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Dixon tops Honda-dominated first practice at Long Beach

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LONG BEACH, Calif. – The Honda pace that kicked off the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg continued in the opening 45-minute practice session for this weekend’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Scott Dixon took his No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing to the top of the timesheets near the end of the session with a best time of 1:07.6357 around the 1.968-mile street circuit.

Dixon won here in 2015 for the first time and was frustrated to end in second last year after Simon Pagenaud’s pit lane exit from his final pit stop drew a warning, but not a penalty, from INDYCAR Race Control.

Helio Castroneves broke up an all-Honda top-six, as the two-time defending polesitter took his No. 3 AAA Chevrolet for Team Penske to second right at the end of the session at 1:07.7679.

St. Petersburg winner Sebastien Bourdais was third in his No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda for Dale Coyne Racing at 1:07.8187 with James Hinchcliffe fourth and Will Power, a two-time Long Beach winner (2008, 2012) in fifth.

Per IndyCar Radio, Max Chilton was sidelined a bit, with electrical issues putting pause to most of the session in his No. 8 Gallagher Honda.

The session ran without any red flags although a couple cars ran into the runoff area (Dixon, Kanaan, Hinchcliffe and Mikhail Aleshin were captured by the cameras).

Times are below. Second practice is LIVE on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App (stream link here) from 2 p.m. PT and local time, and 5 p.m. ET.

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.