Power leads first practice for IndyCars in Houston

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After a delay of two and a half hours, the IZOD IndyCar Series finally began its weekend at the Shell/Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston with the first of two 45-minute practice sessions.

Will Power topped the opening practice with a lap of 1 minute, 6.8320 seconds around the 1.7-mile Reliant Park circuit, which is now featuring a temporary chicane at Turn 1. As detailed earlier, grinding will take place tonight at this spot of the course in order to completely alleviate this morning’s track surface issue.

Scott Dixon, who is trying to cut his 49-point gap to championship leader Helio Castroneves this weekend, was second-fastest (1 minute, 7.0793 seconds), followed by the three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Castroneves in third (1 minute, 7.1036 seconds), Ryan Hunter-Reay in fourth (1 minute, 7.2257 seconds) and Justin Wilson in fifth (1 minute, 7.3606 seconds).

Several incidents took place during the session. About midway through, Josef Newgarden clipped the second tire barrier that makes up the Turn 1 chicane and then slammed into the wall – delivering rear-end damage and more than a few scuffs to his chromed-out No. 67 Strike-backed Honda.

“I just overstepped a little bit in that chicane,” Newgarden said. “I think we’ll be OK. It’s a long weekend, we just got started, and we’ll just take a step back and try not to do that again.”

Then, in the latter moments of the session, Ryan Hunter-Reay briefly went airborne after running over the final curb of the Turn 2-3 chicane before he too found the wall. Justin Wilson also spun during the incident, but came away with his car undamaged.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.