Herta leads; Helio, Rossi Livid after frantic warm-up in Long Beach

Statistics: Warm-up results

If the morning warm-up is any indication of how the Acura Long Beach Grand Prix will go this afternoon, here’s a little tip: buckle up your seat belts.

Colton Herta returned to the top of the timesheets on Sunday morning after a disappointing NTT P1 Award qualifying session on Saturday, clocking a fastest lap in 1 minute, 8.4762 seconds in the No.26 Honda Gainbridge. Herta led the first two practice sessions of this end-of-season event, but came close to the wall in qualifying and will line up 14th on the starting grid for the 85-lap race (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and INDYCAR Radio Network).

Six-time defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon was second in 1: 08.6507 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda, with 2016 series champion Simon Pagenaud continuing a strong weekend in finishing third in 1: 08.8029 in the No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet.

2012 Series champions Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi rounded out the top five and secured Andretti Autosport riders to take three of the top five spots. Hunter-Reay, winner of the 2014 Indianapolis 500, on his final weekend with Andretti Autosport, was fourth in 1: 08.8612 in the # 28 Honda DHL. Rossi was fifth in 1: 09.2465 in the # 27 Honda NAPA AUTO PARTS / AutoNation.

But the biggest story – by far – was the collision between Indianapolis 500 winners Rossi and Helio Castroneves 10 minutes after the 30-minute session.

Rossi came out of the pits on cold tires and headed for the tight and dangerous cornering sequence of the famous fountain. Castroneves, on hot tires, attempted to squeeze past Rossi as he entered the fountain complex in his No.06 Honda Meyer Shank Racing.

The two cars collided with Castroneves’ left front wheel bouncing off the wall and his right front wheel hitting the left rear wheel of Rossi’s car. Rossi continued into the session after a quick check of his car in the pits, but Castroneves was unable to turn due to damage to his car’s suspension.

The two drivers – almost teammates due to Meyer Shank Racing’s technical partnership with Andretti Autosport – were furious with each other. Quadruple Indianapolis 500-mile winner Castroneves’ wrath has reached volcanic levels not seen since being tried for blocking then-teammate Will Power during a late-race restart for victory in 2010 in Edmonton.

“I’m the old man here,” said Castroneves, 46. “He’s the one with the mirror, and he should watch what’s going on. It’s totally unnecessary. Completely unnecessary. It’s completely crazy, so I’m fed up. It’s ridiculous. It’s a (effing) warming up.

Rossi disagreed with Castroneves’ interpretation of the crash.

“He likes to jump in the line when we’re all trying to get some spreads and stuff,” Rossi said. “It happened yesterday. It happened in Portland. We are teammates. We haven’t really talked about it. Now is the right time to talk about it.

“The fact that he thinks this is all my fault is hilarious. I guess when you’re a four-time Indy 500 champion, you can have your opinion. He is entitled to it, but he is wrong.

This incident was the most significant of many during the short session on the 11-corner, 1,968-mile circuit. A number of riders including NTT P1 award winner Herta and Josef Newgarden brushed against the wall or drove into areas of runoff trying to find speed on the bumpy concrete and asphalt track.

Points leader Alex Palou was the fastest of the three championship contenders, ninth in 1: 09.3364 in the # 10 Honda NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing. Pato O’Ward, 35 points behind second-placed Palou, was 12th in 1: 09.4789 in Arrow’s No. 5 Chevrolet McLaren SP. Newgarden, 48 points behind third-placed Palou, was 13th in 1: 09.5583 in Team Hitachi’s No. 2 Chevrolet Penske.

Palou must finish 12th or better – or 13th or better if he leads a lap – to win his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES Championship.

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