Scott McLaughlin paced NTT IndyCar Series practice Friday at Laguna Seca. (Al Steinberg Photo)

Scott McLaughlin Paces Friday Practice At Laguna Seca

Scott McLaughlin saved his fastest speed for the final minute as the Team Penske driver was the fastest in Friday practice for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey NTT IndyCar Series race.

This weekend’s contest is at the 2.238-mile, 11-turn WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca on the Monterey Peninsula of the Central California coast.

McLaughlin’s best time was 1:07.6325 for a lap at 119.126 miles per hour in the No. 3 Chevrolet for Team Penske. Colton Herta of Andretti Global was second at 1:07.7316 (118.952 mph) in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda for Andretti Global.

“It was interesting,” Herta said. “This place is really tough. A true driver’s track. To get the most out of the car and track is difficult.

“The repave has held up nicely over the year and it’s nice to see they did a good job doing it.”

Two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Alex Palou was third at 1:07.7371 (118.942 mph) in the No. 10 DHL Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden was fourth in the No. 2 Chevrolet at 1:07.8805 (118.691 mph)

“This is a real racer’s track,” Newgarden said. “It’s quicker than it feels. The track is really fast. In some corners, you just can’t miss the line, or you feel like you are blowing your corner. It’s a tough track to drive and it is challenging. The car felt good, and hopefully, we are in it tomorrow.

“We’ll see where we stack up here, but Team Chevy has done a good job, too. If we are in contention for tomorrow, great, but the big day is Sunday.”

Pietro Fittipaldi of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing rounded out the top five at 1:08.0025 (118.478 mph) in the No. 30 Honda.

This is the second year after the entire course was repaved.

It was also David Malukas’ first race of the season. Although he was never able to drive in a race with Arrow McLaren because of a fractured left wrist, Malukas was terminated from the team on April 29.

He was recently hired to replace Tom Blomqvist at Meyer Shank Racing.

“It means the world to me,” Malukas said of finally returning to action in 2024. “I’ve been overthinking going into this. I’ve done a lot of sim work and with the medical team and I just can’t wait to get out there.

“Looking back at all of it, the best thing I can see through all of it is to reach maximum potential. We learn from our mistakes and I’m glad to be back in the car. Want to see how the hand feels and how the car will handle and from there, slowly work our way up, get used to the team and try to move forward.”

Malukas finished 25th out of 27 cars with a best lap at 1:09.0206 (116.730 mph) in the No. 66 Honda.

Agustin Canapino returned to the No. 78 Chevrolet after getting pulled at Road America for “mental health reasons” after he and his fans from Argentina were involved in a controversial online incident after an on-track collision in Detroit on June 2.

Nolan Siegel made his debut in the Arrow McLaren No. 6 Chevrolet, presumably for the rest of the season.

He was last in the field at 1:10.0019 (115.094 mph).

“I was very excited,” the 19-year-old said of getting the call. “It’s a dream come true for me to be full-time in the NTT IndyCar Series and to be with a team like Arrow McLaren is incredible.

“There is a lot to get used to. A lot of new things, a lot of new faces to get used to. I haven’t had time to meet everyone and that is the goal of the team, to get to know everyone better.

“It’s really hard to put a result-based expectation on this weekend. Figuring out where I will end up is very hard, but I will do my best.”

When practice began, many drivers found the incredible race course to be quite tricky, but not so treacherous.

With 59 minutes left, Christian Lundgaard locked up in the brake zone of the corkscrew and went through the gravel. He kept it under control and returned to the pits so the crew could look over the car.

With 51 minutes left, Malukas spun out in the entry to turn two and brought out the first red flag of the session.

Juri Vips is back with Rahal Letterman Lanigan, working in the pits as he hopes to put together a deal to return to the track for a race later this season.

“We’re working on it,” Vips said. “There is an intention from the team to do it and we have the spare engine from the fourth car. It’s putting all the pieces together to make it work.

“I’ve been doing simulator work for the team to help the car for the 500. Other than that, I’ve been traveling to the races and keeping up with what the team is doing.

“I’m hoping to get on the grid next year. I don’t know which one it is going to be. We are still figuring it out. I would enjoy an oval, but I’ll start wherever they tell me.”

Siegel slid through the corkscrew but made a very nice save and recovery without spinning.

Santino Ferrucci also lost control entering the corkscrew, drifted backward and then spun it around to go forward and back into the pits.

With 33 minutes left, Canapino went off track again — another driver who had difficulty in the corkscrew.

With 16 minutes left, Christian Rasmussen spun in turn two but was able to drive out of the gravel and back onto the track.

Eight minutes later, Graham Rahal had an off-course excursion but was able to gather it back.

In the closing minutes of the session, McLaughlin became the fastest at 1:07.6325 in the No. 3 Chevrolet.