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Josef Newgarden fastest in IMS practice; problems plague Chip Ganassi Racing drivers

IndyCar GMR GP practice

May 14, 2021; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indy Series driver Josef Newgarden (2) during practice for the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Seeking his first victory in nearly two years after a dismal start to the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series, Alexander Rossi paced the opening practice Friday for the GMR GP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Andretti Autosport, whose most recent victory was June 23, 2019 at Road America, turned a 1 minute, 9.8784-second lap in his No. 27 Dallara-Honda around the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course at IMS. Jack Harvey was second (1:09.9646), followed by Rinus VeeKay (1:10.0624), Josef Newgarden (1:10.0643) and Romain Grosjean (1:10.587), the F1 veteran who will be making his debut at the track in Saturday’s race.

In a second 45-minute session a few hours later, Newgarden went even faster, turning a lap of 1:09.3323, ahead of VeeKay (1:09.4020), Will Power (1:09.4747), Colton Herta (1:09.4999) and rookie Scott McLaughlin (1:09.5514), who made it three Penske Chevrolets in the top five spots.

FRIDAY SPEEDS: Click here for first practice l Click here for second practice l Click here for the combined speed chart

HOW TO WATCH SATURDAY: A primer for the GMR Grand Prix

Team Penske has won seven of the past nine races on the Indy road course, including a sweep of the doubleheader weekend last October with Newgarden and Power.

Rossi, who finished second and third in his two most recent starts at the IMS road course, was 11th fastest in the afternoon practice. Qualifying is at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Herta, who revealed a two-year contact extension Friday morning, was sixth fastest in the a.m. session.

It was a rough start for defending series champion Scott Dixon, who won this race last July but was among multiple Chip Ganassi Racing drivers with problems Friday.

The six-time champion was 16th on the speed chart (1:10.7726) in the first practice that began at 9:30 a.m. Friday. Dixon was 23rd fastest while making only 11 laps in the second practice while the team battled some mechanical woes.

Pato O’Ward, who became a first-time IndyCar winner two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, improved to ninth in the afternoon after ranking 18th in the morning, and Arrow McLaren SP teammate Felix Rosenqvist also improved from 20th to 10th.

McLaren driver Juan Pablo Montoya struggled ahead of be making his first IndyCar start in nearly four years, ranking 21st (1:11.4833) in the morning session and last of the 25 drivers in the afternoon (1:11.8081).

Jimmie Johnson ranked 22nd after turning the most laps (22) in the morning practice, but the Ganassi driver was penalized by IndyCar for making a lap after the checkered flag for the 45-minute session. The seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion was 24th fastest in the second practice after serving a 5-minute penalty.

Because of a water leak in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda, Alex Palou sat out the morning session. NBC Sports pit reporter Marty Snider said Chip Ganassi Racing believed it might be related to the radiator.

Sebastien Bourdais completed only three laps in the morning practice after his No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet stalled on track because of an electronics problem, according to his team.

There will be 25 drivers in Saturday’s race (2 p.m., NBC) after Carlin Racing announced Friday morning that its No. 59 Dallara-Chevrolet was being withdrawn because of “travel issues” for driver Max Chilton. Carlin is expecting Chilton to be available for the Indy 500 with practice beginning on the IMS oval next week.