Series Friday report

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St. Pete

POWER TOPS OPENING DAY AT ST. PETERSBURG

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Friday, March 25, 2011) - Will Power, who won five road/street races last year - including the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg - on the way to a runner-up finish in the IZOD IndyCar Series driver championship, topped the speed chart on the first day of practice for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg with a lap of 1 minute, 3.3759 seconds late in the hour-long afternoon session on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course.

Dario Franchitti, the reigning series title-holder, was second with a quick lap of 1:03.5180 in the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry.

There were 16 drivers, however, within one second of Power's No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, including Mike Conway in the No. 27 Team Godaddy entry for Andretti Autosport. Conway, who was third (1:03.6660), is making his first start since being injured in the Indianapolis 500 last May.

Ryan Briscoe (1:03.7214), the 2009 race winner, was fourth overall and Scott Dixon (1:03.8734) fifth. Two-time event winner Helio Castroneves (1:03.9049) was sixth quick.

Marco Andretti, four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais (making his IZOD IndyCar Series road/street debut with Dale Coyne Racing), Tony Kanaan (making his debut with KV Racing Technology-Lotus) and Danica Patrick (celebrating her 29th birthday) filled out the top 10.

Also on March 25, Anders Krohn and Conor Daly set the early pace in practice for the March 27 race on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit. Both competed in the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear last year on the racetrack.

Krohn, driving the No. 9 Liberty Engineering Racing Special for Belardi Auto Racing, had a quick lap of 1 minute, 9.0371 seconds in the hour-long session. Daly had a best lap of 1:09.1544 in the No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry.

DAY 1 NOTES:

The IZOD IndyCar Series will compete in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, a 100-lap race at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. The Firestone Indy Lights series will compete in the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, a 45-lap race at 10:30 a.m. Sunday. The Star Mazda Championship and USF2000 National Championship - part of the Mazda Road the Indy ladder system - are also racing this weekend. Star Mazda will race at 4:10 p.m. Saturday. USF2000 will compete at 5:20 p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

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Live timing and scoring reports from the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg are available on the Internet at www.indycar.com. The live timing and scoring module provides statistical information, including track segment speeds, lap information and much more.

Feature stories, reports, driver quotes and notes, and photos will be posted on the site each day. More detailed information, including media advisories and VNF coordinates, is available at media.indycar.com.

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Drivers will have 240 seconds total of the Honda overtake assist at their disposal during the 100-lap Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday. Each press will have a horsepower boost for 12 seconds, with a 10-second recharge period between presses built into the ECU.

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ABC will broadcast the first of its five IZOD IndyCar Series races this weekend. Marty Reid and Scott Goodyear will be the announcers.

ABC's schedule also includes the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, marking the 46th consecutive year that "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" will air on ABC, as well as events at The Milwaukee Mile, New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Reporting from the pits will be Rick DeBruhl, Jamie Little and Vince Welch. For the Indianapolis 500, former race winner Eddie Cheever will be an analyst with Reid and Goodyear in the booth for the third year. Jerry Punch returns to Indy as a fourth pit reporter. Brent Musburger will host the Indy telecast.

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Happy birthday: Andretti Autosport driver Danica Patrickcelebrates her 29th birthday March 25 (today). She has been running at the finish in 33 consecutive IZOD IndyCar Series races. She broke the series record at Infineon Raceway in 2010.

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Bourdais returns to adopted hometown: Sebastien Bourdais will drive the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America car for Dale Coyne Racing on road and street courses this season, starting with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Bourdais lived in St. Petersburg while competing in Champ Car from 2003-07, and he led the first lap of the 2003 race on the St. Pete circuit.

"My hometown is Le Mans (France), and to win there is very important to me," said Bourdais, who won four consecutive Champ Car titles. "But winning here in the States is equally as important, and I want to thank Dale for the impressive effort he is putting forth in what is a very competitive series."

For the second consecutive year, the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America car will represent the more than 4 million members of the world's largest youth organization.

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Race day tour: Helio Castroneves and Team Penske will host a group of about 40 local underprivileged children on race day as part of Shell's "Fuel for Success" program.

Castroneves will meet with the "Castroneves Crew" and take them on a tour of the Team Penske garage at 9:30 a.m. The No. 3 Guidepoint Systems car will also carry a Castroneves Crew logo this weekend, honoring the names of three police officers that recently were killed in the line of duty.

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New tire spec for street circuit: Firestone Racing has new specifications for both its primary and alternate tires for the season-opening Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. That's coupled with the new IZOD IndyCar Series rule of only one set of tires per segment of road/street course qualifications.

The primary Firehawks consist of the same tire construction as the 2010 St. Pete primes, paired with an improved tread compound formula.

The alternate tire program, part of the IZOD IndyCar Series since 2009, has a spec with the same construction as the primary but with a softer tread compound that provides more grip and faster lap times, yet trades off compound durability in exchange for those shorter-term advantages. Firestone's alternate tires are easily identified by the red sidewalls.

Teams are free to use their tire allotment (six sets of primaries and three sets of alternates per entry) as they see fit, though the new rule limits cars to one set of tires (team choice of primary or alternate) for each of the three segments. Also, per series regulations, all cars must use at least one set of primary tires and one new alternate set during the race, each for a minimum of two green flag laps.

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Twenty uses of Honda overtake assist:The system employed by Honda Performance Development is an ECU software alteration that is activated by the driver via a button on the steering wheel and provides an extra 200 RPM (about 10 horsepower) to the Honda Indy V-8 engine. Parameters are updated before each race weekend to meet the circuit layout.

For the 1.8-mile street course, 20 uses of 12 seconds each will be available. There is a 10-second recharge period between uses.One overtake assist push is available for the warm-up session on race morning.

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Older but wiser: Johnny O'Connell glanced to his left and right and laughed.

"I was racing before some of their parents met," the SCCA World Challenge GT driver said during the welcome luncheon for the race weekend.

The eight-time Sebring 12 Hour class winner was referring to 16-year-old Zach Veach and 17-year-old Spencer Pigot -- USF2000 drivers who shared the stage at the Vinoy Golf Club.

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McIntosh can walk to work: USF2000 driver Shannon McIntosh recently relocated to St. Petersburg and lives about a mile from the circuit. She plans to walk to it one day, just so she can say she did it. "It's going to be the racing capital of the world," she said of the weekend event.

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New rides for the Wilsons: Justin Wilson and Stefan Wilson have will ride AeroCat bicycles as part of their fitness training and support AeroCat in a number of initiatives to promote the company's high-performance bike lines.

"Cycling is a big part of my life and I can't wait to get some miles on my new R509," said Justin Wilson, driver of the No. 22 entry for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing. "There are some clear synergies between what AeroCat does and the world of IndyCar racing. We all share the same design and performance values and we all use a lot of carbon fiber. Stefan and I are both looking forward to working with AeroCat and promoting their brand."

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Yacaman could clean up: Gustavo Yacaman was the only Firestone Indy Lights driver to remember his driving shoes for media photos on set-up day in St. Pete. Consequently, others borrowed his shoes for the shoot.

Charging rent crossed his mind. "I'm driving the remainder of the season on them," he said.

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Saavedra makes first non-oval start: Conquest Racing kicks off its 10th year in Indy car racing and 15th overall (five years in Indy Lights) with rookie Sebastian Saavedra, who will be making his third IZOD IndyCar Series start but his first on a street course. He competed in three Firestone Indy Lights races on the circuit, with a best finish of second in 2009.

"We had a good test a few weeks ago at Sebring and again at Barber so I'm confident going into the first race of the season," Saavedra said. "I don't want to create expectations for myself because the level of competition in the series is very high and I know it won't be easy. I just have to focus on myself and soak up as much experience as possible, all while doing the best I can."

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Markers and milestones: With a victory this season, Helio Castroneveswill extend his streak of consecutive seasons with a win to 12 consecutive seasons. Castroneves needs four earned poles to reach 40 in his Indy car career. With one earned pole, Castroneves will extend his IZOD IndyCar Series record of consecutive seasons with a pole to 10.

With his next victory, Dario Franchittiwill tie Johnny Rutherfordfor 10th on the all-time Indy car list with 27. He needs one earned pole to reach 25 in his Indy car career.

Tony Kanaanwill attempt to make his 132nd consecutive start, the active leader among IZOD IndyCar Series drivers. Scott Sharpholds the series record with 138. Jimmy Vasserholds the all-time record of 211.

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Selected quotes from Danica Patrick availability:

About her expectations in INDYCAR each week:

"Well I think that there's also a time in the IndyCar Series, too, to have expectation levels so that I find myself in a good mood all weekend. I think for me, going to oval races that is definitely the goal [to run up front and win] and it's definitely the goal on road course, as well."

About her strategy to achieve her expectations

"There are so many good drivers that I think once you get into the top tiers of speed, anything can happen. But it's hard to get there, so for me the goal will be getting out of the first round of qualifying and getting into the top 12. I think that should be a goal for this weekend for me and then to just let the race run."

About her past results at St. Petersburg:

"I mean, I've never really been fast here, unfortunately, but I've had OK results, 6th or 7th , so it's not like my results have been awful. It's just seeing what comes to me in the race.

About how to better her results here and make it to the head of the pack

"It's always been a track position kind of a series on road courses because it's difficult to pass. Perhaps with the new rules like they are and the double-file restarts, that maybe some things will be different and maybe there will be some opportunities to make more passing happen, which would be great. That's the reason why I think it's a good decision to do that."

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The top 11 laps of the day all were turned in the second session. Twenty-three drivers turned their best lap in the second session.

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Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta were teammates at then-Andretti Green Racing from 2003-2005. In May, Wheldon and Herta will be reunited in an effort to win the 100th anniversary running of the Indianapolis 500 in a Bryan Herta Autosport-prepared car.

"It goes without saying that Dan knows his way around the Speedway," said Herta, co-owner of the team with longtime race engineer Steve Newey. "He has achieved a tremendous amount of success there and all of us have high expectations going into the month of May. As a former teammate of Dan's, I appreciate what he brings to the table with his professionalism, determination and attitude. I couldn't be more excited. We have a strong and experienced team in place and our goal is to give Dan everything he needs to capture his second 500 win."

Wheldon became the first Englishman since Graham Hill in 1966 to stand in Victory Circle at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and he's followed with runner-up finishes in 2009 and 2010 with Panther Racing. Overall, he's had five top-five finishes in eight starts. Herta, who turns 41 on May 23, made five starts in the '500' with three top-10 finishes.

"I'm really excited to be joining Bryan Herta Autosport for the centennial running of the Indianapolis 500 and I'm excited to announce this news in my hometown of St. Pete," said Wheldon, 32, who on March 19 celebrated the birth of his second son, Oliver. "Bryan has been a friend - and a teammate - for a long time now and because of that I have the utmost confidence in him and his team to provide me with the tools to win my second Indy 500."

Wheldon has amassed 15 victories, 42 podiums and 61 top-five results in 131 IZOD IndyCar Series starts, and has been the championship runner-up twice (2004,'06) in addition to his '05 title.

"Going into the month of May, I think we stand in a very good position," Wheldon added. "At this point, I won't be a full-time IndyCar participant this season, but I don't think we will be at a disadvantage having not raced in the first four races of the season because they are not on ovals; they are running on road and street courses.We will have plenty of preparation time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and paired with the fact that Honda always supplies us with reliable engines, I think we'll be able to hit the ground running. I'm really excited about this opportunity and can't wait to get to Indy."

Bryan Herta Autosport will announce details of the program in April.

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A refueling safety interlock system designed to reduce the potential for pit fires was unveiled before the first IZOD IndyCar Series practice by American Honda and its Honda Performance Development subsidiary.

The system, the first in open-wheel racing, includes a fuel-probe sensor and corresponding electronics in the Engine Control Unit and Gearbox Control Unit. The system prevents first gear from being engaged in the paddle shift system while the refueling hose is still attached to the car in the pit lane.

Dallara Automobili has included the system into the IndyCar Safety Cell it is designing and producing for the start of the 2012 season. Crews and drivers tested it during the Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park last week.

"Every year, as a result of human error or mechanical malfunction, there are instances of drivers leaving their pit boxes while the refueling hose is still attached to the car," said Roger Griffiths, HPD's technical director. "All of these incidents create the potential for a fire in the pits and injuries to the driver, crew members, or others in the pit lane area.

"It was just such an incident - one that resulted in serious injuries during an American Le Mans Series race in 2008 - that led to the development of this system. "

When the sensor detects a connection between the pit lane refueling nozzle and the buckeye, software in the ECU signals the GCU to hold the transmission in neutral and prevents the driver from leaving before the refueling hose is detached from the car.

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In response to the recent events in Japan, IZOD IndyCar Series driver Takuma Sato has launched a direct support campaign entitled "With you Japan" to help the victims of this tragedy.

"With you Japan" will engage in a number of fundraising events over the coming weeks and months starting with a joint initiative involving all the IndyCar drivers. At the season's first race, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday, March 27, drivers have agreed to donate a pair of race gloves for auction. Gloves were chosen because they symbolize the hands of friendship between the USA and Japan.

Ultimately, this support scheme will directly benefit children affected by the disaster some of whom now face rebuilding their lives from scratch having lost their family, friends and home. For them, the amount of care, counseling and love they will need cannot be imagined.

Gathering his fellow IndyCar drivers in St Petersburg, Takuma will take possession of the donated gloves and thank everyone for their support.

Additionally at the St Petersburg race, Takuma will carry the "With you Japan" campaign message logo on his KV-Lotus race car and helmet, and has asked other drivers to do the same where possible.

"It is just so devastating and heartbreaking what has happened," Sato said. "Japan is suffering. People there are suffering so much. Children are going through a terrifying situation. I am personally supporting a few campaigns but since I am competing in the IndyCar series, I want to do something to support Japan from America. Now is the time that we need to walk and support hand in hand. This "With you Japan" campaign is going to do several projects and hopefully make a difference."

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske, fastest of the day): "I was very surprised to be P1, honestly. I think I had a bit left in me to show in the Verizon Team Penske car. It was not a very good session for me, but it's going to be a long weekend. The Verizon car is good, but you can see the competition is getting closer. Now we just have to managed the gap. I think it will be very tough to get in the (Firestone) Fast Six (Saturday). It's going to be unbelievably close." (About early practice session trouble): "I just apexed the wall and ruined a tire. It was still quick."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, 2nd fastest): "We were really making a lot of big changes today, a lot of changes. Had we been closer at Barber we would have done them there. The Team Target car is pretty good actually. The driver is a little bit rusty. I'm probably about eight tenths right now. I'm going to go back and work with the guys tonight and see what we can come up with tomorrow."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing, fifth-fastest): "I think we are in pretty good shape today. It's a good start for the Target guys. We were happy with our morning session and opted to wait to go out for a bit this afternoon. Looking forward to tomorrow."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Guidepoint Systems Team Penske, sixth-fastest): "Overall, it was a good day for the Guidepoint Systems car. We keep improving and keep getting more data from our teammates - Will and Ryan. At least we finished in the top six at the end of the day. We want to keep moving up the time charts and we'll try to keep doing that tomorrow."

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 Team Venon Energy, seventh-fastest): "The second practice session wasn't as productive as we had hoped for the Venom car. We had a good start this morning and made some good changes from the first session to the second session but didn't find the positive changes we needed during the second session. We'll think over things tonight and get back at it tomorrow."

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Levemir and NovoLog FlexPen): "Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing had a couple of good practice sessions today. We made a lot of improvements to the No. 83 Levemir and NovoLog FlexPen Honda Dallara towards the end. We already know the direction we're going in tomorrow and continue to check things off the list.

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 38 Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing): "The Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing team ran really well today. I think we would've posted faster times if we ran new tires towards the end of the session. The team made the right adjustments to the No. 38 Service Central Honda today. I feel confident heading into qualifying tomorrow.

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 02 Newman/Haas Racing): "My engineer Bruno (Couprie) and I were discussing the progress today and determined that it was just like at the Barber test. When we started the day, I wasn't super happy with the car for the conditions of the track and also I wasn't happy with how I was driving either. We didn't panic and in the second session the track came to us and I started to drive better. We were a lot better than the timesheets show and we will try to prove it tomorrow. I am very happy with the progress we made through the day and am looking forward to tomorrow."

ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins/Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "It's been a challenging day, obviously. We've been struggling with the brakes quite a bit. The brake pedal is going long and somehow we have lots of rear lock-ups in the car. It doesn't allow us to attack the car and track like we want because of the braking. The balance of the car can be fixed, but right now we have so much rear lock-up on entry (into a corner) that our cornering is screwed before we even get in the corner. It's challenging because of that. We did some interesting changes this afternoon, and we learned what direction to go tomorrow. We'll continue to funnel things down and get the best out of qualifying tomorrow. We have a lot of great guys, and I have no doubt by qualifying tomorrow we'll be strong. This is still the same St. Pete. It's bumpy. There are crowns in the road and all the usual challenges of a street course. That's why, when you have a little issue like this (braking problem), it makes it really harder to attack because you're making the corner a lot more challenging."

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda): "We had a lap good enough for P5 with the DHL/Sun Drop car and then I clipped the right rear tow link, and bent it. With these street circuits, it only takes a mistake of a couple inches and that was enough to sideline us for the rest of the session. We had a good car this morning and we just need to go back to that. Everything looks good."

MIKE CONWAY: (No. 27 Team GoDaddy.com): "I'm fairly happy with that. We were just trying to get through a lot of things, but it was difficult with the yellow flags and so on. But, the GoDaddy.com car has worked well since we got here. It's just a case of chipping away at it every day to get some more speed out of it. I think we've got some good things to try tomorrow morning. We'll try to do our homework tonight and come out a bit stronger tomorrow."

SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Nuclear Clean Air Energy HVM Racing): "I'm happier with the second session. We improved the car a little bit and everything is going great with my new engineer. We're starting to understand each other - I think it's clicked a little more this time. We'll probably have a long night of work tonight but I think we'll be good for tomorrow."

JUSTIN WILSON (No. 22 TranSystems Dreyer & Reinbold): "It was an interesting day. It's not quite the performance we wanted. I felt that we could have been a little bit quicker than that. We haven't quite got a grip on the car and I feel like we are one change away from having a really good car, but we keep trying a few different changes and I haven't found that one change yet.

ANA BEATRIZ (No. 24 Ipiranga Dreyer & Reinbold): "Our goal for today was to keep improving. I know this track and I've done well here in Indy Lights, the difference this time is it's in an IndyCar and it's so much faster. In each session I've just worked on getting up to speed and finding more time every session and every outing. I'm just trying to keep improving and tomorrow we will see how it goes."

TAKUMA SATO (No 5 KV Racing Technology - Lotus): "I like the atmosphere of the race season finally starting and it's a nice feeling to be back in the KV Racing Technology - Lotus car. We have not been on a street circuit since last July in Toronto, so the first session was good fun and I started to get my rhythm back. As the track conditions improved during the second session we struggled a bit with the balance of the car. The good thing is that we split the program between the drivers so we have a lot of data to work with tonight."

E.J. VISO (No. 59 PDVSA - KV Racing Technology - Lotus): "It feels great to be back with the KV Racing Technology team especially now that we are starting this relationship with Lotus. Today has been a productive day for the team. We made good progress with our setups. The morning session was a good one, I finished eighth and I was running as high as fifth, but during the last minute something happened with the car and we brushed the wall. In the second session, the car felt solid at the start of my run, but unfortunately, I went a little wide heading into the last corner and got into the dirt. I couldn't stopped the car and hit the tire barrier which damaged the front suspension, ending my session. I believe, as a team we are in a good position, so I am looking forward to tomorrow's qualifying, it should be a good one."

RYAN BRISCOE (No. 6 IZOD Team Penske): "We had a good day today and we have a good starting point with the IZOD Team Penske car. We did a little fine-tuning, but we didn't need any big changes. The car is fast, so we won't do anything drastic, but we will try to find a little more speed for qualifying tomorrow afternoon. I'm glad to be back to work and I'm looking forward to the race on Sunday."

FIRESTONE INDY LIGHTS PRACTICE QUOTES:

ANDERS KROHN (No. 9 Liberty Engineering Racing Special, first): "It is a great start with a new team and a new series - it was a lot of fun out there. I know it is only practice but it is good to see we are in the ballpark. I think we have a lot of improvement in the car -we can do much better in the turns. Both myself and the car can improve. I am glad we started so well we just need to stay at the top tomorrow during qualifying and for the race. It was fun today. A good start for everyone, that's for sure. The Firestone tires were great - the last lap I ran was my fastest - they were very consistent the whole run."

CONOR DALY (No. 77 Mazda Road to Indy/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, second): "

"I'm very happy with the car at the moment. With just a few changes, we should be in a good position tomorrow. As long as we can keep a clear track in front of us, we should be able to keep it toward the front tomorrow. When you want to enter a competitive series like this, you want to be with the best guys. The Sam Schmidt Motorsports guys are definitely the best in the business and it's fantastic to be with them. They know what they're doing. I'm comfortable to learn all I need to learn in their environment."

VICTOR CARBONE (No. 3 Nevoni Sam Schmidt Motorsports): "It was pretty good today. I'd never been to this road course before. So, I just trying to build up and gain confidence. We will continue to work hard and tomorrow hopefully do better."

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 11 Robo-Pong/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, eighth fastest): "It went just Ok. There was a lot to take from the session. We got a lot of data and a lot of visual experience out there, especially for myself. We've got a lot of time still. We have another 45-minute session tomorrow and a lot of time to sort through the data tonight. We'll look at all that, and I think we'll be right there with those guys tomorrow. The circuit is really cool. I mean, I like the walls and the fact it is a real street circuit. It's very fun to drive and a good bit of grip for a street circuit as well. I'm enjoying it. I'm really excited for the race."

ESTEBAN GUERRIERI (No. 7 Lucas/Sam Schmidt Motorsports, third fastest): "The times are not what count right now. Having a good feeling with the track and the car is what should be the main point. We achieved that. We were quite good on the pace. I tried to be consistent with the minimum changes we made. I think it was all very positive. The course is really fun. I think with a little more grip after the sessions tomorrow, it will be a lot more fun."

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The 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season opens with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 27 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 12:30 p.m. (ET) by ABC. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 145 and Sirius channel 212 and www.indycar.com. The 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season opens on the streets of St. Petersburg on March 27.

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Series INDYCAR , INDYLIGHTS
Tags indycar, power, st. pete