Power leads St. Pete day one

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As could be expected, 2012 IndyCar title rivals Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay paced the timesheets for the second free practice session at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The big surprise, though, was Simona de Silvestro in third.

The Swiss driver, who now races for KV Racing Technology and with Chevrolet engines (after being with HVM Racing and Lotus last year, where her engine was the main handicap), followed up her seventh place lap in the morning quite nicely in the afternoon.

“Last year we came here and knew it would be a struggle,” she said. “This year, we came after a good Barber test and showed well right away. We were quick this morning but still had more work to do. To know we can be up there with these guys. I have to thank my sponsors of Nuclear Clean Air Energy, as they stuck with me. Hopefully we will have a good race to be proud of.”

Of course, the proverbial big dogs, in three-time defending St. Petersburg pole winner Power and reigning series champion Hunter-Reay were always likely to set the pace.

“We’re still fighting the normal things handling-wise,” said Power. “We got a good lap in early. We weren’t that good on old tires. The Honda guys seem on the back foot, but I still think it will be a tough fight.”

“It’s early still, with the track rubbering in,” added Hunter-Reay. “It’s a pretty big gap to close to will. It’s nice to be up there but it’s close throughout. If you get one corner wrong you’re eighth from second.”

Oriol Servia (Panther DRR Chevrolet) and Takuma Sato (A.J. Foyt Racing Honda) completed the top five on the day.

Chip Ganassi Racing struggled; Charlie Kimball clocked in 13th while the usually front-running Target entries were just 17th (Dario Franchitti) and 19th (Scott Dixon) in practice two.

Combined times from Practice 1 and 2 are below:

Rank  Car Driver            Team                C/E/T Time 

1.     12   Will Power           Penske                 D/C/F 1:01.4467
2.     1    Ryan Hunter-Reay     Andretti               D/C/F 1:01.6252
3.     78   Simona de Silvestro  KV                     D/C/F 1:01.6895
4.     22   Oriol Servia         Panther DRR            D/C/F 1:01.7650
5.     14   Takuma Sato          Foyt                   D/H/F 1:01.7703
6.     3    Helio Castroneves    Penske                 D/C/F 1:01.7853
7.     11   Tony Kanaan          KV                     D/C/F 1:01.8087
8.     27   James Hinchcliffe    Andretti               D/C/F 1:02.0039
9.     55   Tristan Vautier      Schmidt Peterson       D/H/F 1:02.0459
10.    25   Marco Andretti       Andretti               D/C/F 1:02.0877
11.    16   James Jakes          RLL                    D/H/F 1:02.1030
12.    77   Simon Pagenaud       Schmidt Hamilton       D/H/F 1:02.1134
13.    83   Charlie Kimball      Novo Nordisk Ganassi   D/H/F 1:02.1962
14.    15   Graham Rahal         RLL                    D/H/F 1:02.3596
15.    5    EJ Viso              Venezuela/Andretti/HVM D/C/F 1:02.3622
16.    19   Justin Wilson        Coyne                  D/H/F 1:02.3833
17.    10   Dario Franchitti     Target Chip Ganassi    D/H/F 1:02.4086
18.    7    Sebastien Bourdais   Dragon                 D/C/F 1:02.4166
19.    9    Scott Dixon          Target Chip Ganassi    D/H/F 1:02.5031
20.    98   Alex Tagliani      Barracuda/BHA          D/H/F 1:02.5098
21.    67   Josef Newgarden      Fisher Hartman         D/H/F 1:02.5305
22.    6    Sebastian Saavedra   Dragon                 D/C/F 1:02.5581
23.    4    JR Hildebrand        Panther                D/C/F 1:02.9057
24.    20   Ed Carpenter         Carpenter              D/C/F 1:03.1420
25.    18   Ana Beatriz          Coyne                  D/H/F 1:03.9670

IndyCar star Scott Dixon to test skills on ‘American Ninja Warrior’

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Scott Dixon will be the latest IndyCar driver to enter the realm of reality TV when he auditions in Indianapolis next week for “American Ninja Warrior.”

The four-time IndyCar champion, nicknamed “The Iceman,” thought it sounded fun when he was approached with the idea of trying out. As the competition has drawn near, Dixon is wondering what he got himself into.

“I feel a lot of pressure on this one,” Dixon told The Associated Press before heading to this weekend’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama IndyCar race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. “When it got to be about a month away, I figured I should start training for it, and it’s pretty hard stuff.”

IndyCar drivers Helio Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan all auditioned for the show, which follows competitors as they tackle a series of obstacle courses in qualifying rounds across the country. None of IndyCar’s contestants advanced out of the first round and neither did NASCAR driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

Dixon’s appearance comes about the same time the Game Show Network has Sebastien Bourdais as a guest host for “Daily Draw” for the entire week leading into the month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Most recently, Alexander Rossi and Conor Daly teamed to finish fourth on “The Amazing Race,” and James Hinchcliffe was a runner-up last year on “Dancing With The Stars.” Castroneves is a former “DWTS” winner.

Dixon, the 2008 winner of the Indianapolis 500 who ranks fourth on IndyCar’s all-time wins list, is accustomed to success. But the New Zealander not so sure he’s going to become the next great ninja. Most of his fitness work focuses on endurance training, and preparing for the obstacle course has taken Dixon out of his element.

“It’s not my wheelhouse,” he said. “This is agility kind of stuff and I’m looking forward to the process. I’m not looking forward so much to the failure, because it’s going to happen at some point, so I guess I just have to make the most of it and enjoy the experience.”

Dixon was famously robbed at gunpoint in the drive-thru of a Taco Bell last year hours after he won the pole for the Indy 500. Asked if his ninja training will have him better prepared should that happen again, he did not think so.

“I suppose if I run away it would help,” Dixon said. “But I don’t exactly have a ninja toolkit to get me through that situation.”