Mario Moraes may have topped the timesheets as practice for the Indianapolis 500 resumed on Thursday, but it was Oriol Servia who caught the eye, the Catalan going seventh overall - and fastest among those hoping to make the field for the race this weekend.
Moraes, who led his first laps in the IndyCar Series at last year's 500 while running with Dale Coyne Racing, paced the opening day of week two with KV Racing Technology, posting a best lap of 222.739mph to head off front row starters Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves as the 22 drivers who have already qualified for the race worked on their race set-ups. Moraes will start seventh a week on Sunday.
"It was a really good day," the Brazilian reported, "The car is really good in qualifying set-up, and now it's very good in race set-up. The team has just been doing a really good job. As a team, everyone is working on one thing together. At the end of the week, we're going to put everything together and get one solid race car for everyone."
In addition to the 22 confirmed starters, another eleven drivers also practiced in the hope of finding the set-up that will allow them to grab a decent starting spot over this weekend's final qualifying sessions. Although a similar number of positions remain vacant, new combinations continue to be rumoured, making practice important.
Servia, who finished eleventh overall as a rookie last year, was the fastest of those hoping to make the field in 2009, lapping at 221.353mph on his first day with Rahal Letterman Racing's one-off entry, and denied that he was feeling at all nervous about the task ahead.
"It's been a crazy last three months and everyone has been asking me today if there's any pressure being a last-week and reduced programme....," Servia laughed, "I haven't felt this relieved in a long time. Finally, I am in a car, and I know I'm going to be in the race. I'm in a great team, and there are great people around me. I felt great right away from the first lap.
"We want to take one step at a time, but right now, I'm really excited and happy. When you are driving for Rahal Letterman, you better step on it. They won this race in 2004 and, honestly, the car felt great the moment I stepped into it. That makes the job of the driver a lot easier. It's only our first day and, hopefully, we'll have another dry day tomorrow so we can prepare for qualifying. It's probably the most important race of my life, so I'm very happy with the way things have started."
Townsend Bell, a two-time 500 starter now partnering Moraes at KVRT, was second in the group - and tenth overall - at 220.938mph, as he too made his first appearance of the month.
"It was a good day," Bell noted, "The team's very strong, and we're happy to have the Herbalife car running pretty respectably on the first day. I'm really thrilled with the general balance that we have. People on this team are great, and that makes it really easy for me to do my job in the car. I think we're going to continue to improve.