Team Penske has taken immediate charge of proceedings in the first track session of the weekend for the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Simon Pagenaud ended up pipping his team mate Will Power to the honours in first practice with a time of 24.2307s (216.172mph), putting him 0.0052s ahead of the Australian when the chequered flag came out. "It's very stable, very good and traffic and very good on its own," Pagenaud commented of how the #22 car was handling so far.
CLICK: Full practice 1 times from Texas Motor Speedway
Takuma Sato was the highest-placed of the Honda cars in third place, just one hundredths of a second off Pagenaud's time in the #14 AJ Foyt Racing entry.
Ganassi pair Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon were next up, with the third Penske car of Helio Castroneves slotting into sixth place in the timesheets ahead of Graham Rahal in the #15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car.
Tristan Vautier continued to impress with his latest appearance in the Verizon IndyCar Series. The Frenchman was a last-minute replacement in the Indianapolis 500 for Dale Coyne Racing after regular driver Carlos Huertas was ruled out with an inner ear condition, and he has remained with the team through the Dual at Detroit doubleheader last weekend and now for his third outing with the team at Texas.
Vautier was eighth fastest in practice with a best lap of 24.3766s (214.878mph) putting him a tenth and a half off the top time. By comparison his DCR team mate for this weekend Pippa Mann was 18th fastest in her second outing of the year for the team while Ryan Briscoe was just one place ahead in 17th as he returned to the cockpit of the #5 Schmidt Peterson Motorsport car in place of the injured James Hinhcliffe.
Rounding out the top ten in practice were Andretti Autosport's Marco Andretti in ninth and his team mate Carlos Munoz in tenth. However the big event of practice was a big accident for the third Andretti Autosport car of Ryan Hunter-Reay, which spun coming out of turn 2 and crashed into the outside wall rear-first in a hard impact.
"It was a big surprise, turned the car around," Hunter-Reay said after being checked over at the in-field care centre. "Got up into dirty air and the rear just came around.
"We'll have to go back and look at it," he added. "Trying to get a glimpse at how everyone is running here, but we'll have to go back and look at what happened."
Hunter-Reay was sixth fastest in the session with a speed of 214.170 mph when the accident occurred just over halfway through the 75-minute practice session on Friday. The car did not go airborne or flip over, and simply slid down the track onto the apron where Hunter-Reay was able to climb out unaided as the Holmatro safety team speeded to the wrecked car.
There has been concerns about possible issues the new superspeedway aero kits used for the first time last month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Although all the aerial incidents seen in the build-up to the Indy 500 happened to cars from the Chevrolet stable, IndyCar has now mandated the addition of new closure panels to the rear wheel guards of both Honda and Chevrolet bodywork beginning this weekend at Texas. The new panels were developed by the two manufacturers after discussion with the series, and will also be in use at Pocono Raceway and Auto Club Speedway later in the season.
"We're testing and trying some things. It was out first race simulation run,” commented Hunter-Reay, who has been medically cleared to return to action as soon as the team builds up a new car for him. “I'm not really sure, can't say what happened. It was a complete surprise."
There were no other significant issues during the practice session, the only opportunity that the 23 drivers will have to dial in their cars ahead of qualifying for the Firestone 600 which takes place at 3.15pm local time (9.15pm BST).
This weekend sees the starting grid set by the cumulative time of two laps of the 1.455-mile oval circuit, with cars running one-by-one and without the elimination format of three rounds used at street and road course events.
Drivers will have just one further half hour practice later in the day at around 6.45pm (12.45am BST) to get their cars set-up for the 248 lap, 360.84 mile night race which gets underway on Saturday evening at 7.50pm (1.50am BST).
"We need to work tonight in practice, when it will be cooler like the race, we'll try to make it even better," said Pagenaud. "But this is a good start."
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