"I'm still a boy playing with a toy, finding out what the toy is capable of giving you," said Barrichello, who was happy to be back on a track that he'd already tested on a month previously. He pipped Conway for the third spot by a slender 0.002s margin to post the fastest lap of the day by a Chevrolet runner.
Asked to compare the relative standings of Honda and Chevrolet engines, Barrichello understandably hedged: "I feel it is really difficult [to tell] until we get to the St. Pete qualifying and race to know where everyone is," he said sensibly.
But he was definitely impressed with Dixon's benchmark laptimes. "The time that Scott set this morning was really fast. It was out of the box. It was really, really fast. Faster than anybody around here from the past week and this week," he acknowledged, adding: "The Team Penske and Target Ganassi are the cars to beat."
Barrichello's new KV Racing team mate EJ Viso was the only driver to have an off in the morning session, causing the session to be red flagged while marshalls reset the tyre barrier. Viso was able to continue testing after he was returned to pit lane and had his front nose replaced, even if presence of the unpainted spare part rather ruined the overall aesthetic of the shiny new livery.
Further back down the timesheets, Ed Carpenter struggled with a misfire problem in his #20 Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevrolet car in the morning that put him well off the pace and behind in his development testing in the afternoon, leaving him further down the times than might be expected for the winner of the final 2011 race of the season at Kentucky.
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Indy Lights rookie transfer Josef Newgarden was also out on track, after the team worked late into the night on Wednesday fitting their brand new Honda engine donated from Bobby Rahal's second car operation. Unfortunately a problem with the car's timing transponder left him with no recorded lap times for the morning session.
There was good news for Lotus Dragon Racing, whose engine arrived on Wednesday and was installed overnight into the chassis and was ready to go out on track shortly after lunchtime. Katherine Legge was able to put the car and engine through 66 laps of running before the end of the day.
"It was awesome to be honest," said Legge. "I obviously have to thank my crew because they worked all the way through the night and all the way through the day today to get me on the track," she added, referring to the all-nighter as a "team-building experience."
Certainly it seemed to have done the trick in breaking the ice: “It feels like home and where I belong," she said of Lotus Dragon. "The team that Jay [Penske] has built this year is incredible, and it's great to have Sebastien's feedback as well."
With only one engine delivered and installed, her team mate Sebastien Bourdais did not run in his own car today and is expected to take over the running of Legge's #6 at some point to get some track time on Friday. But at least Bourdais has already had some recent experience back in US open wheel racing, running a road and street course-only season in 2012 with Dale Coyne Racing. For Legge, it's been somewhat longer.