During the first practice session of the IndyCar weekend, it was Pato O’Ward that was able to set the fastest time of the afternoon.
The speedy Mexican driver set a lap of 1:06.4935, which was faster than the pole time that he set last year.
The added speeds were on account of a couple changes made to the course since the series visited last, including a repaving of the first turn and also some adjustments to the curbing on the side of the track.
Despite predictions of clouds and possibly rain to slow down the pace, the undulating course was bathed in sunlight and the air became very humid.
Alex Palou set the second fastest time of the afternoon, a full third of a second off O’Ward’s fastest lap.
Marcus Ericsson followed his Chip Ganassi Racing team-mate closely, and set the third fastest time in the opening session.
Rounding out the top five were Christian Lundgaard and Kyle Kirkwood, who both wondered after the session if they would be able to make up the half second they lacked to the top time.
Multiple drivers pushed the limit too far while searching for the fast line and found themselves taking a trip through the grass that lines the course.
Romain Grosjean took his adventure at the exit of Turn 4, and Alexander Rossi nearly spun when he went long at the repaved first turn.
No driver found the barriers, although Helio Castroneves did get his Meyer Shank Racing Honda stuck in the slick grass and required assistance from the AMR safety crew to get going again.
The only damage done to the #06 was a five minute reduction in practice time, which he served well before the session was over.
There may well be many more trips through the grass on Saturday, as the forecast continues to look like rain will be present for both Saturday and Sunday.
A second practice session awaits the 27 drivers at 9:45 AM Eastern time Saturday morning, followed by a knockout qualifying run five hours after.