Within hours of learning that he was likely to lose his regular IndyCar Series seat to returning Penske favourite Helio Castroneves, Will Power showed why he is the reigning Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach champion by setting the pace on the IRL's first visit to the California street course.
Driving the #3 Team Penske entry, the Australian - who won the last-ever Champ Car race in Long Beach last year - topped practice by lapping the eleven-turn 1.968-mile course in 1min 10.5486secs, edging 2008 IRL series champion Scott Dixon by 0.0192secs. Rookie Raphael Matos was third quickest, Dan Wheldon fourth and Mike Conway fifth.
Power will move to the #12 Team Verizon Wireless entry on Saturday, relinquishing the #3 seat to Castroneves, who will return to the Penske line-up following the conclusion of his tax evasion trial in Miami. Castroneves has competed four times at Long Beach, winning his most recent start there in 2001.
“I feel good," Power admitted, "We got the car to a very nice, consistent balance. Tomorrow, I'll be in a different car, but the guys are really good here and will transfer everything over from this car to my new car. They're ready for Helio to drive and are in very good shape. I look forward to a good weekend, and I'm happy the way everything has turned out for Helio.”
Dixon admitted that the day's results may have been skewed by tyre usage up and down the pit-lane, but was nevertheless pleased to have hauled his Target Chip Ganassi car up to second spot.
“I think there were a couple of guys who didn't run [new] tyres, so there's a bit of an unknown there," he explained, "The car definitely came together at the end of the session, but we were struggling a bit on the first practice and the start of the second. The engineering guys did a hell of a job to bring some compliance back into the car and make it a little more predictable for me, but we'll just have to see how tomorrow goes when everybody's on new tyres and going for a quick time. I feel much better than where we were at this time at St Pete as the car is definitely more consistent. Hopefully, we can put something together.”
On a good day for the rookies, Matos made the most of his prior Long Beach experience to put the Luczo Dragon team into the top three.
“Today was a very good day," the Brazilian enthused, "We made a lot of improvement - really, we carried on from what we had in St Pete and took another step forward - and we still have room for improvement. I have to praise the team as they have done so well getting the car ready. I'm really proud of the work they have done.
"We made a lot of positive changes throughout the day, and we're not looking for ultimate speed right now. We're just looking for balance and to make sure our tyres last long and are consistent. Where you start is so crucial here, so we're trying to maximise our performance, so that we start in a good position. I'm very happy with the car, and I'm very confident that we will continue to improve.”