It’s only fitting that in Southern California, Pato O’Ward continues to ride a wave.
O’Ward led the opening practice Friday for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, turning a top lap of 1 minute, 6.6999 seconds in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet on the 11-turn, 1.968-mile temporary street circuit.
SEE: Practice Results
“It’s a tight field,” O’Ward said. “Long Beach is always such an intense qualifying. We just kept chipping at it today. We rolled off strong, but we’ve been definitely making adjustments to get it a little more in the window, a bit more to this track’s characteristics and to what I like. So far, it’s good.”
The top time continued a roll for NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader O’Ward, who opened the season with second-place finishes in March on the temporary street circuit at St. Petersburg and earlier this month on the high-banked oval at Texas.
Less than half a second separated the top seven drivers in the 27-driver field under sunny Southern California skies. But O’Ward still managed to build a gap of .2650 of a second over his closest pursuer, six-time series champion Scott Dixon, who ended up second at 1:06.9649 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
“We’re going to look into it and see where we can make improvements, but I think we’re in good shape for tomorrow,” O’Ward said. “It’s all about executing, man. It’s going to be really, really tough.”
Practice resumes at 11:45 a.m. ET Saturday, followed by NTT P1 Award qualifying at 3:05 p.m. (both sessions live on Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network). Live coverage of the 85-lap race starts at 3 p.m. Sunday on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Southern California native Colton Herta led two Andretti Autosport cars in the top five of the 75-minute practice, ending up third at 1:06.9808 in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda. 2022 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Marcus Ericsson, who won the season-opening street race in St. Petersburg, was the second Chip Ganassi Racing car in the top four after ending up fourth at 1:06.9859 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Romain Grosjean rounded out the top five at 1:07:1049 in the No. 28 DHL Honda, the second Andretti Autosport car in the top five.
Reigning Long Beach winner Josef Newgarden ended up 14th at 1:07.4273 in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet after scraping the wall exiting Turn 5 about 35 minutes into the session. The floor of his car was damaged, as was his first set of tires. Newgarden returned to the pits for repairs and returned to the track but ended his session about 10 minutes early to save wear on his second set of Firestones.
“This place is like a gnarly afternoon on the 405 (freeway) with hella traffic,” Newgarden said. “It’s Long Beach. I about did that (hit wall) four or five times. Some of the settings we started with were probably aggressive, and I was trying to make the most of it.
“But it’s good vibes here. I love this place, and the Hitachi car is quick.”