Good morning race fans! The Verizon IndyCar Series season has finally commenced with first practice at this year’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the books.
Each rung on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder has had a practice thus far on a chilly mid-50s day in Florida, and USF2000 had their first qualifying session of the year with Jose Sierra of DE Force Racing taking the pole on Cooper Tires this morning.
The cars and stars of the Verizon IndyCar Series took to the track for a 45-minute practice session with each of the 24 drivers posting a lap during the opening stanza of race weekend. A lively session was highlighted by some strong rookie showings, compelling camera shots courtesy of the Visor Cam on Josef Newgarden and Will Power’s helmets, Tony Kanaan’s spin off of turn four and more than a few Dallara IR-18 race cars stepping the rear end out on the streets of St. Petersburg.
Leading the way during first practice was an A.J. Foyt Racing driver – but potentially not the one you would have expected. Rookie Matheus Leist in his No. 4 Chevrolet paced the practice with a best lap time of 1:01.7231 (104.985 mph) with 20 laps completed in the session.
The Brazilian driver has built a bit of momentum early on in this calendar year after a fine showing at February’s “Prix View” test from ISM Raceway in which he and teammate Tony Kanaan showed speed that was absent from the Foyt stable last season. Kanaan himself was 9th-fastest in this opening practice session in his No. 14 machine.
Defending St. Petersburg race-winner Sebastein Bourdais was second-quickest in his Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser/Sullivan entry, sporting a 1:01.7719 lap time with a fast speed of 104.902 miles per hour. Bourdais was the first of five Honda machines in the top six standings with Andretti Autosport drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi directly behind him, while Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and rookie Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Robert Wickens rounded out the top six.
Interesting to note, the Ed Carpenter Racing duo of Spencer Pigot and Jordan King (a rookie in his first official IndyCar practice) slotted in at a respectable 10th and 11th place while rookie Dale Coyne Racing driver Zachary Claman de Melo placed 14th out of the 24 car field. Defending series champion Josef Newgarden was 15th-quickest with a fast lap of 1:02.7667.
Most drivers completed between 14 and 20 laps in the session, with Claman de Melo recording the most circuits at 21.
The Verizon IndyCar Series will be back on track at 3:10 p.m. Eastern with their second 45-minute practice of the day. The practice can be found by visiting RaceControl.IndyCar.com where you can follow along with the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, live video streaming plus timing and scoring.
Make sure to follow Open-Wheels on Twitter as well for up-to-date practice reports and play-by-play information.
Image courtesy of Joe Skibinski and INDYCAR Media.