Rahal sets the pace in St. Pete practice day

The IndyCar Series held two practice sessions for Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with Graham Rahal setting the pace. His best lap was nearly two-tenths of a second faster than his closest competitor. Rahal, who debuted in the IndyCar...

The IndyCar Series held two practice sessions for Sunday's Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with Graham Rahal setting the pace. His best lap was nearly two-tenths of a second faster than his closest competitor. Rahal, who debuted in the IndyCar Series by winning last year's race, toured the 1.8-mile street circuit in 1 minute 3.4078 seconds.

"This morning we came out of the box and we were 10th, and I think some of the guys were a little worked up but we knew that the car was quick," Rahal said. "In the first session we couldn't ultimately get our good lap. We got held up a little bit but that doesn't really matter. In the second session we knew we had a pretty good car. It was all about trying to find some little tweaks that were going to help us in the long run."

Justin Wilson turned 37 laps, three less than Rahal, before setting the second fastest lap of the day. Wilson was Rahal's teammate at Newman Haas Lanigan Racing last year, but the Brit returns to the series driving for Dale Coyne Racing.

"I'm very pleased with the progress," said Wilson. "I think this afternoon is not a true reflection of what we can do or of what everyone else can do because it was pretty messy out there at the end. With 22 cars, everyone is eager to get the season started. So there were lots of little incidents going on out there, but I think we are in good shape and hopefully we can stick it in the top six tomorrow and challenge for that pole position."

Wilson wasn't the only driver exuding confidence as Dario Franchitti turned just nine laps in the morning practice session to sit atop the speed charts. Franchitti turned an additional 18 laps in the afternoon session, ending the day third fastest.

Wilson and Franchitti are just two of several drivers who have changed teams since their last appearance in the IndyCar Series. Franchitti returns to the series after a one year sabbatical to try his hand at NASCAR, while others have returned from the off season to compete with new teams.

Will Power moves to Penske to replace Helio Castroneves, while the Brazilian faces charges of tax evasion. Dan Wheldon has moved from Target Ganassi Racing to compete with Panther in a single car effort. Vitor Meira drove for Panther Racing last year but he has resurfaced with A.J. Foyt in another single car team. Ryan Hunter Reay, who was left without a ride when Rahal Letterman decided not to field a car in 2009, has landed in a second Vision Racing car as a teammate to Ed Carpenter.

Four newcomers join the series for 2009 with Robert Doornbos and Mike Conway at established teams, Doornbos at Newman Haas Lanigan and Mike Conway at Dreyer and Reinbold. Luczo Dragon Racing ran in selected races last season. They return for a full season with 2008 Indy Lights champion Raphael Matos aboard. Stanton Barrett makes his IndyCar debut with a new team, but 3G Racing is comprised of wily veterans including team owner Greg Beck and two-time Indy 500 winning crew chief Owen Snyder.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Graham Rahal , Dan Wheldon , Robert Doornbos , Stanton Barrett , Will Power , Dale Coyne , A.J. Foyt , Ryan Hunt , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing , Dragon Racing , Dale Coyne Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing