Both of Friday’s practice sessions for the season opener at St. Petersburg have finished up, which means we can take a closer look at the sector heatmaps from each of these sessions.
As a reminder the heatmaps show the percent above or below the field average a driver’s sector time is. Purple is above average (good) and red is below average.
The sectors are based on this track map, with the sectors show in yellow text:
The first practice was a quiet one with most drivers only opting to run around 15 laps in an effort to conserve their tires for the weekend. Rosenqvist was an exception to this and ran 25 laps which helped him wind up on the top of the time sheet. I wouldn’t take too much away from first practice performances, but here is the heatmap for practice one:
The second session saw more action than the first and Hunter-Reay ended up on top. His teammate Andretti also ran exceptionally well during the session and his sector times reveal he was fairly consistent across the whole lap, with no especially quick sectors. Pigot who placed second was also fairly consistent with his weakest sector being the fifth. Sector 5 starts with a tight 90 degree turn that leads onto the back sweeping straight. Getting the right exit out of that corner is imperative when it comes to putting down a good time in that sector. Sector 5 can be broken down further into the first part (the 90 degree turn) and the second part (the sweeping high speed corner). Looking at Pigot’s times in both of these parts reveals that he is losing the time in the first part with the 90 degree turn, where he was the seventh slowest car through there. In the high speed corner he is much quicker (9th fastest). If he cleans up the technical right hand corner, he’ll be able to really improve his lap time.
Herta is another interesting driver to look at. He didn’t make much noise in the first practice but placed fourth in the second with a field best Sector 4 time. Despite putting down 21 laps in the first session he was unable to do much with his speed, so it’s great to see him so high up on the board this time around. He was also strong through the hairpin Sector 7 which is promising for raceday. If you can get a good exit out of that turn you set yourself up for a great passing opportunity down the long front straight. Dixon, who hasn’t won at St. Pete yet, was also quick through the hairpin.
Newgarden, Power, Dixon, and Rahal were all big names who ran fairly average throughout practice two. I expect these guys to jump up tomorrow as they start to figure out the car a little more and make the adjustments they need.
Sectors 3 and 6 were where the top finishers from last year’s race ran well above average speed. Those are the high speed corners on the track, so keep an extra eye on which drivers are performing well there throughout the last practice and qualifying sessions because it is essential to do well there if you want to run well in the race. I’m not sure how much drivers will use the third practice session, but with qualifying tomorrow we will get a good picture of everyone’s true speed soon enough.