Scott Dixon can go to bed happy with the knowledge of a job well done on Thursday night, after setting the fastest time of anyone on the first day of practice for the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver set the pace with a best lap of 1:10.6971s (124.197mph) in the second of the two practice sessions on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course located in the in-field of the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That put Dixon 0.1147s ahead of reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power.
CLICK: Full combined practice 1 and 2 times from Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
"Overall a good practice day today to start the weekend for the Grand Prix and I'm pretty happy with the Target car," said Dixon after the day's sessions were concluded. "It's always a lot of fun when you're at Indianapolis, road course or oval.
"I think this track is a lot different from the other ones because you trim out so much," he said. "It can be frustrating at times trying to piece a lap together, but I think when you do, it's rewarding. I think all of us have been off track testing the limits."
Dixon had also been third fastest in the earlier midday practice period, despite not coming out on track until after the halfway point of the two-hour session.
"The Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course can be abrasive on the Firestone tyres here so we chose to wait until the end of the session this morning," he explained. "I think you saw a lot of cars going out with about 45 minutes or so remaining in the morning session."
So far, Dixon's time is still a second off the track record set last year in qualifying by Simon Pagenaud, but Dixon was confident that they would have a shot at breaking the record on Friday when the red option tyres came out, thanks to the new aerodynamic components introduced on the cars for 2015.
"The aero kits should tick the speeds up a bit here, and the draft should really be improved as you're able to close from a further gap back to the car in front of you," he explained.
Once again it appeared that it was Chevrolet's aero kits and engines that had a considerable edge n terms of speed and performance so far this weekend. As well as Dixon and Power, the rest of the top six was an all-Chevy affair with Power's Penske team mates Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud all at the sharp end in third, fifth and sixth places respectively.
KVSH Racing's Sebastien Bourdais broke up the Penske pack by improving by half a tenth on his leading first practice time to finish the day with the fourth best time, just under two tenths back from Bourdais.
"It was a pretty good day," said the French driver. "We were quick off the truck and sustained that pace throughout the day. We tried a bunch of things, but we didn't really make a lot of headway because the track condition wouldn't allow it.
"We made some progress on the balance of the car and I believe we are in good shape," he added. "Some guys put new tyres on at the end and we didn't because we didn't have any left. Overall, pretty happy with the car and looking forward to a good weekend."
Bourdais' team mate Stefano Coletti was the fastest rookie of the day with the 11th fastest time, but he was also involved in a clash with Montoya that left Montoya off in the grass in need of help from the safety crew to get back under way, forcing the second of two red flags in the session. The first had been for Montoya's team mate Power who stalled in turn 9 and needed to be refired.
The fastest Honda driver on track on Thursday was AJ Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato, whose time from the first practice session was just 0.009s faster than the second practice time of Graham Rahal.
"It was a good day, we made a lot of progress and it's very encouraging to see the car working in a very good manner," said Sato. "I was happy with the balance and it's just a question of making the car faster and better all the time. We did make a lot of improvement but it's still a tough field. Being in the top ten in both practices today is very positive and hopefully we can carry the good momentum through tomorrow."
"Leading the charge for Honda, it feels good," said Rahal of his afternoon performance in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing #15 car. "That's been our goal: if we can't be fastest overall, we need to lead in our camp. We've got a lot of work to do. As you can see, it's half a second to the Chevys. I don't know where half a second is going to come from, but we're going to try awfully hard to try to find it."
Sebastian Saavedra posted the seventh fastest time of the day based on his first practice time but dropped a little to tenth in the second session, as he returns to duty in the #8 Chip Ganassi Racing car that he shares this season with Sage Karam.
"I was happy with the AFS car today and what we were able to accomplish," said Saavedra. "We worked on set-up a lot in the afternoon. We were up near the top of the speed charts overall today and that gives us a good foundation for qualifying and hopefully on into the race Saturday."
Other drivers returning to IndyCar action this weekend include Justin Wilson, JR Hildebrand and Carlos Huertas. Wilson was still finding his feet in his first appearance with Andretti Autosport and was 20th fastest in the 25-car field, the first car to be over a second off Dixon's pace at the top.
"It's great to be back in the car," said the English driver. "It's been an interesting first day to say the least. I'm still trying to get the most out of everything and work out what characteristics can be worked on and which ones are just the way they are. Right now I'm just playing catch up and I'm pleased with how things are feeling, not pleased with the lap time so we'll just have to keep working on it the rest of the weekend."
Hildebrand was one place further back as he made his bow for CFH Racing alongside the team's regular drivers Josef Newgarden and Luca Filippi, in what will be his first road course start in 21 months since he last turned out for Barracuda Racing at Sonoma Raceway in 2013.
"It's always a little bit of a challenge being back in the car going full blast straight away, but I feel like I'm getting a handle on the track, the aero kit, and where we're going with the set-up on the car," he insisted.
"We're closing in on being closer to Josef and Luca in terms of their pace," he pointed out. "I think we all feel like we've got some work to do to make the cars a little bit better for tomorrow. We'll just plug away at it. It's just always good to be back at the track so I certainly can't complain about that."
Just behind Hildebrand was Carlos Huertas, who made two starts with Dale Coyne Racing at St Petersburg and Long Beach but was then stood down for the next two races in Louisiana and Alabama for business reasons which saw him replaced by Rocky Moran Jr., Conor Daly and Rodolfo Gonzalez.
"This morning was pretty good but this afternoon was really difficult," he admitted. "I struggled with the changes the team made this afternoon and it as really hard for me to drive the car. We need to sit down and evaluate things to get the best package for tomorrow. I guess we were able to find something that didn't work and now we just need to figure out what will work."
At the bottom of the timesheets at the end of the first day were Andretti Autosport's Marco Andretti, Bryan Herta Autosport rookie Gabby Chaves and DCR's Francesco Dracone.
"We just seem at the edge of things, but it seems there's a downforce deficit to my teammates," said Andretti, explaining his uncharacteristic lack of form so far this weekend. "We're trying to get to the bottom of it. It's frustrating.
"As a team we are all little off right now," he added, noting that the highest-placed member of the Andretti squad was Ryan Hunter-Reay in 15th place. "Even if I get to where my team mates are, we're still not where we need to be. We have some work to do tonight to get a better run tomorrow."
Meanwhile, propping up the foot of Thursday's timings had done nothing to dampen Dracone's enthusiasm ahead of his first race at Indianapolis this weekend.
"It is awesome to be in Indiana," said the 31-year old from Turin in Italy. "This track is just magnificent. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is to racing as the Bernabéu is to football for Real Madrid.
"The circuit is pretty nice," he added. "I didn't expect such a layout because what I gathered from the maps and video was a bit different. The asphalt is just great, very high standards. The car seems to pretty good. We are going to change a few things for tomorrow for both practice and qualifying. Everything is pretty much going to plan so far."
Thursday's practice also saw the cars of Tony Kanaan and Justin Wilson equipped with the 8-inch-wide by 7-inch-tall real-time positioning display panels. Just three millimetres thick, the panels are due to be fitted to all cars in time for Monday's first day of practice for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500.
Teams will have one more practice opportunity with a 45-minute session on Friday morning at 11am (4pm BST) before qualifying, which is set for 3pm (8pm BST). Teams will also have a half-hour warm-up session on Saturday morning before the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis gets the green flag in the afternoon at 3.50pm (8.50pm BST).
Full practice 1 times from Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Full practice 2 results from Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Combined practice 1 and 2 times