Helio Castroneves ended the day on top after the second IndyCar practice session at Barber Motorsports Park.
On an afternoon where several drivers enjoyed a stint at the front as the track improved and teams tried different approaches with tires, Castroneves finished up as the benchmark with a best time of 1m08.5540s. He is one of three Penske drivers this weekend, as he and Will Power are joined by open-wheel returnee AJ Allmendinger.
"Obviously with the stoppage in the end a lot of guys probably put on tires, but the car felt pretty good," he said. "With AJ and Will, we've been actually doing a lot of different stuff out there and it seems to be working."
Alex Tagliani was second fastest for Bryan Herta Autosport, just ahead of the morning session's pacesetter Tristan Vautier, his Schmidt teammate Simon Pagenaud, and Power, who had earlier been the first driver of the weekend to drop into the 1m08s range.
Despite his strong start, Vautier was reluctant to read too much into his early pace.
"I think that I still have some room to keep improving, and we need to carry the momentum from today into tomorrow," he said. "It's a lot of fun out here, there's a lot of grip and the track was very fast. You can really enjoy the grip that those tires produce. Especially on fast corners; you can really feel what the cars are capable of."
EJ Viso managed to finish up just behind Scott Dixon with the seventh-best time despite causing a late red flag courtesy of a trip into the gravel at Turn 9, while the encouraging start to Allmendinger's comeback continued with the Penske racer going eighth fastest, although he said the track had changed in character since his test there.
"The track is definitely a lot slicker than the test. Not as much grip out there, but we'll have to see how it progresses," noted Allmendinger. "Overall I thought the session went fairly well. I felt comfortable. We just need to work on the balance of the car and figure out where track is going to go and for me, really, see how that affects what we need to do."
"The track is much slicker now than it was during our open test about a month ago, which made our work cut out during these two sessions," agreed Tony Kanaan. "We did some changes to car and got it going our way by the second session, but there is still a lot of work to do for tomorrow before we get to qualifying."
Rahal Letterman Lanigan's James Jakes (RIGHT) and AJ Foyt Racing's Takuma Sato completed the top 10.
"It was a pretty good session considering we ran one set of tires for the session," said Jakes, who said he "made a mistake on my fastest lap anddid a bit of grass-tracking, so I was quite shocked when we came up with the lap time still.
"You look at the guys that ran one set in that session – although you can't know for sure who did but you think you know – we're pretty happy.
Jakes was 13 places and 0.7sec faster than teammate Graham Rahal on the combined best times.
"We tried to come back here with a setup more like what Mike (Conway) and James (Jakes) ran at the test," said Rahal. "There are a few minor differences but I can't think that those would tip the car over, but we're struggling with the same things that we did at the test. I just can't turn the car – the car is steering me, not me steering it. At the same time, without a doubt we didn't get a new tire run at the end and I will say that on the one lap that I did, up until the point that I went into Viso's gravel, I was up about a half of a second.
"Clearly there is a lot of time there in the tires, A half of a second would move us halfway up the grid at least right now. We haven't made the gains that I am hoping for but we're going to keep working on it."
Combined Friday session best times