Penske stand-in Will Power proved a point by pacing the final day of the IndyCar Series' second and final open test before the season starts for real on the streets of St Petersburg, posting a 1min 09.4557secs best at Barber Motorsports Park.
The Australian, who is running with Penske while the outcome of team stalwart Helio Castroneves' tax evasion court case is determined, bettered fellow antipodean Scott Dixon's Sunday best by more than a second as he headed the 16-car field, setting himself and his employer up for a positive start to the year.
“It was good," Power commented, "I haven't spent much time with this team, so I spent the two days gelling with my engineer and we're really working well together now. We found some good things in the car, and we found a car that suits me. We're happy and we'll be pretty confident going into St Pete."
Like many of his rivals, Power was in favour of the IndyCar Series venturing to Barber Motorsports Park for its second pre-season test, providing a relatively level playing field for every participant - and a good physical preparation for the races ahead.
"I was just happy to get back in the car on a road course, but this is a great track to get fit on because you never stop working," he smiled, "We won't use this much energy getting around St Pete, so it was a good workout."
Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti provided the closest challenge to Power, picking up from his fourth fastest time on day one to post a 1min 09.7776secs effort on Monday and move into second spot. Penske and Ganassi drivers also filled the third and fourth positions on the timesheets, with Ryan Briscoe and day one pacesetter Dixon confirming the suspicion that last season's powerhouses will be the ones to beat again in 2009.
“We accomplished a lot," series returnee Franchitti reported, "It's been a really good weekend, getting to know the team better - and Scott as well. Each week is just learning more. It's been a long week though with [racing at] Sebring. We were there from Monday right through to Saturday night and then came right here. And before that we were testing at Phoenix, so I feel like I've been working pretty hard this last week.”
Briscoe and Dixon lapped in 1min 09.8401secs and 1min 09.8904secs respectively, putting themselves ahead of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing duo Graham Rahal and Robert Doornbos as all 16 drivers improved their lap times from Sunday, and the top ten all ducked under Dixon's day one benchmark.
“The car is pretty good, and we're learning quite a lot, which is important," Rahal commented after coming out ahead of road racing expert team-mate Doornbos, "I think, at the end of the day, we're competitive here, but that's not what matters most. What matters most to us is to make sure that, when we go to all the road races, we've got a good shot at winning, and that's what we're trying to do right now – learn as much as we can. I think we're doing that. We've got a lot more knowledge and understanding than we did before, and that's what we need. We're trying things that we hope we can adapt to other tracks. That's been our focus.”