursday on NBC Sports Gold.

Will Power, who won the pole position for the July 4 race at the track, spun off course with just more than a minute left in the session after the left rear of his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet made slight contact with the right front of Alexander Rossi’s No. 28 Dallara-Honda.

Power was among several drivers who went off track, but there were no damaged cars during the session. Marcus Ericsson missed the final 5 minutes of the practice after being penalized for causing a red flag with a Turn 8 spin.

Arrow McLaren SP drivers Pato O’Ward and Helio Castroneves, who is driving for Oliver Askew (who is recovering from concussion-like symptoms), also veered off course as did rookie Rinus VeeKay and Santino Ferrucci.

Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson was in attendance at the session before racing Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. Johnson will be driving a partial schedule of road and street courses in IndyCar next season for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“Literally, the smallest of details, I can pick up on,” Johnson told NBC Sports pit reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s been really nice today just to see how a session starts and obviously to jump on the radio and listen to how the systems work and then obviously you get into the car and the setup and such. I’m at ground zero right now, a 45-year-old rookie trying to learn my way into a new sport essentially.”

Johnson told Lee his sponsorship hunt to run a Ganassi car “has gone really well. The fact that I’m here today and ingrained so deeply in the team is a great sign of where things are going. Looking forward to getting behind the wheel of a car soon and hopefully having some announcements for the world to see soon, too.”

Fans were in attendance Thursday for the first time this season at IMS, which is allowed a limited crowd of 10,000 for its races this weekend.