Colton Herta tops IndyCar St. Pete practice; Scott Dixon 16th, Josef Newgarden eighth

IndyCar practice Colton Herta

Colton Herta turned the fastest lap (1 minute, 1.1306 seconds) in the lone NTT IndyCar Series practice Saturday for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg as the session ended with several drivers going off course without crashing.

James Hinchcliffe was second (1:01:2279) around the 14-turn, 1.8-mile course, followed by rookie Alex Palou, Takuma Sato (who announced an extension earlier Saturday) and Sebastien Bourdais.

Qualifying for Sunday’s season finale will take place at 3 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Gold).

PRACTICE REPORT: Full speed chart from Saturday at St. Petersburg

SUNDAY AT ST. PETE: Details for watching the Firestone Grand Prix on race day

The session ended with Oliver Askew making light contact with a tire barrier. Just behind Askew (who was medically cleared to return after missing two races with concussion-like symptoms), Scott McLaughlin also went off course at Turn 13 but avoided damage to his No. 3 Dallara-Chevrolet.

McLaughlin also skidded into runoff areas after locking the brakes two other times, but he still ranked an impressive 10th of 24 drivers in his first NTT IndyCar Series practice. The three-time Supercars champion will make his IndyCar debut Sunday after Team Penske announced Friday night that he will run the 2021 season.

“Awesome to jump aboard,” McLaughlin told NBC Sports Gold reporter Kevin Lee. “It’s everything I’ve dreamed of; the boys at Team Penske have been amazing at getting me sorted and comfortable. There’s still a lot more to learn. We did a good lap on the primaries (tires); I think if we could have got something down on the reds (faster alternate tires), it would have been good, but I kept stuffing it up, so I’ve got to chat with the driver a little bit.

“It’s hard to learn on a track that’s full of concrete walls, but I’m just creeping up on it. I feel nice when you have grip. It’s a solid session and exactly what we want to do. We just want to complete every lap. I had a couple of misdemeanors, just trying to do a quick spin like I would in a Supercar and stalled it. I need to work on my clutch control, but we’re OK.”

Points leader Scott Dixon also found trouble, bending a suspension part after light contact with the wall. He was 16th fastest. Josef Newgarden, his only rival for the championship, was eighth on the speed chart.

“I think the car was really good, quickest in quite a while,” Dixon, who has been struggling in qualifying, told Lee. “We definitely have some speed for a top three (in qualifying).”

CLINCH SCENARIOS: How the championship can be decided Sunday

Newgarden, who trails by 32 points, told NBC Sports Gold reporter Marty Snider: “I don’t know that I have much comment until we sit down for an hour or two, but I think we’ve got something to work with, without a doubt.”

Other practice incidents:

–Felix Rosenqvist brought out a red flag with 5 minutes remaining by spinning into Turn 13. He was penalized by IndyCar for the rest of the session.

–Alexander Rossi tagged the Turn 2 wall with 35 minutes left but avoided major damage to his No. 27 Dallara-Honda, which ranked sixth fastest.

–Santino Ferrucci missed a corner but found refuge in a runoff zone.

Click here for the speeds in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg practice.

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
Align Media

ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.