St. Petersburg, Fla – You don’t get a shiny new trophy or a big bonus check for being fastest in the season opening Verizon IndyCar Series practice session of the year. Heck, most don’t even remember it. But, for Marco Andretti, being fastest in session No. 1 of the 2017 season means as much to him as a race victory.
Andretti, paced the 1.8-mile St. Pete circuit in 1:03.7559-seconds in his No. 27 Honda on Friday morning which was good enough to top the leaderboard among the 21 drivers here this weekend. It was the first time in years that Andretti paced the speed charts on a road/street circuit.
But, for him to be the one sitting on top, it means a lot for how last season went.
“It’s important for us to get a good start in St. Pete this weekend – it will set the tone for the season and we want a strong, positive tone,” Andretti said ahead of this weekend’s season opener. “I’ve been working hard through the offseason, both physically and mentally, and I’m ready to get the year started.”
That was after he talked about last year being the worst he’s ever had in his IndyCar career at the IndyCar Media Day in January.
“I’ve had bad seasons before but I needed last season to be my best and it was my worst,” Andretti said a few months ago. “I’m working hard on the mental side.”
After those thoughts, to be P1 in the opening practice session of the year, it’s a good sign of things to come for Andretti.
It was also very much a good start for Honda’s in general as well. The manufacturer only had two wins and three poles in 2016, but all came on superspeedways. They led just 116 laps on road/street courses and short ovals. With Andretti leading the charge in the opening session for them, two of the four Chip Ganassi Racing cars were behind him in second and third.
Tony Kanaan was second fastest in his No. 10 Honda with a lap of 1:03.8450-seconds while Scott Dixon was third with a time of 1:03.8798-seconds in his No. 9 Honda.
James Hinchcliffe gave Honda a clean sweep of the top four speeds in the first session with a time of 1:04.1506-seconds in his No. 5 Honda.
Defending IndyCar champion Simon Pagenaud was the top Chevrolet entrant as he was fifth overall with a lap of 1:04.2131-seconds.
Honda, had four of the next five spots giving them eight cars in the top 10 on the speed charts.
Also, for the second straight year, Will Power crashed in the opening session of the IndyCar season, as he lost control of his No. 12 Chevrolet in Turn 10 and got into the outside wall. Luckily, it wasn’t as severe as last year’s crash in Turn 9 of the season opening practice, as Power was able to drive his Team Penske entry back to pit lane after the accident and his crew was able to fix the car and help him return in the same session.
In the second and final 45-minute practice session this afternoon, Honda was dominant once again. This time, Dixon led the way with a lap of 1:02.5591-seconds. Dixon, has never won at St. Pete, so after being third and first respectively in the two sessions, he’s obviously a favorite to land in victory lane on Sunday.
After crashing in the first session, Power was second in the second practice session with a lap of 1:02.8416-seconds. He’s won five of the last six poles here, so to be quick again, makes him a pole contender tomorrow.
Dixon’s Ganassi teammate Kanaan was third fastest (1:02.8545-seconds) as he was second and third respectively today. Another Ganassi car in Charlie Kimball was fourth overall in the second session (1:02.8748-seconds). He was eighth in the opening session.
Sebastien Bourdais (1:02.9056-seconds) rounded out the top five.
Honda’s once again were fast taking four of the top five spots again and six in the top eight. Chevy’s did close the gap a bit though with six cars in the top 12 overall.
Also in the final practice, Takuma Sato who was on his first lap on the track, got into the final turn too hot and locked up his brakes. He couldn’t slow in time and got into the outside wall in his No. 26 Honda. He’s sustain heavy left side damage as a result of the incident early on in the second 45-minute long session.
The series will have a practice session tomorrow morning from 10:50-11:35 am before qualifying for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Pete (12 p.m. ET/ABC/INDYCAR Radio) at 2:55 pm ET.