Scott Dixon walked away with the race last weekend on the streets of Belle Isle in Detroit, and he looks to be threatening to assert the same dominance again this week on the oval circuit of Texas Motor Speedway.
His lap of 216.139mph (24.2344s) was the fastest of anyone all day on Friday and compared with Alex Tagliani's pole time of 215.691mph set earlier on during Friday afternoon when temperatures were higher and the track not quite as grippy. Dixon also had more downforce available to him in the final practice session.
Tagliani himself was still fast in the half hour final practice session on Friday evening, setting the third fastest time just slightly slower than a pacey-looking Mike Conway, whose AJ Foyt Racing car was showing no ill-effects from a pit stall fire earlier in the day that had sent his refueller to the infield care centre with burns to the right hand.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan's Takuma Sato made it a Honda clean-sweep of the top four positions, but appeared to suffer a major blow-up late in the session after setting his time. The ensuing yellow ended the session early, and may mean that Sato joins Conway, HVM's Simona de Silvestro and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Josef Newgarden in having a ten-place grid penalty for an unscheduled engine change at the start of tonight's race.
The final session was more about dialling in set-ups for the coller evening and nighttime conditions closer to those that the teams will experience during the actual race on Saturday evening. The teams were also assessing the impact on the cars of a decision late in the way to return some downforce to the car.
In an effort to ensure that pack drafting would not be a factor in the race, IndyCar had earlier said that teams could not use gurney flaps or rear wicker components at Texas. These reduced the downforce on the cars by about 125lbs (56.6kg) in practice 1 and qualifying, but produced a lot of disquiet among the drivers in the process.
"There's a difference from breaking up pack racing and breaking up racing," Andretti Autosport's James Hinchcliffe said after qualifying.
As a result, IndyCar reversed the banning of the rear wickers, which will give the cars more grip and the ability to race flat out - as evidenced by Dixon's new fastest lap - but at the cost of increased tyre wear during the long-distance event.
"I see it as a good compromise in trying to balance what we think will put on the best show in the safest possible fashion," said IndyCar's vice president of technology, Will Phillips. "Some drivers are happy, some not so happy."
There are no further on-track opportunities for the IZOD IndyCar Series field to test and further refine set-ups before the start of the race at 7.45pm local time (1.45am BST).
Other events taking place at Texas Motor Speedway this weekend include the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 400 race on Friday evening, and the Global Rally Cross Event serving as the warm-up support event to the Firestone 550k on Saturday afternoon.Full practice 2 times