CLICK: Full times from the Wednesday open test at Auto Club Speedway
The Verizon IndyCar Series field got down to work at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California on Wednesday afternoon and evening, with an extended open test session serving as a curtain raiser to this weekend's 2014 season finale, the MAVTV 500.
Sunday's Sonoma race winner Scott Dixon ended the session on top in the Ganassi #9 with a time of 32.8075s (219.462mph) after running 94 laps of the two-mile oval circuit, but he was less than half a tenth faster than Juan Pablo Montoya, who was the quickest on the day of the Penske contingent.
"Our car felt pretty good," Dixon said, noting that after pack running in the first session drivers switched to fresh tyres in order to get a tow in pursuit of fast times near the end of the latter session. "That's what we did, and jumped up to the top of the times."
The five-and-a-quarter-hour open test was divided into two sessions, the first taking place in the late afternoon and then the second under the floodlights after sunset in order to allow the driver to experience the conditions that they will face in qualifying and the race itself on Friday and Saturday.
Dixon had topped the daylight session with a time of 33.1454s (217.225 mph), and like all the drivers found increased time in the cooler, towing conditions of the later session.
"It's always a really tough race here. The cool thing is there are so many different lines for some exciting racing for the fans,” he said. "We'll try to close out the year on a positive note and carry momentum into next year. Third place in the championship is in our grasp."
Dixon is the reigning IndyCar champion but he will have to relinquish that title on Saturday, most likely to Will Power who leads his Penske team mate Helio Castroneves by 51 points heading into the final event of the season, which carries with it a double points reward - a maximum of 104 points.
Castroneves was fifth fastest in Wednesday's open test, just 0.0698s back from Dixon's benchmark time, while Power - who won at Fontana in 2013 - was ninth fastest and just 0.1650s off the top time of the time.
The driver currently in third place in the championship standings, Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsport's Simon Pagenaud, was 16th fastest after his test ended early with a trip into the wall in turn 2.
“I was coming out of the pit lane as I've been doing the same thing all day long and I spun,” said Pagenaud, whose impact was cushioned by a SAFER barrier. He was checked out by the medics in the in-field care centre and quickly released.
"It's unfortunate, but the car is fast and that's a good thing. It's a shame. We would have liked to do a bit more testing," he said afterwards. "We need to see if everything is OK on the car, but certainly it didn't feel the same as normal."
Although the #77 car was damaged in the impact, team manager Rob Edwards shrugged off the repair work ahead of the team before the first official 75 minute practice session of the race weekend at 10am local time (6pm BST) on Friday morning, describing it as "more an annoyance than anything."
Qualifying for the MAVTV500 takes place at 2.15pm (10.15pm BST) on Friday afternoon, with drivers then getting a second 30 minute practice in the early evening at 6.15pm (2.15am BST), which is the last opportunity the drivers get to take to the track before the green flag for the race itself on Saturday evening at 7.20pm (3.20am). In the UK, the race will be shown live on digital subscription channel ESPN.
See full times from the Wednesday open test at Auto Club Speedway