IndyCar: Bourdais on top in GP of Indy first practice

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The first 45-minute practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series kicked off, officially, the festivities as IndyCar christens the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for the first Grand Prix of Indianapolis race weekend.

Sebastien Bourdais knocked off one of his two French countrymen in the race – Simon Pagenaud – with the first lap of the weekend in the 1:10 range at 1:10.9335, then lowered the mark even more with a 1:10.5150 on his 20th lap of the session in the No. 11 Mistic Electronic Cigarettes Chevrolet for KVSH Racing.

Old Long Beach sparring partners Pagenaud and Will Power were 1-2 for most of the session, with Pagenaud clocking in his best time of 1:11.0045 in the No. 77 Charter Communications/Oculus Honda for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports.

But while Pagenaud had the edge, with under two minutes to go, Bourdais went to the top of the time sheets. Barber winner Ryan Hunter-Reay joined him in the 1:10 range, at 1:10.9053.

Pagenaud ended third and late in the session Josef Newgarden (1:11.0188) and Scott Dixon (1:11.0454) jumped into the top five. Mikhail Aleshin, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Briscoe, Carlos Munoz and Jack Hawksworth completed the top 10.

Before Bourdais’ late flier, the top 22 of 25 runners were within 0.8665 of a second, down to Graham Rahal in 22nd. But by the end of the session, only the top 16 were within a second, down to Carlos Huertas in P16 and 0.9075 of a second back.

First-time drivers this year Franck Montagny (21st) and Martin Plowman (22nd) were within 1.1470 and 1.1776 of Bourdais, respectively.

Newgarden lost control in Turn 4 early in the session, and was the first driver to have an unscheduled appointment with the gravel trap on corner exit. He was towed out and brought into the pit lane for the first red flag of the session.

A second red flag, much briefer, flew later in the session for a brief loss of power in race control. Can’t say as I’ve written that one before.

Not many drivers were able to turn laps early in the 45-minute session; within the first 20 minutes, only Bourdais (6 laps), Plowman (5) and Rahal (5) had completed 5 laps or more on the 2.439-mile road course. Bourdais’ 21 led all runners, with Rahal also posting 20 and the rest anywhere from 10 to 18 laps.

The second 45-minute practice runs from 2 to 2:45 p.m. EDT. In the meantime, here’s times from Practice 1, which ran under near perfect conditions of sunny, 75 degrees ambient with a track temperature of 88.

PDF HERE, VISUALS BELOW.

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NHRA: Brittany Force cleared to race this weekend in Phoenix after bad wreck 2 weeks ago

Photo: John Force Racing
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Drag racing is a Force family tradition. So, too, is not keeping a Force family member down.

Just 12 days after the most serious wreck of her six-year drag racing career, Brittany Force and John Force Racing announced late Thursday afternoon that the defending 2017 NHRA Top Fuel champion has been medically cleared and will indeed race in this weekend’s NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix, Arizona.

“I flew into Phoenix early this (Thursday) morning and headed straight out to the race track to meet up with my team,” Force said. “I suited up and got belted back into my car that I ran all last season.

“It honestly felt good to be strapped back in and I was surprised how comfortable I was. I’m looking forward to getting back in my car tomorrow (Friday’s first two rounds of qualifying) and getting back in the swing of things with my guys.”

The 31-year-old Force, one of four daughters of 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force, suffered a concussion and bruising after the hard crash she was involved in on February 11 in the first round of eliminations of the season-opening NHRA Lucas Oil Winternationals in Pomona, California.

Shortly after leaving the starting line in a race vs. Terry Haddock, Force’s dragster crossed from the right to left lanes, impacted the retaining wall with a very hard lateral crash, bounced off, spun, went on its side and briefly caught fire after crossing the finish line wheels-up.

While she is still recovering from the bruising, Force feels strong enough to get back behind the wheel. Getting back in the race car could be the best medicine of all, since she has three runner-up finishes in Phoenix, including back-to-back second-place showings in both the 2016 and 2017 national events.

The three-day event kicks off Friday with qualifying rounds at 4 and 6:30 p.m. ET, the same times as Saturday’s qualifying. Final eliminations begin at 1 p.m. ET Sunday.