After almost seven months of downtime over the winter, the Verizon IndyCar Series was finally back on track for the first race event of 2016 with first practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St Petersburg in Florida.

The honours for the first official practice session of the year went to Penske's Simon Pagenaud, who recorded a time of 1:01.7246s (104.982mph) on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit, 0.0624s ahead of AJ Foyt Racing's Jack Hawksworth.

Pagenaud's team mate Helio Castroneves was third fastest, followed by Hawkswrth's team mate Takuma Sato. Fifth fastest was Andretti Autosport's Ryan Hunter-Reay while reigning IndyCar champion Scott Dixon got a solid start to his season in sixth place.

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Pagenaud's compares with last year's pole-winning time of 1:0.6931 seconds (106.676 mph) which was recorded by Pagenaud's team mate Will Power. Last year's race was won by the third member of the Penske line-up, Juan Pablo Montoya.

Power's 2016 campaign got off to a slightly rocky start after he triggered a red flag with a heavy crash in the kink just before turn 10 which did extensive damage to the right hand side of the #12 car. Subsequent reports indicated that Power had been adjusting his brake bias and missed his braking point.

Power was subsequently evaluated in the medical centre and cleared to resume participating in the weekend's track activities. A second practice session is scheduled for 3:40pm local time (8.40pm GMT).

With the accident coming after just five laps of track time, Power was listed in 17th place in the timesheets, just ahead of series newcomer Alexander Rossi who was 0.8651s in his first outing in the #98 Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb/Agajanian. Rossi is combing a full season in US open wheel racing with a F1 test and reserve role for Manor Racing

"Finally racing season is upon us after what has been a very interesting winter for me," said Rossi. "I haven't been a part of the team for very long, but I think that we are making progress as a group on a daily basis, and I cannot wait to get to St. Pete and continue building on what we started last week in Sebring.

"I don't really know what is waiting for me this weekend or really this year, but I have always had very high expectations of myself and I will be looking to put the #98 in a positive position right from the beginning. From what I have seen, the track looks great to drive and is in a fantastic city, so it should be a pretty special season opener."

Another F1 refugee, Max Chilton, was the slowest of the 22 drivers participating in the session for Chip Ganassi Racing. He was 1.6562s off Pagenaud's time and was a tenth behind next-fastest driver Mikhail Aleshin, who is returning to full time duties for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after sitting out all but one race in 2015 following a serious accident at Fontana in the final race of the 2014 season.

Aleshin's team mate, James Hinchcliffe, is also returning to full time status after a long rehabilitation from injury. The popular Canadian suffered major trauma in a practice accident during the build up to last year's Indianapolis 500, but looked fit and confident as he had a solid start to 2016 in 13th place.

See full practice 1 times from St Petersburg