Reigning IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon set the pace in Saturday morning practice at Kansas, the first official oval session of the season.
Thanks to his awful start to the year, Dixon was eligible to run in the opening half-hour session for drivers outside the top 10 in the championship and rookies. The Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver topped this segment, and then was able to respond every time he was knocked off first place in the full session that followed.
Helio Castroneves jumped to second for Penske in the closing moments, despite earlier causing the session's only yellow due to a small fire on his car.
Third went to Marco Andretti. The Andretti Green driver had languished at the foot of the timing screens for much of the morning, but surged into contention later on and briefly led the way in the final minutes before Dixon and Castroneves improved.
Completing a strong start to the weekend for AGR, Andretti's teammates Danica Patrick, Tony Kanaan and Hideki Mutoh took fifth, sixth and eighth places, behind Penske's Ryan Briscoe, and split by Dan Wheldon (Panther), who has won at Kansas for the past two years.
The star of the session was Sarah Fisher, who ran in the top ten throughout as her self-run team made the first appearance of its partial 2009 schedule. She eventually took ninth place ahead of Long Beach winner Dario Franchitti (Ganassi).
Vitor Meira held a top five spot for a while in his A.J. Foyt Enterprises car, before slipping to 11th ahead of top rookie Robert Doornbos, as Newman/Haas/Lanigan's Dutch driver made a solid start to his first weekend of oval racing.
Milka Duno was 18th on her return to the championship with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
A 22-car field will go into this afternoon's qualifying session. While Fisher's return has boosted the numbers, Penske has returned to a two-car lineup for now, leaving Will Power as a spectator, and the cash-strapped Conquest Racing team has decided to skip Kansas to focus on what it hopes will be a two-car assualt on the Indianapolis 500.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Scott Dixon Ganassi 25.8137s
2. Helio Castroneves Penske 25.8721s + 0.0584s
3. Marco Andretti Andretti Green 25.8727s + 0.0590s
4. Ryan Briscoe Penske 25.8743s + 0.0606s
5. Danica Patrick Andretti Green 25.8827s + 0.0690s
6. Tony Kanaan Andretti Green 25.9201s + 0.1064s
7. Dan Wheldon Panther 25.9349s + 0.1212s
8. Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green 25.9574s + 0.1437s
9. Sarah Fisher Fisher 25.9647s + 0.1510s
10. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 25.9653s + 0.1516s
11. Vitor Meira Foyt 25.9664s + 0.1527s
12. Robert Doornbos Newman/Haas/Lanigan 26.0339s + 0.2202s
13. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan 26.0395s + 0.2258s
14. Ed Carpenter Vision 26.0649s + 0.2512s
15. Mario Moraes KV 26.0724s + 0.2587s
16. Raphael Matos Luczo Dragon 26.1166s + 0.3029s
17. Mike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold 26.1659s + 0.3522s
18. Milka Duno Dreyer & Reinbold 26,2401s + 0.4264s
19. Justin Wilson Coyne 26.2460s + 0.4323s
20. EJ Viso HVM 26.2960s + 0.4823s
21. Stanton Barrett 3G 26.4225s + 0.6088s
22. Ryan Hunter-Reay Vision 26.5592s + 0.7455s