Colton Herta leads IndyCar’s Friday practice at Iowa Speedway

Chris Jones/IndyCar

Colton Herta set the pace for Iowa Speedway practice Friday, turning a 171.990 mph lap in his Dallara-Honda to lead the NTT IndyCar Series in the first session of a race weekend doubleheader.

Conor Daly was second, followed by Will Power, Santino Ferrucci and Josef Newgarden.

Rounding out the top 10 were Simon Pagenaud, Scott Dixon, Rinus VeeKay, Marcus Ericsson and Tony Kanaan, who will be returning with A.J. Foyt Racing this weekend after missing three races.

Click here for full results from Iowa Speedway practice Friday.

Herta drives for Andretti Autosport, which has won seven of the past 13 races at Iowa. Herta still is seeking his first victory this season after leading Iowa Speedway practice Friday.

But the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked second in the points standings as the only driver to finish in the top 10 of all four races.

TODAY IN IOWAAll the information here

WEEKEND SCHEDULEWhen cars are on track Friday and Saturday

COSTLY MISTAKESCOVID-19 causing unforced team errors this season

Next up is a qualifying session (5 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Gold) that will determine the starting lineups for both races on the 0.894-mile oval.

The first lap will determine a driver’s starting order for Friday; the second will set the grid for the Saturday. Both races will be shown at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

There were five drivers eligible for an extra 30 minutes of practice in a rookie session — Alex Palou, VeeKay, Pato O’Ward, Oliver Askew and Jack Harvey.

All but Palou have raced at Iowa before, though, in at least one Road to Indy ladder series race. Askew won from the pole in USF2000 in 2017, and O’Ward won an Indy Lights race at Iowa in 2018.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.