Honda Paces Final Practice, Hunter-Reay Hungry for Win

That’s how we start a Sunday! The Indy cars have rolled back into the paddock to rest up and cool down before the Kohler Grand Prix this afternoon. They took to the track early this morning for the final Verizon IndyCar Series practice session of the Road America weekend.

A couple cars were noticeably missing from the practice – the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda of Takuma Sato and the No. 9 NTT Data Ganassi Honda of Scott Dixon. Sato is reportedly feeling under the weather, which as I tweeted is not much of a surprise. The most recent Indianapolis 500 winner has barely slept since his victory between the national media tour that immediately followed, his participation in 4 IndyCar races over the span of two weeks, plus an international media tour in his home country of Japan, and now back to the ‘day job’ with a race in Wisconsin.

Intense? Yes. Sleep-depriving? You better believe it. Hopefully taking the morning off to recuperate and prepare for race mode will allow Sato to attack aggressively as is his forte, for a solid result in today’s event.

Scott Dixon was having fuel pressure issues in the No. 9 and he almost missed the entire practice, but according to a photographer I spoke to immediately after the session, he rolled out directly from the paddock to the track without even stopping at the pit box. He got all four wheels on the track just in time to run a quick shake down of the car, but considering timing & scoring is showing a lap of nearly 31 minutes and 7 mph, I’m thinking those numbers aren’t too accurate of what the four-time champion is capable of today.

Even though Honda had those two cars out of the mix essentially, they had a few others up at the top of the board. Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Andretti Honda), Max Chilton (No. 8 Gallagher Ganassi Honda), and Alexander Rossi (No. 98 Napa Auto Parts Andretti Honda) ran the three fastest times of the morning.

Hunter-Reay was the only one in the field to break the 1:44 mark with a 1:43.7956 lap on his 8th time around out of 12 on this chilly fall-like June Sunday morning. He is making good progress at the 4.014 mile track. Last year he started at the back of the field from P21 and finished P12 and this year he picks right up where he left off with a qualifying position of P12. The American driver has been winless since his victory at Pocono Raceway in 2015. Earlier in the weekend he used terms like frustrating and challenging to describe battles they were having with the car on track and tire grip but it seems like they may have found something in the midst of all those issues. Perhaps it will be enough to end the drought and get Hunter-Reay to the top of the podium.

The top 12 cars in the session were separated by less than a second. Simon Pagenaud (No. 1 Menards Penske Chevy), Carlos Munoz (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Chevy), Marco Andretti (No. 27 Andretti Honda), Charlie Kimball (No. 83 Tresiba Ganassi Honda), James Hinchcliffe (No. 5 Arrow SPM Honda), Spencer Pigot (No. 20 Fuzzy’s ECR Chevy), Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Penske Chevy), Estaban Gutierrez (No. 18 Dale Coyne Honda), and JR Hildebrand (No. 21 Direct Supply ECR Chevy) made up those dozen cars. The top 12 represented 7 of the 8 teams in the series.

I know we’ve seen a Team Penske dominated weekend so far, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that today’s contest is going to surprise a lot of people – after that morning session in race trim and with temps as cool as they are combined with direct sun and little to no cloud cover, I don’t have the nerve to predict a winner. I don’t believe any one manufacturer will sweep the podium though.

The Verizon IndyCar Series Kohler Grand Prix from Road America will be broadcast live on NBCSN at 12:o0 p.m. ET and 11:00 a.m. CT local. If you are here at the track, throw on a hoodie, grab some cheese curds & a bratwurst, find your favorite viewing spot and get ready to watch these elite athletes thrill us through 14 corners of madness!

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Photo credit: Matt Fraver/IndyCar