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Helio Castroneves is fastest in first full Indy 500 practice session, Danica is 18th fastest

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If there was any doubt that Helio Castroneves is bound and determined to earn a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory this year, he quickly put that to rest Tuesday.

Castroneves consistently had one of the fastest cars throughout the first full day of practice Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 102nd Running of the 500 on May 27.

That included being fastest in the third and final practice session of the day – which for the first time included 34 of the 35 cars entered in the race – with a top speed of 224.665 mph.

“We started right away with a good pace,” Castroneves said. “Good job, everyone, running issue-free.

“We still have a long way to go, but it was a very base test with the new car actually with traffic and everything. Looking forward to another day tomorrow.so we continue to work and pursue that right result.”

Ed Carpenter was second-fastest (224.523 mph), followed by Jay Howard (224.518), Scott Dixon (224.353) and Marco Andretti (224.217).

Carpenter also had the fastest non-tow time of all drivers on-track.

“It was kind of a weird day – I almost feel like this is Day Two for some reason,” Carpenter said. “I was pretty happy starting off. As we always do around here, we made changes to try and get better. We probably got a little worse, then we finally got onto some things at the end of the day.

“That’s why we have to keep working out here and try to get the feel for what we want. All in all, it was a good first day. I need to go talk to my teammates and compare what we all got in to over the course of the day. For Day One, it’s a good start, but I feel like there’s a lot more in the car, too!”

Ed Carpenter during practice for the Indianapolis 500. Photo: IndyCar

Sixth through 10th were Sage Karam (223.998), Charlie Kimball (223.921), Gabby Chaves (223.640), Zach Veach (223.551) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (223.488).

Howard recorded the most laps of practice (69), followed by 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi (68), Jack Harvey (67) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (66).

The three-hour session was interrupted for about a half-hour due to rain, but was able to resume to complete the first day’s activities. Practice on Wednesday runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.

As for other drivers of note in Tuesday’s practice:

* Defending Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato was 13th-fastest (223.305 mph).

* Simon Pagenaud was 14th (223.284 mph) fastest in the final practice. He was also the fastest driver overall for the day, recording a speed of 225.787 mph in the morning session. Castroneves’ afternoon speed was the second-fastest overall for the day.

* Danica Patrick was 18th (222.728 mph).

* Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix winner, Will Power, was 22nd (222.495 mph).

* James Hinchcliffe, defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal all struggled, scoring 25th (221.900 mph), 26th (221.852) and 27th (221.671 mph) respectively.

* Rookie Matheus Leist was the only driver who failed to get on-track during either the morning or afternoon sessions. It’s unclear what the reason was, whether it was illness or something else, but a tweet from A.J. Foyt Racing said Leist will be back at-track on Wednesday.

Speaking of Leist, we thought we’d share this “coaching video” where Tony Kanaan — dressed as Leist (and with hair!) because he was missing — talked about the advice Kanaan “gave” Leist about competing in the Indy 500.

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Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”