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IndyCar: Dixon fastest in final NOLA practice before qualifying

Ganassi's Scott Dixon set the pace at NOLA Motorsports Park on Saturday, in the final practice session before the all-important qualifying.
Scott Dixon will go into today's qualifying session for the second round of the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series - the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana - boosted by the knowledge that he currently the fastest man on track in Avondale, easily quicker than the timesheet-topping pace set by his Chip Ganassi Racing team mate Tony Kanaan 24 hours earlier before the torrential downpour had rolled in.

CLICK: Full Saturday practice 3 times from Louisiana.

Fortunately there were no similar problems with the weather for final practice following Friday evening's thunderstorms and rain overnight and into Saturday morning that had left the track washed clean of the rubber laid down in the opening practice.

However, the start of the 45-minute Saturday practice was still delayed, this time by a quarter of an hour while track officials sorted out a telemetry problem. Once the green flag was shown it wasn't long before Penske's Helio Castroneves was ploughing through the gravel in turn 6.

Fortunately Castroneves' off-track excursion didn't trigger a red flag, but Kanaan did 15 minutes later when he spun the #10 car. By this point in the proceedings, Penske's Will Power was setting the pace on the 2.74-mile, 13-turn NOLA Motorsports Park road course with a time of 1:19.1234 (124.666mph) ahead of Bryan Herta Autosport rookie Gabby Chaves and CFH Racing's Josef Newgarden.

The track was soon back under green flag conditions and the times continued to fall as the track rubbered in. As the end of the session neared, Scott Dixon proved that Kanaan's fastest Friday time had been no fluke for the Ganassi squad as he went top of the times with a lap of 1:18.5536s (125.570mph), some three tenths faster than his team mate had managed the day before. That put the Kiwi almost six hundredths of a second faster than Penske team member Simon Pagenaud in second.

Impressively, Chaves continued to improve his own time and when the chequered flag came out he was back up to third position and the highest placed of the Honda-powered drivers, a slender 0.026s ahead of Power which meant that the defending champion had to settle for fourth place just ahead of Ganassi's Sage Karam and Andretti Autosport's Carlos Munoz.

"I think that NOLA being a new track on the schedule will be a good thing for us since other drivers don't have years of experience around here, said Chaves who was 17th in his maiden outing at St Petersburg two weeks ago. "Our test went well at NOLA. Additionally, what we learned in the first race will be especially helpful for race strategy."

“I think it kind of brings everybody together - everybody is learning every section and then you go and look at the footage,” the considerably more experienced Kanaan agreed. "You say, 'Why was he quicker than me there?' It's a learning process for everybody, which I think it brings the field a little bit closer."

Chaves and Munoz were the only two drivers sporting Honda badges on their cars to finish in the top ten. The bow tie brigade padded out the rest of the top ten with appearances from Newgarden, Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and Sebastien Bourdais, with the next Honda runner in 11th place in the guise of Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay.

James Hinchcliffe was 12th fastest in the practice times, and it was the Canadian who also brought the session to a slightly premature finish when he spun the #5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsport car in turn 6 just before the scheduled end.

Even though Chevrolet looked to be sustaining their dominant grip on proceedings, there were encouraging signs that qualifying and Sunday's race will nonetheless be a competitive battle with 17 of the 24 drivers able to run within a second of Dixon's top time.

Of the remaining half dozen drivers, the only Chevrolet-powered car outside the one second bracket (and then only by 0.0133s) was Castroneves following his early off-track adventures. Others still struggling to find race pace at NOLA were Andretti Autosports pair Marco Andretti and Simona de Silvestro, AJ Foyt Racing's Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato, SPM's James Jakes and Dale Coyne Racing's Francesco Dracone, who was over two and a half seconds off Dixon's time.

With the exception of Jakes, everyone set their best times of the weekend so far in the Saturday session which was the last track availability the drivers get before the start of qualifying, which is scheduled for 4.15pm local time (10.15pm BST). It will follow the usual three-round elimination format for street/road course races in the IndyCar Series championship. However the local weather forecasts suggest that thunderstorms could once again prove to be a factor just as they had been later in the day on Friday.

Once the grid is set, the teams will have one further half hour warm-up opportunity on Sunday morning to fine-tune their cars and carry out any last minute set-up tweaks ahead of the 75-lap race, which gets underway shortly after 2.30pm (8.30pm BST).

See full Saturday practice 3 times from Louisiana.

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Gabby Chaves races toward the start/finish line during practice for the Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana at NOLA Motorsports Park. (Photo by: Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske) celebrates winning the 2016 IndyCar title with victory at Sonoma   [pic credit: Chris Owens]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens]
Will Power - Team Penske
Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) on his way to victory at Watkins Glen   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Scott Dixon (Target Chip Ganassi Racing) on his way to pole at Watkins Glen   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Scott Dixon leads the Indycar field   [pic credit: Indycar media/Bret Kelley]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Team Penske   [pic credit: Indycar media/Chris Owens]
Simon Penske - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar media/Bret Kelley]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Joe Skibinski]
Scott Dixon - Target Chip Ganassi Racing   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/JOE SKIBINSKI]
Will Power - Penske  [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Jones]
Will Power - Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Jones]
James Hinchcliffe - Schmidt Peterson Motorsports   [pic credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Jones]
James Hinchcliffe - Schmidt Peterson [credit: Chris Owens]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [image credit: IndyCar Media/Bret Kelley]

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