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Castroneves paces Belle Isle practice.

The two contenders for this year's IndyCar Series championship showed their intention to duel at the front of the field throughout the final two rounds of the series, as Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon topped the opening day of practice for the Detroit Indy Grand Prix at Belle Isle Park.

Castroneves, who cut Dixon's lead from 78 to 43 points with victory last weekend at Infineon Raceway, led the 26-driver field on the 14-turn street circuit with a best lap of 1min 13.2059secs as he continued to ride the wave of momentum at Team Penske.

"Today was a good day for us," the Brazilian - a former polewinner at Belle Isle - reported, "I really enjoy [this track]. It is a very technical track, combining bumps and quick corners, and it is always very good. We are headed in a good direction, but we are going to have to keep working.”

Dixon, who finished a disappointing twelfth at Infineon, ensured that Castroneves and Penske would have to keep looking of their shoulders, even though he ended day one 0.4937secs slower than the Brazilian in his #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry.

“This morning was pretty good, but I had a problem with hitting the wall twice and bending the toe link," the Kiwi revealed, "We actually had to repair the car in the middle of the session and then had to end early because we had to fix it, but the car was actually quick out of the box. I think we were quickest in the first ten minutes, even though we had a lot of understeer.

"We tried dialling it out - and made the car a lot worse. We put a set of 'stickers' [new tyres] on the car and it was pretty average, so I think the car can be a little bit quicker and, using the baseline set-up from this morning, it should have been quicker. Helio is quite fast, but I don't know if the track changed because of the weather. A lot of people seemed to have a lot of understeer during the session.”

Vitor Meira made it three teams in the top three positions after pushing his Panther Racing entry ahead of Castroneves' Penske team-mate Ryan Briscoe, who showed few signs of struggling with the double duty he is pulling in Detroit this weekend. The Australian is also running the ALMS race for Penske, but managed fourth spot in practice in the #6 Dallara-Honda.

“It's been a little busy today, with me doing double duty, and today was the first day I've been around this track in an IndyCar, but I think practice went really well," Briscoe reported, "Team Penske made some good progress and I learned a lot, so now I think we just have to go back and figure out what we need to do to be a little quicker tomorrow.”

Danica Patrick, who came home second in last year's incident-packed Detroit event, underlined her potential in fifth, with Andretti Green team-mate and reigning race winner Tony Kanaan sixth on the day his sponsor, 7-Eleven, announced that it would continue its presence in the IRL.

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