(UPDATED) IndyCar: Rossi, Dixon fastest in rain-shortened first practice at Gateway, qualifying cancelled

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UPDATED (6:33 p.m.): IndyCar officials have decided to forego qualifying tonight due to rain, per a tweet from the series.

As a result, the starting grid for Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at Gateway Motorsports Park will be set by entrant points in the Verizon IndyCar Series point standings.

That means series points leader Scott Dixon will start Saturday’s race from the pole, with No. 2 in the points, Alexander Rossi, on the outside pole.

However, IndyCar officials are still hoping to get in one other practice session tonight if the weather breaks. As such, what was originally scheduled to be a one-hour practice session from 9 to 10 p.m. ET is now scheduled to start at 8:30 p.m. ET and go to 10 p.m. ET.

ORIGINAL STORY

Alexander Rossi and Scott Dixon were fastest in Friday’s first IndyCar practice session at Gateway Motorsports Park – but the rain was faster.

Rossi led all cars in the 21-driver field with a speed of 184.424 mph (at 24.4003 seconds). Dixon was second-fastest at 182.773 mph (at 24.6207 seconds).

The practice session was originally slated to go off at 1:15 p.m. ET, but was postponed for rain and then additional drying of the race track.

Then, just as things got underway shortly after 4 p.m. ET, Marco Andretti brought out a red flag stoppage when the gearbox on his Andretti Autosport Honda failed on-track. Cars returned to the track for about 20 minutes before rain returned in a heavy sprinkle with about six minutes left in the session, cutting things short on the 1.250-mile oval.

Sebastien Bourdais was third-fastest (182.675 mph at 24.6339), followed by Tony Kanaan (182.444 at 24.6651), Ed Jones (182.364 at 24.6759), Ryan Hunter-Reay (181.593 at 24.7807), Spencer Pigot (181.501 at 24.7932), Zach Veach (181.404 at 24.8065), James Hinchcliffe (180.929 at 24.8716) and defending race winner and series champ Josef Newgarden (180.429 at 24.9405).

Qualifying is set to take place at 7 p.m. ET tonight, weather conditions permitting. And the final one-hour practice session is slated for 9 p.m. ET tonight, as well.

Dixon holds a 29-point edge over Rossi in the Verizon IndyCar Series point standings. Newgarden is 66 points back and his Team Penske teammate Will Power is 81 points back, with three races remaining on the 2018 schedule.

While Dixon still leads the points standings, Rossi comes into Saturday’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500 having won the last two races (Mid-Ohio and Pocono).

Saturday night’s race is slated to take the green flag at 8:30 p.m. ET. However, there is an 80 percent chance of rain in the forecast for that evening.

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IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area. The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean, who finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full season, said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps another his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”