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Rahal fastest in opening practice at Detroit

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DETROIT – Graham Rahal topped the opening 45-minute practice session for the Verizon IndyCar Series’ Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear on Friday.

Driving the No. 15 SoldierStrong/TurnsForTroops.com Honda, Rahal posted a best time of 1:15.3328 around the 2.35-mile, 14-turn Raceway on Belle Isle street course.

It’s not been the best season results-wise for Rahal this year, with a best finish of sixth in the INDYCAR Grand Prix (coincidentally, the last time he’s been in this patriotic livery), and he enters the weekend 15th in points.

A pair of Team Penske drivers were next, Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden, with Alexander Rossi (Andretti-Herta Autosport) and Will Power completing the top five.

Indianapolis 500 champion Takuma Sato was 12th in the session in the No. 26 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda for Andretti Autosport.

Of note, Scott Dixon had a rare spin in the No. 9 Camping World Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing at Turn 13, but didn’t hit anything. That brought out a red flag.

“I’m sore but it’s good to be back on track,” Dixon told IndyCar Radio’s Dave Furst, while hailing the crew for building up the car this week.

Also of note, Oriol Servia was 20th in his first session in the No. 16 Fifth Third Honda for RLL Racing, with Dale Coyne Racing teammates Esteban Gutierrez (1:18.2289 after 20 laps) and rookie Ed Jones (1:18.9603 after 18) bringing up the rear.

Gutierrez, the Mexican former Formula 1 driver, makes his IndyCar debut this weekend in the No. 18 Honda.

Times are below. The second practice session runs from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.