By: Tanner Watkins
No, you didn’t read this morning’s headline incorrectly: another rookie is off to a fast start in the season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. During today’s first practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Felix Rosenqvist led the field of 24 drivers.
Continuing with the offseason’s testing trend, Honda drivers dominated the morning session with only two of the top 10 competitors driving Chevrolet machines. All “best” lap times were set on the Firestone primary compound tire.
As mentioned above, Rosenqvist topped the charts with a best lap of 1m1.8125s, a couple tenths of a second quicker than Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay at 1m2.0636s. Another NTT IndyCar Series rookie – though not a rookie to open-wheel racing – made his mark this morning as Marcus Ericsson was third-quickest for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at 1m2.0811s.
First practice’s “Fast Six” featured another Chip Ganassi Racing driver (Scott Dixon, 1m2.1309s), another Andretti Autosport driver (Alexander Rossi, 1m2.1470s) and a strong showing from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato (1m2.1571s).
Sato’s Honda teammate, Graham Rahal, had a slight brush of the wall during first practice but did not sustain major damage.
The first sign of Team Penske came with Josef Newgarden at seventh-quick (1m2.1740s), followed by Will Power (P10, 1m2.2758s) and Simon Pagenaud (P12, 1m2.3094s).
Defending race winner Sebastien Bourdais was P11 in his No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda with a best time of 1m2.2884s. The top ten drivers were separated by a mere four tenths of a second from top to bottom, and all the way down to 23rd (Max Chilton), the teams were separated by less than a second.
Ben Hanley came in last at 24th as his DragonSpeed team attempts to get up to speed. His best lap time was his final lap of the session at 1m4.9341s. The freshman IndyCar Series driver had a near-miss during morning practice as he slowed on-track, nearly colliding with an at-speed Takuma Sato for a breathtaking moment.
The NTT IndyCar Series hits the track again at 2:20 p.m. Eastern for second practice ahead of Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The session will last 45 minutes and will run at a similar time of day to tomorrow afternoon’s qualifying session.
All sessions will be streamed live by NBC Sports Gold’s “IndyCar Pass” as well as the IndyCar Radio Network.
Header image by Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR.