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Hunter-Reay fastest on opening day at Long Beach

Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay paces practice on the first day of the 36th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.

Running double duty did not appear to hamper Ryan Hunter-Reay on the opening day of the 36th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, as the #37 IZOD/Andretti Autosport driver posted the quickest time in Friday practice on the iconic street circuit.

Just one second separated the top 15 cars as drivers and teams prepared for the three rounds of qualifications on Saturday, with Hunter-Reay clocking 1min 10.6346secs around the 1.968-mile course.

"In the first session, we knew the track was pretty bad, so we didn't get out of our mindset of sticking to our guns, as we knew what worked," RH-R reported, "In the second session, we just worked on the balance of the car, found what worked and what didn't work.

"I think there's still a little more time in the car, so we're pretty happy with it. It's going to get quicker tomorrow, and these guys are all going to go quicker, so we'll have to keep changing, keep on top of the developing racetrack. It's good, though. The guys did a good job. The good thing is we only used two sets of tyres today."

Three different teams were represented in the top five, with Team Penske's Ryan Briscoe second and Hunter-Reay's Andretti team-mate Tony Kanaan third, ahead of FAZZT's Alex Tagliani and Penske points leader Will Power, who won the first two races of the season. Defending race winner and series champion Dario Franchitti was seventh fastest.

"I am very, very happy," Tagliani said of his new outfit's debut performance in SoCal, "The team did a fantastic job today and, obviously, finishing the first day in position four is a great achievement for us. We kind of knew that Long Beach was going to be a more suitable track for our car, but we are still in the learning process, and I think today we learned a lot and made very good changes to the car.

"We recovered well from our incident this morning, and the guys did a fantastic job of getting the car ready to go for the last practice. The car is very close, but we're still trying to get a little bit more out of it, and the track continues to grip up. There's been like a second of improvement from this morning's times to this afternoon, but I feel that the team is where it needs to be and, with this particular track and what is happening and how competitive we are, the team is right where it needs to be. We are still learning more information, and now we are gathering a good group of data from the most recent tracks, so we are starting to come full circle on our information. If we can build on the information, I think we'll continue to be more consistent and have the car where we want it which is quick out of the box."

For Briscoe, second place was a positive result as he tries to close the gap on team-mate Power.

"It's the first step toward beating him.," the Australian admitted, "He's doing an amazing job, and he's definitely going to be the one to beat in qualifying tomorrow. He's been fast here in the past but I think, as a team, we're extremely strong at the moment. We're really pushing each other a lot, and there's a really good vibe within. I really feel like coming into this part of the season, but I really need to step it up in qualifying. For sure, to get the race wins, my first step is going to be stepping it up in qualifying."

Power reported that he was 'reasonably happy' with the #12 Verizon car, but admitted that he needed to find a bit more speed with the field so closely-matched.

Drivers will be able to use Honda's 'overtake assist' option up to 20 times during the race, with each boost lasting for 18 seconds. There is a ten-second recovery period between uses.

There is also a change to the qualifying process, with the first round returning to 15 minutes for each group. The session was 20 minutes at Barber Motorsports Park last week because there wasn't a morning practice session.

Bryan Herta Autosport's Sebastian Saavedra was fastest in Indy Lights practice.

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Will Power during practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg on Friday March 11. (Photo by: Joe Skibinski for IndyCar Media)
Will Power during practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg on Friday March 11. (Photo by: John Cote for IndyCar Media)

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