Marco Andretti paces first practice at St. Petersburg

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Marco Andretti led a Honda sweep of the top four in the opening 45-minute practice session for this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the opening round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

Andretti, in the rebranded No. 27 hhgregg Honda for Andretti Autosport, set a best time of 1:03.7559 around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit. It’s a good start for the team, which made some operational changes where Eric Bretzman is the team’s new technical director and Bryan Herta is Andretti’s new race strategist.

“We’re off to a good start. It’s still early and we need to stay with it,” Andretti told IndyCar Radio after the session.

Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon were second and third for Chip Ganassi Racing in their first official race weekend sessions back in Hondas, with James Hinchcliffe fourth ahead of defending series champion Simon Pagenaud the top Chevrolet in fifth.

Pagenaud’s teammate, Will Power, had another practice crash – as he did here last year at the Turn 9 kink. On this occasion, Power lost the back end coming through Turn 10 and knocked the rear wheel guard out of alignment, but was able to make it back to the pits under his own power.

Times were a bit slower than last year to start, owing somewhat in part to a last-minute track change this morning at Turn 3. The corner angle was changed from a sweeping right hander to a more angled turn with a new curb on driver’s right. A crest was there following a track repave prior to the weekend and cars were hitting the crest, then getting airborne during Thursday’s practice sessions for other series competing here this weekend. Temperatures were 81 ambient and 108 track to start the session, per Firestone.

Times are below. The second practice is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. This session was delayed a bit by accidents in previous sessions, qualifying for both the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda and Pirelli World Challenge races.

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.