ST PETERSBURG, Florida – Friday’s opening practice of the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series season validated the street course speed of Andretti Autosport and the faith in Romain Grosjean moving to the team.
Grosjean, the Formula One veteran who will race full time in 2022 after becoming a fan favorite last year, turned a 1-minute, 1.0525-second lap around the 14-turn, 1.8-mile layout in downtown St. Petersburg to pace the first session for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (noon ET, NBC).
Andretti’s Colton Herta, the defending St. Pete winner who also won last year’s finale on the streets of Long Beach, was second fastest (1:01.1567), and teammate Alexander Rossi was sixth.
FRIDAY PRACTICE: Speed chart at St. Petersburg
NEW DIGS: Grosjean’s move to Andretti tops drivers switching teams
“I think we know we’ve got a very strong team,” said Grosjean, who took over the No. 28 Dallara-Honda vacated by Ryan Hunter-Reay. “We’ve got a very strong car. Up to us if we push each other.
“I think it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be exciting to learn from the other guys and also give some of my knowledge, but I joined the team, and you never know what you’re going to get. But first run in Sebring last week just brought me that feeling that we were going to go have a good baseline, and that’s the case again today.
“We just need to keep working and make sure that every weekend we’re performing well.”
Joe Cool, meet Gro Cool. 😎 pic.twitter.com/lcCSPKR0Ln
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Herta, who might have had a third dominant street course victory last season if not for a crash while chasing the lead at Nashville, said No. 26 team “brought it back where we left off from last year with the car. It felt really good. Surprising amount of grip.”
Will Power turned the third-fastest lap, followed by Simon Pagenaud (in his debut for Meyer Shank Racing) and Graham Rahal.
There were surprises deep in the field. Two-time series champion and St. Pete winner Josef Newgarden posted the 14th-fastest lap. Defending series champion Alex Palou (17th) and six-time champion Scott Dixon (19th) also struggled.
With a record-tying 26 cars entered at St. Pete, Herta expects the depth of the competitive field will mean practice sessions “that will probably be that mixed up” throughout the season.
“I think most of the teams are at the point where the rule has been stagnant for so long that there’s not so much to find, so everybody is pretty similar at this point,” Herta said. “There are some outliers at some tracks, but I never feel like somebody has a car that’s more than maybe a tenth (of a second), tenth and a half better then the second-place car. It’s always really close between teams.”
Said Power: “The parity is so close. No one has an advantage. We’ve got the absolute everything out of this car you can possibly get out of it, so it’s come down to the smallest of details. It’ll be an interesting year. There’s so many good guys that can win now. You can not really predict who will be on pole or who will win and then also who really will be in the mix of the championship.”
There will be another practice Saturday morning (9 a.m. ET, Peacock) before qualifying at 12:30 p.m. ET (Peacock).