Kevin Magnussen qualified 21st in his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut at Road America Saturday, but the Formula One veteran believes he could have, and should have, been better.
With a best lap time of one minute, 47.3776 seconds, Magnussen will come from near the rear of the 25-car field in the No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet in the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR on Sunday (noon ET, live on NBCSN and INDYCAR Radio Network).
“In qualifying, I wasn’t quite happy with it,” Magnussen said. “I didn’t put it together. I think I was too pumped to go out and pull out a miracle and messed up my laps. But it is what it is. I think it’s still a great experience. It’s a long race tomorrow, and we can make up positions if the pace is there. I think I’ll learn a lot throughout the race. I’m looking forward to that.”
Magnussen is filling in for Felix Rosenqvist, who was not cleared by the INDYCAR medical staff to race this weekend after a hard crash in Race 1 of the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit on June 12.
Danish driver Magnussen got two 45-minute practice sessions under his belt before NTT P1 Award qualifying Saturday and completed 18 laps. Magnussen, 28, said the learning curve in an INDYCAR SERIES car has been huge.
Between his 119 Formula One starts and racing this season in a Cadillac Daytona Prototype International in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for Chip Ganassi Racing, Magnussen has never driven anything like the power steering-less, brutish INDYCAR SERIES cars.
Although it’s been a fast and steep learning curve, Magnussen said it’s been a fun experience getting to race in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. But always the competitor, he said immediately after his qualifying run in Group 1 that he left a lot out on the racetrack.
“Yeah, for sure (it’s fun),” Magnussen said. “I wish I had a little bit more studies in the car. It’s not easy in the car when you step in. Qualifying should have been more. If I had put my laps together, it would have looked a lot better. I wasn’t going to be at the top but at least closer. It is what it is. Tomorrow will be a fun day.”
Magnussen has shown improvement from his first day to his second day in INDYCAR. In first practice Friday, Magnussen was 23rd fastest with a best time of 1:50.4921. In Saturday morning’s practice session, he improved nearly four seconds with a best lap time of 1:46.9516, good enough for 20th fastest. He was 20th fastest again in final practice with a best lap of 1:50.3183.
Debris Puts Dixon Behind
It was a back-and-forth day at Road America for 2020 Road America Race 1 winner Scott Dixon, who bounced back from a challenging morning to qualify 13th for the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR a few hours later.
In the morning practice session, two-time Road America winner Dixon hit the track for his first full run after an installation lap, but he hit more than just the racetrack. Driving through the Carousel in Turn 11, he hit a piece of debris. Dixon said as he approached Turn 12, it destroyed the underwing of the race car.
The damage forced Dixon and his No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda team to sit out a large portion of the 45-minute practice session as the crew repaired the car. The team fixed the undertray in time for Dixon to make a one-lap run on Firestone alternate “red” tires at the end of the session.
He went into Saturday’s qualifying somewhat blind, using only the knowledge the team gained in Friday’s practice session and what their Chip Ganassi Racing teammates learned.
Six-time and defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon had a solid performance in qualifying, all things considered. He missed on advancing out of Round 1 by less than four-hundredths of a second: a best lap time of 1:46.3427 to Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 1:46.3086.
“The car felt a lot more connected, which was good, but you’re just constantly trying to catch up,” Dixon said. “When you don’t have track time, you’re kind of second-guessing a lot of the approaches you do or where you brake or just how good the tires are going to come in.
“It’s been a frustrating start to the weekend for us. Hopefully, it gets better from this point on. As always, if you have a bit of a mistake or mess up a little bit you’re just at the back of the pack right now.”
Luckily for Dixon, it did get better in final practice Saturday afternoon, but not until it got worse. Just minutes into the 30-minute session, Dixon went off course as he pushed the car and attempted to make up for lost time.
Instead, Dixon damaged the front wing, continuing to put him behind the 8-ball for Sunday’s race. After going off course, Dixon’s No. 9 team changed the front wing on the car. Then, Dixon jumped to the top of the charts before landing second at the end of the session behind Colton Herta.
Andretti Autosport Showing Needed Speed
At the site of the last win for an Andretti Autosport driver not named Colton Herta, the four-car organization is showing a lot of promise this weekend at Road America.
The team put three cars inside the top 10 in NTT P1 Award qualifying Saturday afternoon. Herta leads by starting second in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda. 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay will roll off the grid eighth in the No. 28 DHL Honda, and Alexander Rossi will start ninth in the No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda at the site of his last NTT INDYCAR SERIES win, in 2019.
Not to mention, Jack Harvey, who races the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda will start third. Harvey’s team, Meyer Shank Racing, has a technical alliance with Andretti Autosport.
The group’s cars are so good this weekend that 21-year-old Herta thinks had his team played the tire strategy differently, he would have been the fastest man in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, not NTT P1 Award winner Josef Newgarden.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t have a new set (of primary tires),” Herta said. “We thought about saving it from practice, but we didn’t end up doing that, which I think would’ve been the right call. It’s a good car, nonetheless, starting second.”
Qualifying isn’t the only barometer of strong Andretti Autosport cars this weekend, specifically for Herta and Hunter-Reay.
In Friday’s practice session, 2012 series champion Hunter-Reay was second fastest, and Herta was sixth. In Saturday morning’s session, Herta was second, while Hunter-Reay posted the 10th-fastest time.
In final practice Saturday afternoon, Herta proved he has one of the best cars of the weekend by setting the fastest lap of the session at 1:47.6312. 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner Hunter-Reay was eighth, with Rossi ninth.
Points Leader O’Ward Trailing from Front
NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader Pato O’Ward is feeling the pressure of his one-point championship lead over Alex Palou this weekend with a car that hasn’t been always to his liking.
O’Ward failed to advance to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying Saturday in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet and will start 10th in the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR on Sunday.
Only problem is, Palou qualified his No. 10 NTT DATA Honda fifth.
Tenth is a solid qualifying result, but the ever-competitive O’Ward was less than pleased with his result.
“We just haven’t found the right balance since Practice 1,” O’Ward said. “We were OK with the cooler temperatures this morning, but any time it gets a little bit warmer, we’re not in the window. The race is going to be interesting with rear (tires). I think that’s going to be the biggest thing, taking care of those. We’ll see. We’re just not quick enough.”
O’Ward also was 10th in the final practice, one second behind leader Herta. But Palou was 17th in race trim, which could give O’Ward hope for a better Sunday.
Sunday’s race could be a mixed bag for the most recent NTT INDYCAR SERIES race winner. The high tomorrow is expected to be around 78 degrees with 62 percent humidity, hotter than Saturday’s 72-degree day.
But Saturday was a sunny day in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. Sunday will be a cloudy day with a chance of rain.
Odds and Ends
- NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Jimmie Johnson had his best performance of the season in the final practice at Road America. Johnson put his No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing 14th on the board with a best lap time of 1:49.3575. At one point, he was as high as sixth on the charts. He will start 23rd in Sunday’s race. “It’s wild, because I’m at the edge of my comfort out there,” Johnson said with a smile.
- Two drivers have proven to be the most consistent over the entire weekend thus far: Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal. Both drivers are the only two who have placed their cars in the top five in each of the three practice sessions.
- Rahal was left battered and bloody after Saturday’s NTT P1 Award qualifying session – literally. Rahal’s 6-2, 200-pound frame creates a cramped cockpit, and the abrasion from the bumpy streets of Belle Isle last weekend cut his left elbow. After bottoming out in qualifying today, Rahal’s scabs were ripped, and he bled through his firesuit. With struggles getting through the tricky Carousel corner, Rahal was only able to qualify 14th for Sunday’s race in the No. 15 Hy-Vee Honda.
- NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Romain Grosjean will start seventh in Sunday’s race, just barely missing out on the Firestone Fast Six shootout for the NTT P1 Award for pole. He was sixth as time expired, but 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud put down the last lap of the session and knocked Grosjean back to seventh in Round 2. Grosjean, who was fastest in Friday’s practice, was five-hundredths of a second out of the Firestone Fast Six.
- Peacock reported that Cody Ware, making his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut this weekend, plans to do “the double” on Brickyard weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway by racing in the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix on Aug. 14 for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and then jumping into his NASCAR Cup Series car Aug. 15 for the Verizon 200 at the Brickyard. Both races are on the IMS road course for the first time.
- The United States Air Force 25th Flying Training Squadron, 71st Flying Training Wing will perform the Race Day flyover for the REV Group Grand Prix presented by AMR. The squadron based out of Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma, will pilot four T-38’s across the sky during the national anthem.
- Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood had a record day at Road America, winning the Indy Lights race. With the win, he set the record for the most Road to Indy wins at 25. He also took over the series points lead.