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IndyCar: Montoya takes charge for final Texas practice

Penske remained on top at Texas Motor Speedway, but Juan Pablo Montoya had to share that top spot with Graham Rahal in final practice.
Penske stayed in charge of proceedings at Texas Motor Speedway, with Juan Pablo Montoya becoming the third different member of the team to top a track session on Friday ahead of this weekend's Firestone 600 night race.

Following an earlier 75 minute practice session which was paced by Simon Paganeud, and the qualifying session that saw Will Power manage to edge the Frenchman for pole position, it was Montoya's turn to go top of the timesheets in the evening.

Montoya's best lap clocked in at 24.3626s (215.002mph) in what proved to be the slowest session of the day as drivers settled down and worked on race set-up in the early evening conditions, similar to what they will face when the green flag comes out for the start of the 248-lap, 360.84-mile race under the floodlights on Saturday.

CLICK: Full practice 2 times from Texas Motor Speedway

"We took all the downforce out of the car," explained Montoya, referring to the earlier sessions. "I think we are pretty good. The balance is not there yet. We need some work to do to be a little quicker, but it is what it is. The aero kits drive a little different.

"We are just trying to figure out what we need to do and where we need to run," he added. "We have options to run a lot more downforce if we want to. It is a big penalty so you have to figure out what is the best compromise."

Montoya's lap was actually a dead heat with that of Rahal Letterman Lannigan Racing's Graham Rahal, who was understandably looking forward to the race itself after a strong day overall in the car on Friday.

"Tomorrow is going to be a tough race; everybody is going to have to manage their tyres as well as they can," Rahal said. "I feel like our race car is pretty good and I feel like track position is going to be pretty important here too. We'll just keep working hard and keep our heads down and it will be just fine."

Bryan Herta Autosport's Gabby Chaves was a surprise in third place in the evening session, 0.0233s off the time set by Montoya and Rahal to put him ahead of Ganassi's Tony Kanaan who was fourth fastest.

"The car was a lot more neutral for qualifying," Chaves noted. "I think we were just too stuck in practice. We had a wheel break in practice, which was pretty scary. After that, we put only a new right rear only on. That threw off our tyre run plan a bit and might have sent us in the wrong direction, set-up-wise. So we went a little conservative for qualifying; but now I think we're figuring it out and will be better in race trim."

Chaves will have to work his way up during the race from his starting position of 20th place on the grid, while Kanaan will get underway much further forward in eighth, although he admitted to having not had the ideal qualifying.

Our qualifying run was okay, obviously not as fast as we wanted it to be," he aid. "We made some changes we thought would work. Once we went out on track we realized those changes weren't the best way to go. Qualifying here at Texas Motor Speedway is such an unknown, so it is what it is. [We worked] more on the race set-up tonight and made sure everything is good to go for tomorrow night's race."

Andretti Autsport's Ryan Hunter-Reay was able to get the #28 car back into race-ready form after his earlier practice crash, and finished the final session in fifth place ahead of Penske pair Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves.

"After having the car in the wall this morning, we had to go with something for qualifying. We had to be a little conservative with it - we certainly missed it, but we expected to," Hunter-Reay admitted after qualifying in 21st place out of the 23 drivers. "We knew we were going to miss it, but we can make up a bunch of spots on lap 1 tomorrow.

"It's all about faith, you have no choice other than to have trust in the car and have faith that it's going to be there for you when you go into turn 1 the first time," he added when asked if the crash had left him with any anxiety heading into the race. "It's definitely a tough thing to do, and most IndyCar drivers have been there, but we just have to get along with it. Lap 1 is interesting no matter what, but we got through it."

Hunter-Reay's team mate Carlos Munoz was ninth fastest just behind Ganassi's Scott Dixon in the final practice session. Munoz had been the surprise of qualifying, breaking up the Penske sweep of the front row to put the #26 into fourth place on the grid. KVSH Racing's Sebastien Bourdais rounded out the top ten, while Penske's pole winner Will Power took things relatively easy and finished the 30-minute session in 11th place.

"I think the Hydroxycut machine is a good race car," said Bourdais. "It's just in qualifying trim we didn't get it right. That is the problem with just one practice session before qualifying. We didn't get a good read, so in qualifying the car was a bit too free and we didn't take enough downforce out. It's a shame. It is going to make our life a bit harder tomorrow starting 18th."

The drivers don't have any more opportunities to fine-tune their race set-ups. The next time they head out onto the 1.455-mile track will be for the start of the Firestone 600 itself which gets underway at 7.50pm (1.50am BST) on Saturday evening/Sunday morning.

See full practice 2 times from Texas Motor Speedway

Related Pictures

Click on relevant pic to enlarge
Gabby Chaves waits on pit lane for his qualification attempt for the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway - Friday, June 5 2015. (Photo by Chris Owens for IndyCar Media)
Juan Pablo Montoya waits on pit lane prior to his qualification attempt for the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway - Friday, June 5 2015. (Photo by Chris Jones for IndyCar Media)
Juan Pablo Montoya on pit lane following his qualification attempt for the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway - Friday, June 5 2015. (Photo by Chris Owens 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
Graham Rahal celebrates victory in the Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway   (image credit: IndyCar Media/Chris Owens)
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]
Ed Jones - Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Simon Penske - Team Penske   [pic credit: IndyCar media/Bret Kelley]
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [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]
Carlos Munoz celebrates his first IndyCar pole at Texas Motor Speedway
Simon Pagenaud - Team Penske   [image credit: IndyCar Media/Bret Kelley]

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