Will Power - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
They can all make it around the 1.8-mile, 14-corner Honda Grand Prix of St Petersburg racetrack.
All cars had engines in them as of 6PM EDT on Thursday, and while some teams - notably Dragon Racing, who received their Lotus engine at 4PM--were still working on the setup pad at midnight Thursday, all 26 cars made the call to pit road for two practice sessions on Friday, held under clear, hot and humid skies.
By the end of the day, you'd think the teams were still running the old Dallara/Honda/Firestone package because not much changed from last year. Team Penske ruled the day and Target Chip Ganassi Racing was right there to challenge them.
In total, the Indy cars ran 994 laps over the two one-hour sessions. Will Power, who completed the fewest number, 26, was also the quickest driver for the day, taking his No. 12 Team Penske Verizon Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone Indy car to a top lap of 104.503 mph--as a point of reference, his pole position here last year was 101.962 mph!
"We didn't do many laps in the second session," Power admitted, "because we wanted to conserve tires until we have a better understanding of how they degrade. It puts us in a good position for tomorrow in practice. We'll make some changes overnight and see what we can come up with for tomorrow," he said.
Teammate Ryan Briscoe was second-quick in the No. 2 Penske machine at 104.359 mph, set on his penultimate lap this afternoon. Briscoe completed 35 laps on the day and said, "It already feels faster than the old car around here, braking later. There's a lot of tuning we can do around the engine drivability and the car setup. I'm enjoying it like a kid with a new toy."
Three-time reigning champion Dario Franchitti was third for Team Target, driving a Honda-powered DW12. He, too, completed 35 laps total with a best of 104.141 mph and allowed, "We're still learning both the engine and the chassis. We have tonight and tomorrow's practice to get it right for qualifying."
Graham Rahal was fourth in the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 38 Dallara/Honda/Firestone at 104.026, Scott Dixon--quickest in the morning--was fifth for Team Target, while Helio Castroneves brought the third Penske car into sixth place.
James Hinchcliffe took seventh place for Andretti Autosport, KV Racing Technology's Tony Kanaan was eighth and Ryan Hunter-Reay was ninth, all driving Chevy-powered DW12's. Mike Conway in AJ Foyt's Honda-powered DW12 rounded out the top 10. All but two cars bettered last year's pole speed today.
The fastest Lotus-powered car belonged to Simona de Silvestro in 16th spot - she finished fourth in last year's race. Rubens Barrichello, making his INDYCAR debut was 23rd and had some mechanical problems that kept him from completing many morning laps. "I was playing catch-up big time, that's for sure."
Simon Pagenaud - Anne Proffit photoEnlarge Photo
There is a single practice on Saturday before knock-out qualifying sets the grid on Saturday afternoon.