Linus Lundqvist (Photo Courtesy of Penske Entertainment)

By Steve Wittich

The first Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires practice session of the Penske Entertainment era ended with HMD Motorsports veteran Linus Lundqvist topping the timing screens.

But, with the top five drivers within two-tenths of a second, the championship looks to be wide open. Joining Lundqvist in the top five were Christian Rasmussen (Andretti Autosport), Hunter McElrea (Andretti Autosport), Sting Ray Robb (Andretti Autosport), and Danial Frost (HMD Motorsports) completed the top five.

Drivers from the HMD Motorsports/Global Racing Group and Andretti Autosport squads were dominant, holding down the top seven spots.

TJ Speed Motorsports rookie Kyffin Simpson and Abel Motorsports rookie Jacob Abel were the fastest of the other teams.

The first Indy Lights practice session, scheduled for 45 minutes, got underway at 10:05 am. The ambient temperature was a beautiful 75F, and the track temperature of the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit was 88.9F.

The session got off to a slow start when the red flag came out after only two minutes when the No. 59 HMD Motorsports machine of Manuel Sulaiman ground to a halt in Turn 5 on his out lap. The AMR INDYCAR Safety Team was able to flat tow him back to pit road, and the green flag came back out with 37 minutes remaining.

Veterans Lundqvist, Robb, Pedersen, and Frost all spent time at the top of the timing screen in the first 15 minutes of the session, with Frost’s lap timed at 66.8111 seconds the quickest.

Drivers alternated between going quicker and testing the limits of the bumpy and slippery braking zones of Turn 1, Turn 4, and Turn 10.

The second red flag came out with just under 25 minutes remaining when the No. 99 Force Indy IL-15 of Ernie Francis, Jr. stopped in the run-off area of the 90-degree left-hand Turn 10. Again, the AMR INDYCAR Safety Team was quickly ‘on-it,’ flat towing Francis back to the attention of the Force Indy crew.

Lundqvist was the quickest driver when the red flag came out, with Pedersen, McElrea, Frost, and Rasmussen with a half-second of the Swede.

The course was quickly busy again when the green flag came out with 20 minutes remaining. With 15 minutes remaining, Lundqvist was the first driver to go sub 66 seconds.

Drivers continued to get quicker as the practice wore on, with Andretti Autosport rookies Robb and Rasmussen joining Lundqvist under 66 seconds.

We watched drivers experimenting with making Turn 13 and 14 single or double apex.

The run-offs in Turn 1, Turn 4, Turn 8, and Turn 10 were all popular spots for drivers to turn around after testing the limits of those braking areas.

With five minutes remaining in the session, the No. 12 TJ Speed Motorsports of James Roe nosed into the tire barrier at the apex of Turn 10; he was able to continue back to pit road minus his front wing. At the same time, the No. 59 of Sulaiman visited the run-off in the same corner.

Indy Lights Grand Prix Of St. Petersburg practice results

1 26 Linus Lundqvist HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing 1:05.7856 1:05.7856 28
2 28 Christian Rasmussen Andretti Autosport 1:05.8080 0.0224 25
3 27 Hunter McElrea Andretti Autosport 1:05.9255 0.1399 27
4 2 Sting Ray Robb Andretti Autosport 1:05.9283 0.1427 28
5 68 Danial Frost HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing 1:06.0430 0.2574 28
6 24 Benjamin Pedersen Global Racing Group w/ HMD Motorsports 1:06.2077 0.4221 27
7 83 Matthew Brabham Andretti Autosport 1:06.2305 0.4449 27
8 21 Kyffin Simpson TJ Speed Motorsports 1:06.4293 0.6437 25
9 51 Jacob Abel Abel Motorsports 1:06.6003 0.8147 26
10 59 Manuel Sulaiman HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing 1:06.8476 1.0620 13
11 7 Christian Bogle HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing 1:06.8717 1.0861 26
12 12 James Roe Jr TJ Speed Motorsports 1:06.9903 1.2047 26
13 11 Antonio Serravalle Abel Motorsports 1:07.4548 1.6692 24
14 99 Ernie Francis Jr Force Indy 1:07.9249 2.1393 9

The top rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back on track for qualifying at 1:40 pm.