Tony Kanaan

AVONDALE, La. – Tony Kanaan, who will make his 296th Indy car start, has the distinction of turning the quickest lap in the first practice session for the inaugural Indy Grand Prix of Louisiana.

Kanaan will count it as gain if he sets the official track record April 11 and earns the Verizon P1 Award in qualifications, and then goes on to win the 75-lap race April 12.

Kanaan, driving the No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, recorded a lap of 1 minute, 18.8753 seconds (125.058 mph) on the 2.74-mile, 13-turn NOLA Motorsports Park road course during the 80-minute session.

Click it: Practice 1 results || Practice 2 results

“It’s still really early in the weekend, but finishing P1 in our first practice session on this track is a good feeling,” said Kanaan, who earned his 119th career top-five finish in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 29. "The car tested really well here a few weeks ago, so I was confident that we had a good car coming into this weekend. It was much hotter this afternoon than it’s been when we’ve tested here in the past, so our lap times were much slower but the track is still really good. Like I said, we still have a ways to go before the race, but it’s definitely a good start.

“Big props to the people in New Orleans. People know about the race, people know what’s going on and those are the places we want to come."

Kanaan entered the weekend with momentum carried from the last season. Third place at St. Petersburg – his 72nd top-three career finish -- followed a victory in the 2014 season finale at Auto Club Speedway. He has six top-five finishes in his past eight starts.

Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power, who was runner-up to Team Penske teammate Juan Pablo Montoya in the 110-lap race on the 1.8-mile St. Petersburg street circuit, posted the second-quickest lap (1:18.9292) of the session. Kanaan’s teammate, three-time series champion Scott Dixon, was third on the time chart (1:18.9662). KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais (1:19.2563) was fourth and first-year Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud (1:19.2782) was fifth.

Fifteen of the 24 drivers were within one second of Kanaan’s quick lap time. Stefano Coletti was caught at 181.335 mph in the INDYCAR Timing & Scoring section data for Turn 8 on the backstretch.

A late-afternoon rainstorm lowered the ambient temperature but suppressed lap times in the brief second session because of a damp track. Eighteen drivers turned laps, led by Power in the No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet at 1:20.1704. Ryan Hunter was second (1:20.2724) in the No. 28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda. A 45-minute practice April 11 is scheduled preceding the three rounds of qualifications.

Fans enjoy the show

Spectators at NOLA Motorsports Park on the first day of on-track action sampled fresh beignets, took a ride on the Ferris wheel that overlooks the final turn, purchased merchandise at the INDYCAR store, and took in the speed and sounds of the Verizon IndyCar Series cars.

Six-year-old Urijah Canoy of New Orleans, wearing a junior-sized firesuit with the race logo prominent on his chest, toured the paddock with his parents and was noticed by many of the drivers. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe compared firesuits and posed for photos.

James Henry climbed to the top of a pit road grandstand to get a grand vantage point of the entire road course during the first session.

“I’m so excited to have IndyCar here,” the Baton Rouge, La., resident said. “I go to the race at Barber (Motorsports Park) and I hope this event is as successful over the next few years as that one.”

Power said the event is off to a good start.

“New Orleans knows how to have a good time and I believe everyone that comes out to the track this weekend will certainly have one,” he said.