By Steve Wittich
For the first time this season, the PowerTap sponsored No. 17 piloted by Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport rookie Devlin DeFrancesco ended a practice session at the top of the timing screens.
“I’m really looking forward to Laguna Seca,” explained the Canadian-born driver. “We had a great test out here early in the year, and the circuit was everything I expected and more. It includes the Corkscrew, which is obviously one of the most famous corners in the world. It’s actually not that difficult, but you do have to be careful you don’t arrive in there too hot.
“The secret to a lap here is linking the corners together. The run from the Andretti hairpin to the Corkscrew is where you make all your time. If you make a small mistake in Turns 3, 4, 5 or 6, it can really compromise your lap. This place has a great flow to it when you get it right, and it’s really rewarding. I’ve had a lot of laps in the Indy Lights car since that test, and I can’t wait to get back on track on Friday.”
Only nine-thousandths of a second shy of his teammate was championship contender Kyle Kirkwood, in a practice session that had the top seven times within DeFrancesco’s quickest lap.
Juncos Hollinger Racing rookie Rasmus Lindh was holding down the third spot. The Swede is making only his second race weekend appearance with the team but did have Indy Pro 2000 success at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, winning once, starting on pole once, and standing on two podiums in 2019.
Rounding out the top five in the long practice before qualifying was championship leader David Malukas (HMD Motorsports) and Linus Lundqvist (Global Racing Group w/HMD).
Qualifying up front certainly matters at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, with the pole-sitter winning 12 of the 22 races. However, if you extend that to the front frow, 17 of the 22 winners have a clear view downhill to the Andretti Hairpin.
Surprisingly, Andretti Autosport has not been a winner across the six Indy Lights races at the 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course since 2015. Instead, Juncos Hollinger Racing has won five of the half-dozen races, with Spencer Pigot (twice), Kyle Kaiser (once), and Rinus VeeKay (twice) winning for the Speedway, Ind. based team.
Eight of the drivers competing this weekend have raced at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Malukas and Megennis have made Indy Lights starts, Kirkwood, Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Hollinger Racing), Rasmus Lindh (Juncos Hollinger Racing), and Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport) made Indy Pro 2000 starts, and Manuel Sulaiman (HMD Motorsports) and Christian Bogle (Carlin) made USF2000 starts. All of those starts came in 2019.
That leaves DeFrancesco, Pedersen, and Lundqvist as the only three newcomers to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Megennis finished third and fourth in 2019, while Malukas finished fifth and seventh.
Kirkwood and Lindh both have Indy Pro 2000 wins at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
The 45-minute practice session got underway at 10:10 am on the west coast, with the air temperature a chilly 59F.
In the early going, the Malukas and Kirkwood traded the top spot as the drivers got reacquainted with the iconic low grip circuit.
At the one-third point of the 45-minute practice session, Kirkwood’s lap of 76.3702 seconds top the timing screens, over three-tenths of a second ahead of Malukas.
In the first two-thirds of the session, teams utilized a carry-over set of tires from the Portland International Raceway.
At the two-thirds point of the practice session, one of the Laguna Seca newbies, DeFrancesco, held the top spot.
DeFrancesco’s lap time of 76.3604 seconds was within two-tenths of a second of Max Chilton’s race record of 76.1633.
Lap times were incredibly close to the last time that the Indy Lights series visited WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Oliver Askew led the lone practice session in 2019 with a lap at 76.3497 seconds.
None of the drivers had bolted on their fresh sets of Cooper Tire slicks with ten minutes remaining, and none of the engineers opted to send their drivers out on new tires in practice.
That’s not shocking, considering drivers will have 30 minute instead of 20-minute qualifying sessions, allowing for the use of two sets of tires in each qualifying session.
Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented By Cooper Tire practice results.
|RANK||CAR NO.||DRIVER||TEAM||FAST LAP||DIFFERENCE||TOTAL LAPS|
|1||17||Devlin DeFrancesco||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||1:16.3604||——||19|
|2||28||Kyle Kirkwood||Andretti Autosport||1:16.3702||0.0098||20|
|3||51||Rasmus Lindh||Juncos Hollinger Racing||1:16.6349||0.2745||22|
|4||79||David Malukas||HMD Motorsports||1:16.7028||0.3424||25|
|5||26||Linus Lundqvist||Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports||1:16.7132||0.3528||24|
|6||68||Danial Frost||Andretti Autosport||1:16.8254||0.4650||23|
|7||24||Benjamin Pedersen||Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports||1:16.8755||0.5151||24|
|8||27||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||1:17.1289||0.7685||22|
|9||2||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Hollinger Racing||1:17.3315||0.9711||22|
|10||59||Manuel Sulaiman||HMD Motorsports||1:17.5328||1.1724||25|
The first of two qualifying sessions for the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented By Cooper Tires will get the green flag at 1:30 pm (PT) or 4:30 pm (ET).