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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.

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.