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Sato, RLL top opening test session; A.J. Foyt Racing also shines at ISM Raceway

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The opening session of Verizon IndyCar Series’ open test at ISM Raceway in Phoenix saw a surprise near the top of the leaderboard as Takuma Sato, in the final minutes of the opening session, went to the top of the leaderboard.

Sato, on his return to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – he raced with them during the 2012 season – turned an average speed of 187.022 mph, the only lap above 187 mph during the opening session, in his No. 30 Mijack Honda.

“It was a good first session, getting the feel of the car the new aero (kit),” Sato said in a video that Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing shared on their twitter page. “It’s obviously very, very light on downforce. You have to really work and the car is moving a lot. But, we’re working step by step with (teammate Graham Rahal) and I think he had a very good baseline, so I was able to do a good lap time in the end.”

Teammate Graham Rahal raved about the performance of the new aero kit, asserting a great amount of confidence in the car’s potential.

“It’s the most fun I’ve had on a short oval in years,” he said on the team’s twitter page. “I think you guys are going to love it. The car doesn’t obviously corner as quick, but it accelerates down the straightaways a lot better.”

Behind Sato, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud put his No. 22 Menards Chevrolet in second, while the A.J. Foyt Racing duo of Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist put in somewhat surprising performances to end up third and fourth early on.

In fact, prior to the final minutes, Kanaan led much of the session, despite turning his best lap relatively early on – he did so on his eighth lap of running.

Team owner A.J. Foyt spoke with a sense of optimism about his team’s outlook.

“We’ve made a lot of changes, a lot of team changes, driver (changes). I don’t like running tenth. I had good drivers last year and a good crew. But we’re just trying to move our operation up. So far everything’s looking pretty good,” he told Katie Hargitt during the streaming coverage for the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

Sebastien Bourdais rounded out the top 5 in his No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda.

Results can be found here. The second session of the day begins at 8:00 p.m. ET later tonight and will be streamed live on IndyCar’s website.

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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.