ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Initial impressions of the new Dallara car and engine package from IZOD IndyCar Series drivers?
It certainly was quick.
Scott Dixon (1 minute, 03.0406 seconds) was 1.1 seconds faster in the initial practice session for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit comparable to last year. In the second session on a humid afternoon, Will Power (1:02.0077) topped his best lap from Practice 2 last March by 1.3 seconds.
“It’s amazing. You come up with a new car and new engines and you look at the field and it’s so tight because two-tenths of a second hold four or five people,” Lotus Dreyer & Reinbold Racing’s Oriol Servia said. “It really shows how competitive the championship is and it will make us work that much harder to succeed.”
Click it: Combined practice results || Practice 1 results || Practice 2 results
One second separated the top 21 cars; with Chevrolet-powered vehicles occupying six of the top 10 places (the Bowtie supplies the 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engine to 11 of the 26 entrants).
“It’s actually very tight and very close. It’s pretty exciting for the fans,” said Power, who was the pole winner in 2011 with a lap of 1:01.9625 in the Firestone Fast Six. His 1:01.6025 pole-winning lap in 2010 is likely to be supplanted March 24 (1:55 p.m. ET) in the three rounds of qualifications.
Click it: Qualifying groups
“In practice, you don’t have the intensity that you have in qualifying, but you certainly take it seriously as far as getting a good setup. You have to get the car right because that’s what you’ll be using in qualifying and the race.”
Team Penske teammate Ryan Briscoe (1:02.0931) was second in the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske car and reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion and defending race winner Dario Franchitti (1:02.2232) was third in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry.
Rubens Barrichello, making his IZOD IndyCar Series debut after 19 years in Formula One, had a mechanical issue in the morning session and totaled 25 laps for the day.
“With the problem we had this morning, it was pretty much a setback,” he said. “I spent the afternoon session learning the track, while everyone else was now improving their cars. Hopefully tomorrow I can improve a little more from today.”
Mechanical issues aside, drivers were adapting to the new primary Firehawk tires supplied by Firestone for the race that feature updated tread compounds applied to the same street course tire construction used in 2011.
“The car has a decent amount of power and grip to hold onto the (green) track the way it does,” said James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 27 GoDaddy.com car for Andretti Autosport. “We have a brand new tire compound this year for street circuits and the tires are really, really good when they’re new and it feels like we have a ton of grip and the balance is really good. But it seems like compared to last year they are degrading at a quicker rate. Maybe that’s intentional; I think Firestone was maybe asked to do something to spice up the show a bit.
“When the tires fall away sooner it will definitely make the racing better. With the limited time we’ve had on the tire so far it’s just up to us to figure it out, get a better feel and learn how to keep (the tires) under the car a bit better and longer.”
Note: An unapproved engine change on the No. 77 Schmidt/Hamilton Motorsports car will result in the loss of 10 spots on the starting grid, according to IZOD IndyCar Series rules.