Tristan Vautier was the unexpected pacesetter in the second 45-minute practice session on the 2.04-mile, 12-turn street course in downtown Baltimore on Friday afternoon.
The #55 Schmidt-Peterson Motorsport car set a lap of 1:19.4792s (92.402mph) to claim the fastest lap of the opening day of the Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT race weekend. The French rookie driver was just under nine hundredths of a second faster than Graham Rahal, who finished in second spot for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing ahead of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Josef Newgarden.
"I don't know, I just love this place," said Vautier. "We started well, but I think it's going to be about keeping improving because everybody is going to keep improving and it's always very hard to put everything together at the right time. So I have to really keep focused and keep executing really well to stay up there."
The morning's fastest driver Will Power finished in sixth after looking to be on his way to setting an even faster time in the final seconds of the session when he ended up being collected by the notorious turn 9 chicane, which consists of a tyre barrier to protect part of the track that runs over the municipal railway lines which otherwise can launch a car into the air. The session ended under red for the #12 Penske car's accident.
"On the last lap there in the afternoon session I just locked up the tires going into turn 9 and fortunately there wasn't much in the way of damage to the front wing. We'll give it another go tomorrow," he said. "I think we still have a bit of work to do on the car to get it to where it needs to be and find some more speed. The track itself is very physical, especially the chicanes. Those are pretty tough."
Prior to Power's mishap, the first serious incident of the weekend had seen Sebastian Saavedra become the first car to make solid contact with chicane with the right-front of the #6 Dragon Racing car. Although that didn't bring out a caution itself, a spin for Justin Wilson at turn 3 shortly afterwards did. Prior to that the only interruption of the session had been for debris in turn 1 - a piece of Oriol Servia's wing from the #4 Panther Racing car following contact on pit lane - just a few minutes after the green flag had waved for the start.
All 24 cars went faster in the afternoon session than they had in the morning, with 13 of the cars within one second of Vautier's leading time. Stefan Wilson continued to be the slowest car on the track by some margin in the #18 Dale Coyne Racing car as he gets to grips with the track for his first race outing in an IndyCar alongside his team mate and older brother Justin Wilson.
There will be one final 45-minute practice session at 9.05am (2.05pm BST) on Saturday morning with qualifying at noon (5pm BST) on Saturday then following the usual IndyCar three-round elimination format, with the top 12 fastest drivers progressing to round 2 and then the top half of the field making it through to the Firestone Fast Six pole shootout. A half-hour Sunday morning warm-up at 10.15am (3.15pm BST) precedes the race itself which runs from 2.30pm (7.30pm BST).
Practice 2 times
1. #55 Tristan Vautier
(H) 92.402mph 1:19.4792s
2. #15 Graham Rahal
(H) 92.304mph 1:19.5630s + 0.0838s
3. #67 Josef Newgarden
(H) 92.185mph 1:19.6662s + 0.1870s
4. #9 Scott Dixon
(H) 92.142mph 1:19.7027s + 0.2235s
5. #77 Simon Pagenaud
(H) 91.971mph 1:19.8509s + 0.3717s
6. #12 Will Power
(C) 91.943mph 1:19.8756s + 0.3964s
7. #11 Tony Kanaan
(C) 91.732mph 1:20.0593s + 0.5801s
8. #14 Takuma Sato
(H) 91.693mph 1:20.0934s + 0.6142s
9. #7 Sebastien Bourdais
(C) 91.616mph 1:20.1604s + 0.6812s
10. #10 Dario Franchitti
(H) 91.574mph 1:20.1976s + 0.7184s
11. #98 Luca Filippi
(H) 91.566mph 1:20.2042s + 0.7250s
12. #4 Oriol Servià
(C) 91.349mph 1:20.3953s + 0.9161s
13. #3 Helio Castroneves
(C) 91.255mph 1:20.4774s + 0.9982s
14. #27 James Hinchcliffe
(C) 91.168mph 1:20.5546s + 1.0754s
15. #5 EJ Viso
(C) 91.117mph 1:20.6001s + 1.1209s
16. #1 Ryan Hunter-Reay
(C) 91.108mph 1:20.6077s + 1.1285s
17. #19 Justin Wilson
(H) 90.913mph 1:20.7808s + 1.3016s
18. #6 Sebastian Saavedra
(C) 90.861mph 1:20.8272s + 1.3480s
19. #83 Charlie Kimball
(H) 90.781mph 1:20.8984s + 1.4192s
20. #16 James Jakes
(H) 90.763mph 1:20.9139s + 1.4347s
21. #25 Marco Andretti
(C) 90.598mph 1:21.0618s + 1.5826s
22. #78 Simona De Silvestro
(C) 89.785mph 1:21.7958s + 2.3166s
23. #20 Ed Carpenter
(C) 89.069mph 1:22.4532s + 2.9740s
24. #18 Stefan Wilson
(H) 87.822mph 1:23.6238s + 4.1446s
Total laps: 354