Will Power dug himself a hole by crashing in the first practice session for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The Team Penske driver redeemed himself by soaring to the top of the leaderboard in the second session.
Power’s lap of 1 minute, 0.9431 of a second (106.329 mph) was best among the 22 Verizon IndyCar Series drivers competing in the 2016 season opener on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit by Tampa Bay. The lap came within three-tenths of a second of the track record Power set last year on his way to winning his fifth pole position at the track.
On just his fifth lap of the first practice, Power crashed his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet entering Turn 9, the car sustaining heavy right-side damage when it hit the wall. Power reported to his crew that he was adjusting the car’s brake bias with one hand when it hit a bump and he lost control, forcing the crew to hurriedly repair it between sessions.
“Definitely a bad start,” admitted Power, who won the St. Pete races in 2010 and 2014, “but full credit to the guys to get the car back out there, get some laps, get my head around the track and so on.
“Yeah, it was a good session. (We) ran in circles with the setup, but P1, pretty happy.”
Scott Dixon, the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series champion, was second fastest for the day at 1:00.9573 (106.304 mph) in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet. Dixon has finished second at St. Petersburg three times but never won here.
“Today, (I’m) pretty happy,” said Dixon, fifth on the all-time Indy car wins list with 38. “St. Pete is a bit of a thorn in our side. Second practice, we made some wholesale changes and pretty good gains.
“I think the car has some good potential, which you can see,” Dixon added. “Hopefully we can carry that through to tomorrow (for qualifying). Definitely for us it’s always a tricky track. It’s Friday. Obviously Sunday is the day that counts. Hopefully we can start near the front and make the most of it and have a strong start to the season.”
Simon Pagenaud, Power’s Team Penske teammate who led the first practice session, was third in the afternoon at 1:01.1796 in the No. 22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet. Honda-powered drivers scooped up the next five spots on the leaderboard, led by Graham Rahal in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda (1:01.2924).
The afternoon session was halted for nearly 40 minutes for repairs to the track surface in Turn 3. The Holmatro Safety Team and track workers patched the areas with high-quality, quick-setting concrete, allowing the practice to resume for 40 minutes.
A third practice session is scheduled for 11:55 a.m. ET March 12, with knockout qualifying including the Firestone Fast Six session to decide the Verizon P1 Award for the pole starting at 3:40 p.m. The 110-lap race – the 13th on the city street circuit that also utilizes a runway of Albert Whitted Airport – is set for March 13 (12:30 p.m. ET, ABC).