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Rahal paces IndyCar practice in St Pete.

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.

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