Alexander Rossi slowest in opening practice for finale at Laguna Seca

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MONTEREY, Calif – Rookie of the Year candidate Colton Herta may have been the fastest driver in the opening practice session for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey Friday morning, but the story of the day so far at Laguna Seca Raceway has been the driver who ranked dead last.

Championship contender Alexander Rossi posted the slowest lap of the 24 drivers entered in this weekend’s race, with a best time of 1 minute, 12.9932 seconds around the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course that was 2.2597 seconds behind Herta. 

Sunday’s season finale at Laguna Seca will determine the championship among four contenders. Josef Newgarden leads Rossi by 41 points with Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon also in the hunt.

Andretti Autosport representatives declined an interview request for Rossi following the session, though Team Chief Operating Officer Rob Edwards confirmed to NBC Sports’ Marty Snider that the No. 27 Honda spent the majority of the session on pit road due to an unspecified on-board hardware issue, which Rossi later confirmed to be a broken bolt. The 27-year-old California native completed only four laps in the first session, the fewest of all drivers.

At the top of the board, Herta’s fellow rookie of the year contenders, rookies Felix Rosenqvist (-0.0719 seconds) and Santino Ferrucci (-0.1502 seconds), were second and third fastest, respectfully. Portland winner Will Power ended the session in fourth, and Zach Veach was fifth.

Simon Pagenaud was the fastest of the championship contenders, ending the session in sixth. Series points leader Josef Newgarden ended the session ninth fastest, while Scott Dixon finished the session in 14th.

Live coverage of Practice 2 for the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey begins later this evening at 5:10 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Gold.

Click here for full practice results

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Australia SuperCar Champion gets IndyCar Test at Team Penske

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Scott McLaughlin’s latest reward for winning the 2019 Virgin Australia SuperCar championship is an INDYCAR test at Team Penske.

“Scott has been incredibly successful for DJR Team Penske over the last three seasons and he has become a true champion of our sport,” said team owner Roger Penske, who will become the owner of INDYCAR, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the Indianapolis 500 in early January. “He certainly embraces new challenges and we think this is a great opportunity to utilize the IndyCar Series rookie testing program so Scott can experience what it is like to get behind the wheel of one of our Indy cars.”

McLaughlin, who has scored back-to-back Virgin Australia Supercars Champion for DJR Team Penske (DJRTP), will participate in an INDYCAR Rookie Evaluation test at Sebring International Raceway in Sebring, Fla. on Monday, January 13.

“I am always open to new challenges and I’m thankful to Team Penske for providing this opportunity to test an Indy car,” said McLaughlin, who established a new Supercars single season record with 18 victories this past season. “We had an amazing year in 2019 and I’m looking forward to defending our Supercars championship next season. I’m also excited to grow as a driver and being with Team Penske creates cool opportunities to try something new. Although I have spent a few hours in a simulator earlier this year, it’s going to be a blast to see what one really feels like at a place like Sebring.”

McLaughlin joined DJR Team Penske in 2017 as one of the brightest stars in Supercars. He has produced 35 victories and 44 pole positions over the last three seasons while helping DJRTP claim team championships in 2017 and 2019, the driver’s title each of the last two seasons and the legendary Bathurst 1000 race in October, along with co-driver Alex Premat.

McLaughlin will defend his Supercars title for DJRTP in 2020 in the No. 17 Shell V-Power Ford Mustang.  He will build on his already successful racing career by driving a full-sized open-wheel car for the first time.

Team Penske enjoyed another successful IndyCar Series season in 2019. The team earned its record 18th Indianapolis 500 victory as Simon Pagenaud captured the checkered flag in May, while Josef Newgarden won his second series title in three years and the team’s 16th INDYCAR Championship. Team Penske will once again compete with three full-season entries in 2020, featuring series champion drivers Newgarden, Pagenaud and Will Power.

Team Penske is one of the most successful teams in the history of professional sports. Cars owned and prepared by Team Penske have produced more than 540 major race wins, over 620 pole positions and 37 Championships across open-wheel, stock car and sports car racing competition. Over the course of its 53-year history, the team has also earned 18 Indianapolis 500 victories, two Daytona 500 Championships, a Formula 1 win, overall victories in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring along with a win in Australia’s legendary Bathurst 1000 race. Team Penske currently competes in the IndyCar Series, the NASCAR Cup Series, the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The team also races in the Virgin Australia SuperCars Championship, in a partnership with Dick Johnson Racing, as DJR Team Penske.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500