Dan Wheldon, who has a trio of third-place finishes to his name at Texas Motor Speedway, began his bid to give Panther Racing its sixth victory at the track in fine style as he paced the night practice session at the high-banked 1.5-mile oval ahead of Saturday's Bombardier Learjet 550k.
The Briton, driving the #4 National Guard-backed car, posted a quickest lap of 215.783mph during a twilight session, putting him ahead of Andretti Green Racing's Danica Patrick, Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti and points leader Scott Dixon - the top three in the championship standings.
"Panther has won a lot of races here but, with the times changing, it seems a lot harder to win IndyCar Series races," Wheldon noted, "We rolled off the truck pretty strong. When you look at the timesheet, you can see I had a pretty strong draft, but the car also seems to be quick on our own. I would say that, in terms of speed, it's the most competitive car we've had this season. That's certainly a good sign."
Patrick was equally excited, having latched on to a successful AGR set-up from last season's race at the Fort Worth facility.
"So far, this weekend has started exactly the way I hoped it would," she commented, "The bottom line is that Eddie [Jones] and Marco [Andretti] were able to set up a very good car last year, so we ran their 2008 race set-up and didn't change a thing for tonight's session. The car unloaded fast and felt very comfortable in traffic. I'm really excited for the rest of the weekend and think we'll be strong Saturday."
Briscoe revealed that the bulk of his running in the #6 Penske car had been conducted with one eye on Saturday night's floodlit event, but remained confident that he and team-mate Helio Castroneves would be a factor in qualifying too.
"It was a good first session," the Australian reflected, "We did a lot of pack running to simulate what the car will be like during the race and, overall, the Team Penske car was pretty solid. I think we have a bit of work left heading into the race but, so far, we're in good shape. I don't know how much work we'll do on qualifying set-up, because it's all about having a good race car. Obviously, we'll want to come out tomorrow and qualify near the front, but for now we're focused on preparing for Saturday night."
Franchitti, meanwhile, hopes running an Energizer livery at Texas will bring him the same luck it has for Ganassi team-mate Dixon over the last three years. The Kiwi has won the three races in which he has used the Energizer scheme - 2006 at Watkins Glen and both 2007 and 2008 at Nashville.
"I didn't know that [Dixon was undefeated in the Energizer car] - maybe he'll want to trade cars this weekend since I seem to run better in the Target colours," the Scot joked, "I know Dan wasn't
undefeated in the Energizer car, but I just want to win races regardless of what the car looks like."
Castroneves was sixth fastest on the night, with Graham Rahal, Tony Kanaan and the surprising Milka Duno next up, before Andretti completed the top ten.
The 45-minute session followed 45 minutes of free practice for rookies and drivers not in the top ten in points.