16 April 2016
Long Beach: Power sets pace in Friday practice
Will Power and Penske cut a familiar figure at the top of the timesheets as the 2016 Grand Prix of Long Beach kicked off.
Will Power set the pace on the opening day of the Grand Prix of Long Beach with a best lap of 1min 07.5992secs in the #12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet to maintain a strong run of form for the veteran IndyCar Series outfit.
In five of the last seven years, drivers from Team Penske have captured pole position for the famous Long Beach street race, including three straight by Power between 2009-11, and the Aussie started the 2016 event in familiar fashion.
"It's been a good start," Power said, "This morning, I learned some stuff with [team-mate] Juan [Pablo Montoya] and we're progressing well. This is a track where I've struggled the last couple of years in qualifying, starting way back there, so I want to start up front and give ourselves a better chance to win the race."
Second on the speed chart was James Hinchcliffe in the #5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, followed by Graham Rahal in the #15 PennGrade Motor Oil Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
"The car was great off the truck," reported Hinchcliffe, who made a demon-defying return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway before heading to southern California, "We made very few changes over lunch, which is always a nice thing when you're not thrashing. The pace was still relatively decent this afternoon. It doesn't matter till it matters, but it's definitely a good starting point for us."
Rahal also felt good about his car's showing as he seeks to add to the family legacy in Long Beach.
"We have one less set of tyres than some, so we didn't run on new tyres as much as some, but I feel good about where we are right now," Rahal said, "I feel good about what the car is giving me. We have a little more work to do but in terms of competitiveness but we seem to be very close."
Power's three Penske team-mates rounded out the top six, with points leader Simon Pagenaud fourth overall ahead of Montoya and Helio Castroneves.
Montoya led the opening practice earlier in the day but, if anything, Conor Daly was likely the happiest driver in the session.
Montoya paced the 21-car field with a lap of 1min 08.1290secs, followed by team-mate Power, while Daly was only 17th in the #18 Jonathan Byrd's Hospitality Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.
A year ago, the rookie competed in his first Verizon IndyCar Series street race in a substitute role at Long Beach for the same team. When Coyne driver Rocky Moran Jr. sustained a thumb injury in a first-day practice crash, team owner Dale Coyne called on Daly to fill in - literally. Daly was having breakfast on Saturday morning of race weekend when the 'phone call came for him to head immediately to the Coyne transporter and, with just one practice session under his belt, he qualified 21st before going onto finish the race in 17th place, posting the second-fastest lap by a Honda-powered car. That performance led to Daly securing a full-season ride with the Coyne team for 2016 and he's looking forward to returning this weekend.
“I'm very excited for the race,” he said, “I love the place. I love the track. I love the fact we were quick at the end of the race last year, so we have a good place to start and it's with the same team, so it will be really cool.”
For another of the Verizon IndyCar Series rookies, however, the first session did not go as planned. Andretti Herta Autosport pilot Alexander Rossi found the Turn Eight tyre barrier, bringing out a red flag on the course and causing a 15-minute delay as the Holmatro Safety Team removed his car from the barrier and worked to reset a section of tyres that had been moved in the accident. Rossi was cleared to continue driving this weekend.
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