ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Friday, March 22, 2013) - That Will Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay were at the top of the time chart on the opening day of preparations for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg wasn't a surprise. After all, they dueled for the IZOD IndyCar Series title in 2012.
Power, who has earned the pole at St. Petersburg the past three years, led 25 drivers with a best lap of 1 minute, 1.4467 seconds, while Hunter-Reay, the reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion, checked in second at 1:01.6252.
De Silvestro, driving the No. 78 Nuclear Clean Energy car with Chevrolet power, had a best lap of 1:01.6895 on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit. It was a welcome result for the Swiss driver after a frustrating 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season.
"It's a big difference. Last year we came in here and we knew it was going to be a struggle, and this year we come after a really good Barber test and it showed right away," said de Silvestro, whose career high of fourth came at St. Pete in 2011 (one spot behind new teammate Tony Kanaan).
"Even this morning I thought we were pretty quick even if we still have a little bit of work to do on the car. It's definitely a relief to know we can be fast and we can be right up there with the other guys."
In all, 18 were within 1 second of Power. His best lap was only seven-hundredths of a second off his pole-winning speed of 1:01.3727 last March.
Also on March 22, Schmidt Peterson with Curb-Agajanian driver Gabby Chaves topped the time chart in the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson with Curb-Agajanian car through a pair of 45-minute practice sessions with a lap of 1 minute, 6.8431 seconds (96.943 mph).
Chaves' teammates Jack Hawksworth, the 2012 Star Mazda champion, and Sage Karam had similar experiences on the first day of the event. Driving the No. 77 car, Hawksworth was second quick at 1:06.9466 (96.794 mph). Karam, who placed third in the Star Mazda championship race in 2012, was third quick (1:07.1713) in the No. 8 car.
A 45-minute qualifying round is scheduled for 9:25 a.m. (ET) March 23 for the 45-lap race at 3:40 p.m. later in the day.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 1 DHL Chevrolet): "It feels great to be in the first official (IZOD) IndyCar (Series) session of the year. It's still early days. We've only done a total of five runs so far between the two sessions. The guys have done a great job in the offseason, the car has a lot of grip in it, but we just need to refine it a bit. We need to make it work for the drivers where they need it. We're struggling a little bit coming off the corners, so we know there's lap time there. We know where it is. We just need to go get it."
SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Nuclear Entergy Areva KVRT Chevrolet): "It's a big difference. Last year we came in here and we knew it was going to be a struggle, and this year we come after a really good Barber test and it showed right away. Even this morning I thought we were pretty quick even if we still have a little bit of work to do on the car. It's definitely a relief to know we can be fast and we can be right up there with the other guys."
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet): "It was a great day for the Hitachi Chevrolet, we were able to find some speed and improve the car from the first session to the second. The Team Penske guys did a great job as always so we feel good for tomorrow and hopefully the weather holds up so that we can keep getting better."
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "Practice wasn't so great. We had a couple of issues with the car not starting and some other mechanical things that just kind of happened. Not the start we wanted to have for the Target team this weekend but we'll work on getting it right for qualifying tomorrow."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "The Target car felt reasonable. It was actually better than it was in this morning's session. It just didn't have the speed in it we're looking for. It looks like we're going to have a busy night."
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Honda): "It was a good practice. The weather is changing and it got hotter so the track is coming in inconsistently so everyone is going quicker all the time. The way the tires are spec'ed for the weekend, we had to be a little careful, because we're going to start on that set tomorrow. I feel pretty happy with today's result. We're working on our program and we have a plan coming in. We had good momentum heading in and we're making good progress so I think we'll be in good shape tomorrow for qualifying when it all counts."
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda): "We had a good practice session, practice one. It was great for us, made a lot of head way. I think we were relatively competitive, and know where we need to be. Learned a lot in that session and got a good direction and I think we had a good starting package just in general. Session two was starting well. I think we would have been fine. We obviously had a little bit of an issue that hindered us so we'll get this sorted out for tomorrow and hopefully we didn't lose too much from this, which I don't think we did. We still got a good direction on the car I think we had a good starting point so, tomorrow shouldn't be too bad for us. It feels great to be back in the car, I love the atmosphere in St. Pete. There's so many fans, they always get a ton of fans here. So, I'm excited, I'm just excited to be here. I know my engineers pumped up, all the guys on the team are pumped up. It's just good to get the year started off."
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda): "We were much better in the afternoon session than this morning. We made lots of improvements. We're still not where we want to be, but we're searching for information. I think we have a good idea though of what we need to do to improve. I need some help from the car when I'm turning. It doesn't want to point where I want it to when I go into the turns. We'll work on it tonight and I'm sure we'll be ready for tomorrow."
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "Andretti is right on the pace. Their two drivers: (James) Hinchcliffe and (Ryan) Hunter-Reay are no question going to be right there all year. Ganassi, I think, it's an engine thing, but I guess we will see when qualifying comes, I think that's when everyone knows where everyone stands and hopefully they're not good." (About possibly breaking the track record): "Just the year of development. The engine manufacturer got a bit more power, and just through the development, we get a little more downforce and a lot of grip. I think the power needs to climb and the grip can stay the same." (About the good start to the weekend): "This is normal. We expect to be at the front and we are always disappointed if we are back because we have the team to do it. We're not doing our job if we're not."
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "It was much improved over our first day here last year. We still have a lot of cars in front of us and that is frustrating. But the gap is much tighter this year. We learned a lot today and we made some good changes. Of course, we tried a lot of things and some were good and some bad. But that is what the first day is all about. I think we left some time out on the track in both sessions today. So I think we can get some more out of the car on Saturday. We have a chance to move up the grid for qualifying. It just feels good to be back in the cockpit and back racing again. It has been a long winter."
JUSTIN WILSON (No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): "The Sonny's Bar-B-Q Honda wasn't as quick as we'd have liked today. We made progress in both sessions, so I'm pleased with that, but obviously we've got more to do. We want to be challenging for the Firestone Fast Six tomorrow and at the moment we're 16th, so we've got 10 spots to make before we get to that point, and that's before we think about pole. We're still trying to understand this new Firestone tire for the street circuits this year. But we'll keep working at it - we made some good improvements this afternoon, so hopefully we can make some more overnight and break into the next group tomorrow."
ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 98 Barracuda Racing Honda): "Obviously it's not where we wanted to be but I feel confident that we're going to find something because the car doesn't feel good. I'm not concerned because the lap times are very representative of where I feel the car is. It's not like it feels good and we don't know why we're there. As soon as the car feels better, we'll jump back up in the timing sheets and it won't take a lot to get there. I'm eager to get back there. Our car felt so much better in various races last year and we'll find that feeling again. We're experimenting with the new Firestone tires, and we need to adapt to the construction and compound. Until we find that better pace, we're going to keep trying."
TRISTAN VAUTIER (No. 55 Florida Lottery c/w Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): ""Today was a big change for me doing my first official practice session in the big cars after coming from Firestone Indy Lights. The car moves more, and there's more power, so it's a lot more work. You have to work really hard to put everything together. I think we did alright though and we'll try to keep making progress tomorrow. Our second session today was much better than the first, so we want to keep that trend going tomorrow. It was a lot of fun though!"
TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Honda): "It was a very productive day for us. The first session the ABC Supply car was a little bit outside of the balance that we wanted but we made a good improvement over the lunch break and the car felt much better in the afternoon. We tested a couple things and got some good information so hopefully tomorrow we can make another step forward."
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Midas/Big O Tires Honda): "Overall we made a ton of progress today. We were 1.5 seconds faster than we were this morning while everyone else gained one second. Of course there is still more time to be found and we have to figure out how to improve the car further. A couple of tenths (of a second faster) puts you in the top 10 and that's what we need to work on. We're not out of the ballpark but we've got to get the Midas/Big O Tires a little bit better."
JAMES JAKES (No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda): "It's been a pretty good day; I can't complain. It's only my second day on track with the team so we've just got to take things step by step. I think that if we can iron a few small things out with the car, we will be right there for the race. With the weather looking bad for Sunday, qualifying will be very important and also helpful to stay out of the trouble in the back. Our weekend is looking pretty good so far."
E.J. VISO (No. 5 Team Venezuela/Andretti Autosport/HVM Chevrolet): ""We had a pretty good morning finishing fourth - it was a good performance for the team. There were three of us in the top four so that's telling us that we have some good fundamentals in the car. In the second session we tried experimenting with some other changes which we ended with the conclusion that they were not the way to go. So today the plan is to regroup the whole team and start making some decisions for tomorrow based on the experiences that we acquired today during the two practice sessions."
ORIOL SERVIA (No 22. Panther DRR Chevrolet): "It feels good to have our name up there. It was a legit time, we only used one set of tires. This morning, I thought we were on a good path with the car, we just needed to tweak it and be able to match the track. We just need to keep it up and be fighting for the pole tomorrow and a win on Sunday. It just feels so good to be in the game and know it's in our reach."
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 25 RC Cola Chevrolet): "I think we are within striking distance, which is all I can ask for on day one. A half second is a lot, but at the same time it's not. Obviously a half second is 10 positions, but a half second is easier to find. I've made improvements on myself. The direction and set up that Ryan (Hunter-Reay) has is what we will take for the RC Chevy towards qualifying and into the race on Sunday."
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet): "Overall it was a pretty good day for the Go Daddy car. We unloaded with a fairly strong setup, and this morning the track was really great. Everybody was kind of blowing the cobwebs out and getting used to the circuit again. One of the great things about having four cars is that we can try a bunch of different things, and now we get to take the best developments off each of the four cars and put them all together and try to make a strong package for tomorrow."
TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Hydroxycut KVRT-SH Racing Chevrolet): "Man, I couldn't wait any longer for the season to start. It was so cool to see all the fans coming into the track in the morning, and also all the cars on track. Today it was a good first day for us with both KV cars running up front in the charts. I still want to find a little more grip to be comfortable with the car for Sunday's race, but I believe that we had a good start for the weekend."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 7 Dragon Racing Chevrolet): "It was a bit of a tough day for us. We are still trying to understand the changes with the Firestone tires. We are not sure where we need to be heading, but we are going to take a close look at the data this evening and see how we can generate more grip."
SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA (No. 6 Dragon Racing Chevrolet): "We struggled a bit on our first outings today at St. Pete, but we are going to work hard tonight to see what changes we need to make for tomorrow's final practice before qualifying. We need to focus on finding the right pace for qualifying and the race in tomorrow morning. It's been an interesting day to see where everyone is finishing in the practice sessions today with the new tires."