Sato on top in IndyCar St. Petersburg second practice

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ST. PETERSBURG, FLA. –  Takuma Sato led the second round of practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season opener, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Sato, who qualified second in this race a year ago, posted a flier of 1:02.5615 in the No. 14 ABC Supply Co. Honda for A.J. Foyt Racing. It occurred on his 22nd and final flying lap.

He was third in the morning session and this backed the pace up, even though he said the track seemed a little slower this year.

“I am very excited to back in St. Petersburg and excited to be on track,” said Sato, who has a best finish of fifth in four previous St. Pete races (2011). “The conditions were not very representative as usual for St. Petersburg, but still the car worked really well and we made good progress during this session. Let’s hope this continues and we will work on speed for (qualifying).”

Graham Rahal got the No. 15 National Guard RLL Honda up to second at 1:02.6122, with four-time defending St. Petersburg pole sitter Will Power third in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet at 1:02.6443.

Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top five. Practice 1 leader and defending race champion James Hinchcliffe was seventh.

The 45-minute practice session was peppered with red flag interruptions; Sebastian Saavedra, Juan Pablo Montoya, Josef Newgarden and Jack Hawksworth all had minor off-course excursions but nothing that produced serious damage.

Power, Newgarden, Dixon fastest in first of 2 IndyCar practices today at Barber Motorsports Park

Photo: IndyCar
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Will Power was fastest in Friday’s first of two IndyCar practice sessions at Barber Motorsports Park.

Power covered the 2.3-mile permanent road course in 1:07.5987 minutes at 122.488 mph in the 45-minute practice session.

Even though he spun off the course during his session, Phoenix winner Josef Newgarden still managed to be second-fastest (121.919 mph at 1:07.9141 minutes), followed by Scott Dixon (121.296 mph/1:082627), Max Chilton (121.251 mph/1:08.2882) and Ed Jones (121.215 mph/1:09.5692).

 

Sixth through 10th were Simon Pagenaud (121.208 mph/1:08.3122), Jordan King (121.113 mph/1:083661), Graham Rahal (121.059 mph/1:08.3964), St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais (121.029 mph/1:08.4131) and rookie Zach Veach (121.014 mph/1:08.4216).

Here’s the full speed chart:

Incidents:

* Early in the session, Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi ran off the track and into the grass, striking a small sign, but was able to get back on-track. However, Rossi was only able to complete 10 laps, relegating him to 20th-fastest in the 23-car field.

* Moments later, it appeared the rear brakes locked up on Newgarden heading into Turn 5, spinning him into the gravel trap. He was able to get going and returned to the pits for service and was back on-track with less than four minutes remaining in the session.

ALSO OF NOTE:

* The second practice session of the day will begin at 3:50 p.m. ET. A third practice will take part Saturday morning at 10:50 a.m. ET, followed by qualifying beginning at 4:05 p.m. ET. The race, to be televised live Sunday on NBCSN, is slated to start at 3:30 p.m. ET.

* However, weather forecast does not look promising for Sunday’s race. As of 1 p.m. ET today, the forecast calls for 100 percent rain throughout the day.

* Dixon has had an incredible record at Barber Motorsports Park, with seven podium finishes in eight starts there. Except for one thing: he has yet to win a race there. But he does have five runner-up and two other third-place showings on the permanent road course.

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