Defending race winner Graham Rahal wasted no time in rekindling his love affair with the streets of St petersburg, topping the timesheets on the first day of practice for the 2009 IndyCar Series season opener.

The 20-year old, who became the youngest winner in major open-wheel racing history when he won the Honda Grand Prix a year ago, lapped the 14-turn, 1.8-mile circuit in 1min 03.4078secs with the #02 McDonald's Racing entry to head an unusual-looking line-up at the sharp end of the times.

Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson, who led 18 laps in the McDonald's car in last year's race, was second fastest with a lap of 1min 03.5881secs, putting himself ahead of fellow Briton - and IndyCar returnee - Dario Franchitti (Target Chip Ganassi Racing), with EJ Viso, who secured his best result of 2008 in St Pete, fourth fastest for HVM Racing. Andretti Green Racing's Tony Kanaan rounded out the top five.

"I think, for the whole McDonald's crew, it's been a pretty good day," Rahal commented, "This morning, we came out of the box and we were tenth, and I think some of the guys were a little worked up because we knew that the car was quick. Even in the first session, we couldn't ultimately get our good lap - we got held up a little bit.

"In the second session, we knew we had a pretty good car. It was all about trying to find some little tweaks that were going to help us in the long run. We ran old tyres for quite a while and we were still right up there in the top five, so we were pretty happy with that.

"Then we threw the new tyres on and obviously things went pretty well. We got caught behind Danica [Patrick], which kind of hurt us a bit because it seemed like you could be three seconds back and still catch her in a lap, and that kind of got me out of my rhythm. I kept having to back up into [Wilson] and I'm sure that got him out of his rhythm too.

"But we got one good lap in, and obviously we're pretty happy with that. There's still a little bit left on the table, but, overall, this has been a pretty good day."

Wilson, making his race debut in the Coyne car previously campaigned by Bruno Junqueira and Mario Moraes, was happy with second, but believed that there was more to come from the #19 Sonny's Bar-B-Q machine.

"I think we had a pretty good day, and the car was working well as we were able to keep working on it," the Briton reported, "We were trying to get the ride quality even better to absorb some bumps out here, because that's a pretty big part of it. I'm very pleased with the progress, but I think this afternoon is not a true reflection of what we can do - or of what everyone else can do - because it was pretty messy out there at the end.

"With 22 cars, everyone is eager to get the season started, so there were lots of little incidents going on out there. But I think we are in good shape and hopefully we can stick it in the top six tomorrow and challenge for that pole position."

Kanaan's fifth place came despite the AGR team not fielding the familiar Team 7-Eleven Dallara during the morning session, and kept the Brazilian ahead of expected frontrunners such as Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon, who took sixth and seventh spots respectively. Will Power, Vitor Meira and Patrick rounded out the first day's top ten.

"It was a fun day, but we didn't run a whole lot this morning because of the weather and [the fact that] we wanted to save tyres for qualifying and the race," Briscoe revealed, "The Team Penske car feels pretty good thus far though - we're not perfect yet, but I think we'll be fine for tomorrow."

Team-mate Power, standing in for the court-bound Helio Castroneves, did venture out in the earlier session as he continues to acclimatise to the Penske team.

"It was a good first day for me," the Australian claimed, "We had a bit of weather in the first session, which held us up a little, but we're quietly confident about tomorrow. We're going to sit down tonight and have a good think about qualifying. I think there's a lot of fast guys out there, so we'll have our work cut out for us to get into the top six."

New Dreyer & Reinbold pairing Darren Manning and Mike Conway posted encouraging eleventh and twelfth place results, with the latter being the leading rookie performer on the day. Manning's fellow returnee, Alex Tagliani, was next up despite having only jumped back into the Conquest Racing car in time for practice, putting himself ahead of AGR duo Marco Andretti and Hideki Mutoh.

Rahal's much-trumpeted new NHLR team-mate, Robert Doornbos, was 16th on his first acquaintance with the St Pete street circuit, lining up ahead of Moraes, Indy Lights champion Raphael Matos, Dan Wheldon - surprisingly off the apce in the Panther entry - Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ed Carpenter and IndyCar newcomer Stanton Barrett.

An additional practice session is scheduled for Saturday morning before the three-round PEAK Performance Pole Qualifying session to set the starting grid for Sunday's race.