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Castroneves leads opening day of Indy 500 practice

Helio Castroneves and Penske issue early Indianapolis 500 warning.
Defending race winner Helio Castroneves posted the fastest lap as practice opened for the 94th Indianapolis 500 before the veterans made way for their less experienced rivals on a rain-hit day.

Castroneves clocked 39.7170secs on his best lap around the 2.5-mile oval in the back-up #3 machine, as some 27 car-driver combinations recorded 451 incident-free laps before yielding to rookies and other drivers undertaking a refresher course. None of the seven rookies attempting to qualify for the race completed all four phases of the mandatory Rookie Orientation Program, although Simona de Silvestro, Ana Beatriz and Takuma Sato successfully completed two of the four steps.

"It's always good when you start with a positive wave, although there is certainly still a lot of work to go," Castroneves commented, "It was just the right time and the right moment with two cars in front of me.

"It seems to be very interesting this year: Even if you are away from another car, the draft is tremendous. It is going to play a lot of tricks during the month of May. So far, the 3T car seems to be where we want it, so we won't touch the car and keep at it."

Target Chip Ganassi Racing team-mates Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon - who won the 2007 and 2008 Indy 500s respectively - were next on the list, while another former winner Dan Wheldon, who was runner-up to Castroneves last year, was fourth in the #4 National Guard Panther Racing car.

"It was a good day for Team Target, myself and Scott," Franchitti revealed, "To have the car feeling so good was really encouraging. I managed to do a couple laps and saw [Tony Kanaan] ahead of me and managed to draft off of him. It was a nice way to start the month. With the new regulations, the IndyCar Series has changed things definitely, but there's no doubt the Target cars are good. That was a T car, so we're hoping the other cars will be a little better too."

"It has been a busy schedule once the season started - it seems we have either been testing or racing [the whole time] - so the guys did an extremely good job in getting the Panther Racing car prepared for Indianapolis," Wheldon added, "The initial baseline that we did, the car ran very, very well. I've been around here long enough to know that it doesn't make too much difference at this point, but it's always better to start good than the other way around."

Ed Carpenter, competing in an IZOD IndyCar Series event for the first time since the 2009 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, was seventh quickest in the #20 Panther/Vision Fuzzy's Vodka entry.

Tony Kanaan wasn't the fastest driver during Opening Day, but he was one of the busiest. The 2004 series champion shook down all five Andretti Autosport cars entered for the 500 before regular drivers Marco Andretti, John Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Danica Patrick took hold of their own machines. Kanaan turned a total of 36 laps, second only to Alex Lloyd, who turned 39 in his primary car for Dale Coyne Racing.

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