O’Ward leads Palou, Ericsson in first practice at Mid-Ohio

#5: Pato O'Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet
#5: Pato O'Ward, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet

Last year’s polesitter at Mid-Ohio, Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward, was comfortably faster than his nearest pursuers in opening practice for the Honda Indy 200, ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou and Marcus Ericsson.

Unlike his fellow established aces, two-time Mid-Ohio winner Josef Newgarden went out early with the rookies in this 75-minute session, and on his fifth of six laps, he produced a 1m07.3573s effort in his Team Penske-Chevrolet. That’s an average of 120.682mph around the 2.258-mile 13-turn road course in Lexington, OH.

After 15 minutes, other race winners hit the track, and it was Felix Rosenqvist of Arrow McLaren-Chevy who first displaced Newgarden, albeit by just 0.0324s. Defending series champion Will Power had just moved into second when Helio Castroneves spun off exiting Turn 5 and into Turn 6 and stalled on the grass, bringing out the red flag with 49mins still to go.

After the session restarted, the dominant points leader, 2021 champion Alex Palou, hit top spot with a 1m07.3073s in the No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing-Honda, while Scott McLaughlin ensured all three Penske drivers were in the top five.

But with 25 minutes to go, it was Christian Lundgaard who vaulted into top spot with a 1m07.2834s on his 17th lap, his Rahal Letterman Lanigan-Honda a hair quicker than Palou in the first and third sectors.

With less a dozen minutes left, the drivers strapped on their Firestone alternate tires, and O’Ward, who had been oversteering entertainingly on primaries, grabbed P1 with a 1m06.4935 — a 122.250mph lap in his Arrow McLaren. Newgarden also improved but was 0.6466s slower, and was knocked down to third by Long Beach winner Kyle Kirkwood in his Andretti Autosport entry.

Then the Ganassi cars of Palou and Marcus Ericsson jumped to second and third, while Lundgaard proved his RLL car was quick on the soft tires, too, by moving up to fourth, while Jack Harvey in his RLL machine also entered the top 10.

Behind O’Ward, Palou, Ericsson and Lundgaard, Andretti Autosport’s Kirkwood and Grosjean were fifth and sixth ahead of Penske’s Newgarden and McLaughlin, while Alexander Rossi survived a scary venture over the Turn 1 exit curbs to take ninth ahead of 2020 Mid-Ohio winner Herta.

Power never got a clear lap while his reds were fresh and ended up 14th. His former title rival Ryan Hunter-Reay, in his second race for Ed Carpenter Racing, was around a quarter-second behind teammate Rinus VeeKay, while rookie Agustin Canapino did a great job to be just one tenth behind Juncos Hollinger Racing teammate Callum Ilott.

UP NEXT: Second practice begins Saturday morning at 9:45am ET.

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