IndyCar: Power on top in Houston first practice

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The old sparring partners, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud, were 1-2 in first practice for the  Verizon IndyCar Series Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston Race 1 (Saturday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra).

Power set down a best time of 1:00.4427 late in the first 45-minute practice session, in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet to lead the time sheets at the 1.6-mile M.D Anderson Cancer Center Speedway at NRG Park.

Pagenaud, back in the orange Oculus-backed No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports Honda after running the white Lucas Oil colors last race at Texas, was second at 1:00.6956.

“The bump in Turn 1 has been smoothened, so it’s definitely a better standard for us,” Pagenaud told IndyCar Radio at the end of the session. “It’s a lot of fun to drive… you have to be very committed in the braking zones. It’s actually very enjoyable so far.”

Sebastien Bourdais, Takuma Sato, and Tony Kanaan completed the top five. Each of the top nine runners got into the 1:00 bracket; the top 16 were within 0.9972 of a second down to Carlos Munoz.

This first practice had one brief red flag interruption as part of the sealant surface in-between Turns 9 and 10 at the 20-minute mark, but this was repaired and the session resumed.  There were a few incidents, including a spin by rookie Mikhail Aleshin at Turn 4, but nothing major or that forced damage.

Second practice occurs from 2 to 2:45 local time, with a 10-minute standing start practice to follow.

Here’s your first practice times.

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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.”