Penske stand-in Will Power proved a point by pacing the final day of the IndyCar Series' second and final open test before the season starts for real on the streets of St Petersburg, posting a 1min 09.4557secs best at Barber Motorsports Park.

The Australian, who is running with Penske while the outcome of team stalwart Helio Castroneves' tax evasion court case is determined, bettered fellow antipodean Scott Dixon's Sunday best by more than a second as he headed the 16-car field, setting himself and his employer up for a positive start to the year.

"It was good," Power commented, "I haven't spent much time with this team, so I spent the two days gelling with my engineer and we're really working well together now. We found some good things in the car, and we found a car that suits me. We're happy and we'll be pretty confident going into St Pete."

Like many of his rivals, Power was in favour of the IndyCar Series venturing to Barber Motorsports Park for its second pre-season test, providing a relatively level playing field for every participant - and a good physical preparation for the races ahead.

"I was just happy to get back in the car on a road course, but this is a great track to get fit on because you never stop working," he smiled, "We won't use this much energy getting around St Pete, so it was a good workout."

Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti provided the closest challenge to Power, picking up from his fourth fastest time on day one to post a 1min 09.7776secs effort on Monday and move into second spot. Penske and Ganassi drivers also filled the third and fourth positions on the timesheets, with Ryan Briscoe and day one pacesetter Dixon confirming the suspicion that last season's powerhouses will be the ones to beat again in 2009.

"We accomplished a lot," series returnee Franchitti reported, "It's been a really good weekend, getting to know the team better - and Scott as well. Each week is just learning more. It's been a long week though with [racing at] Sebring. We were there from Monday right through to Saturday night and then came right here. And before that we were testing at Phoenix, so I feel like I've been working pretty hard this last week."

Briscoe and Dixon lapped in 1min 09.8401secs and 1min 09.8904secs respectively, putting themselves ahead of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing duo Graham Rahal and Robert Doornbos as all 16 drivers improved their lap times from Sunday, and the top ten all ducked under Dixon's day one benchmark.

"The car is pretty good, and we're learning quite a lot, which is important," Rahal commented after coming out ahead of road racing expert team-mate Doornbos, "I think, at the end of the day, we're competitive here, but that's not what matters most. What matters most to us is to make sure that, when we go to all the road races, we've got a good shot at winning, and that's what we're trying to do right now - learn as much as we can. I think we're doing that. We've got a lot more knowledge and understanding than we did before, and that's what we need. We're trying things that we hope we can adapt to other tracks. That's been our focus."

Andretti Green Racing team-mates Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan filled seventh and eighth spots, while Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson kept Hideki Mutoh from making it three AGR cars in succession by posting the ninth best time.

"The great thing about a test is not having the pressure of lap times and who is the fastest," series veteran Kanaan pointed out, "We are only concerned about figuring out what to do to make the 7-Eleven car better overall. We need to understand the changes that we make, and learn what or what not to do to in order to make the car better. It's a win-win for us and the team as a whole."

Dan Wheldon, rookies Mike Conway and Raphael Matos, Mario Moraes, Danica Patrick and Ed Carpenter rounded out the list of runners, although Moraes missed most of the afternoon after his #5 KV Racing Technology car sustained damage following contact with the tyre barrier shortly before lunch. The Brazilian returned to the track for the final 20 minutes of the day, but was left to rue the lost time.

Despite slipping out of the top ten on day two, former series champion Wheldon extolled the virtue of running at Barber, particularly for a team like Panther Racing.

"It's not often we get the opportunity anymore with the restrictions on testing," he opined, "I think some people criticise a track like this to some degree because the relevance that it has to St Petersburg or Long Beach is pretty insignificant. But, in terms of being able to test stuff for the track, I think this is a good place. That's not only what we have been doing, but need to be doing, because, as I said with the restricted testing, it's important.

"The car has actually been pretty good although, on my new tyre run just before lunch, I did an out-lap and then my best lap and then I spun. There's stuff that we're working through. There's a problem with the car that I think we're making it better. We haven't got it to go away yet, but we're working towards that. Certainly, it's incredibly competitive. You can see from the times it's very close. It's good to be here. For the limited running that Panther and I have had together, we're really pretty competitive."

Leading performances - Barber Motorsport Park (23 March 2009):

Will Power Penske 119.213mphDario Franchitti Ganassi 118.663mphRyan Briscoe Penske 118.557mphScott Dixon Ganassi 118.471mphGraham Rahal NHLR 118.425mphRobert Doornbos NHLR 118.247mphMarco Andretti AGR 118.132mphTony Kanaan AGR 117.769mphJustin Wilson Dale Coyne 117.751mphHideki Mutoh AGR 117.685mphDan Wheldon Panther 117.402mphMike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold 117.120mphRaphael Matos Luczo Dragon 117.106mphMario Moraes KVRT 117.080mphDanica Patrick AGR 116.881mphEd Carpenter Vision 115.765mph



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