Joe Jennings, IndyCar correspondent
Even though wet and cold conditions prevailed throughout much of the day at Long Beach, 20 of the 26 IZOD IndyCar Series entrants did get to make laps during the first day of practice for Sunday’s Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, the 38th edition of the famed street race.
On dry tires for a few laps, Marco Andretti led the way with a speed of 91.737 miles per hour around the 11-turn, 1.968-mile course. He drove the Team RC Cola Chevrolet fielded by Andretti Autosport. In total, he completed 11 laps.
With Chevrolet power, Andretti is one of 11 drivers losing 10 spots on the starting grid due to the manufacturer changing all of its engines after a problem cropped up during a test at the Infineon Raceway earlier this week.
... there will be some interesting strategies and should make for a fun race.
“The (engine) change is the dark cloud, and we tried to get as much of a feel on the dry parts of the circuit as we could,” he said. “I think we are close; we will see what happens in the next practice. It (engine change) is hindering and demoralizing, especially if you have a pole car. It will be tough, and there will be some interesting strategies and should make for a fun race.”
Second fastest of the day was Takuma Sato in the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. His speed was 90.895 mph.
“There were tough conditions out there,” Sato said. “It was too dry for the wet tire and too wet for the dry tire, due to the conditions. We wanted to make sure our set-up was approximately what we wanted. Initially, we put on wet tire and when there were quite a few dry lines, we decided to put on a dry tire and I did 2 ½ laps before I spun in a wet spot. It was a shame that no one could run later on. It is difficult to predict qualifying tomorrow as we had such a short practice session.”
Mike Conway, the 2011 race winner, had the third fastest speed of 90.553 mph while driving the ABC Supply Co./A. J. Foyt Racing Honda.
Tony Kanaan and J. R. Hildebrand were fourth and fifth fastest.
St. Petersburg winner Helio Castroneves timed ninth fastest with Barber victor Will Power deeper in the pack, in 13th.
Sebastian Bourdais, in 11th on the speed charts, was the fastest of the Lotus-powered entrants, but he, too, experienced an engine change and loses 10 spots on the starting grid. Two other Lotus drivers, Katherine Legge and Oriol Servia, also were caught up in the engine-change process.
Said Bourdais, “It is always a big challenge to approach race weekends without needed track time.”
Regarding the engine change, the three-time Long Beach winner stated, “I would not have changed the engine; it seemed to be running fine. They (Lotus) looked at it and saw something that they didn’t want to see. And what’s the fairness in penalizing the driver for doing nothing wrong but a lot of us are in the same boat right now. We all understand the rule, but the rule is not doing what it was meant to do.”
Rain fell early in the morning and stopped during the mid-morning practice session. Later on, the storms returned with intensity, all but washing out the scheduled afternoon practice runs.
Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon were the only two drivers to take practice laps in the afternoon with the former splashing around the course at a slow speed while Dixon ended up in the first turn fence after aquaplaning through water that had pooled in that area.
Morning incidents involved Simona de Silvestro hitting the tire barrier in turn 8 and Sato spinning around in turn 10 after making light contact with the wall.
On Saturday, the IndyCars will practice in the late morning and will qualify at 5 p.m. ET. Sunday’s race will be telecast by the NBC Sports Network at 3:30 p.m. ET.