KVSH Racing's Sebastien Bourdais was quickly up to speed on Thursday as the Verizion IndyCar Series drivers got their first practice opportunity on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ahead of this weekend's Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
Bourdais set a best time of 1:10.9378s (123.776mph) to put himself nearly a tenth of a second ahead of reigning champion Will Power in the #1 Team Penske car. Scott Dixon was third fastest for Chip Ganassi Racing, and his team mate Sebastian Saavedra - who clinched pole for the inaugural race last year - was also on form as he finished the midday session with the fourth best time of the 25 drivers taking part.
CLICK: Full practice 1 times from Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Bourdais' time compares with Saavedra's 2014 pole lap of 1:23.8822s (104.672mph) set in tricky conditions in a rain-hit qualifying. Eventual race winner Simon Pagenaud had set the best time of the session with a lap of 1:09.6716s (126.062mph) earlier in the first of the three elimination rounds before the weather closed in.
Pagenaud - who has moved from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to Team Penske over the off-season break - was fifth fastest in Thursday's first practice session, a little under two tenths off Bourdais' benchmark time. Pagenaud was just ahead of AJ Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato who was the highest placed of the drivers using Honda engines.
Practice was trouble free with no interruptions. As well as normal team practice activity, the session was also being used for further dry runs of the new LED panels that will be introduced this season to show the car's real-time position during a race.
Only two cars in this session - the #10 Chip Ganassi Racing car driven by Tony Kanaan, and the #25 Andretti Autosport car with Justin Wilson at the wheel - were equipped with the eight-inch-wide by seven-inch-tall panels, which are only three millimetres thick. However the panels are expected to be introduced to all cars next week in time for the first official practice session for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Monday.
Teams will get more chances to get used to the in-field road course with a second 100-minute practice scheduled for later on Thursday afternoon at 3pm local time (8pm BST) followed by a further 45-minute session on Friday morning at 11am (4pm BST).
Qualifying for the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis takes place later on Friday at 3pm (8pm BST) and the race itself will get the green flag on Saturday afternoon at 3.50pm (8.50pm BST) following a half hour warm-up session in the morning.
As well as Wilson - who is making the first of two confirmed race starts this month with Andretti Autosport - this weekend also sees the return to race duty for JR Hildebrand who will be competing in a third car for CFH Racing. This weekend will be the 27-year-old Californian's first road course race in 21 months when he made a one-off appearance with Barracuda Racing at Sonoma Raceway in 2013. Saavedra returns for this second race of the year with Chip Ganassi Racing, once again taking over the seat of the #8 car from rookie driver Sage Karam.
Also making his return this weekend is Carlos Huertas, who is back driving for Dale Coyne Racing after missing the last two races at NOLA Motorsports Park in Louisiana and Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. Huertas dropped out of the NOLA race at short notice with team co-owner Dale Coyne citing "business issues" as being behind the decision to substitute the Colombian with American driver Rocky Moran Jr.
Moran subsequently had to pull out of the race when he injured himself in a practice accident, and his seat was taken by GP2 graduate Conor Daly. The #18 was then taken by another GP2 veteran for the following weekend at Barber when Rodolfo Gonzalez stepped into the cockpit.
Huertas' return this weekend makes it much more likely that he will now keep the seat for the Indianapolis 500. Francesco Dracone retains his place in the sister #19 car while Pippa Mann will join an expanded line-up for the Indy 500 after this weekend's race is out of the way.
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