Four drivers from the Target Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske stables led the time sheets in the opening round of practice for Sunday's IZOD IndyCar Series Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma. After that, it was a crap shoot in the rest of the top 10.
On their third timed laps, both Dario Franchitti and Will Power each jumped to the top of the standings. Franchitti set a time of 1:19.4269, ahead of Power's 1:19.5633. Helio Castroneves at a 1:19.6638 and Scott Dixon at 1:20.0421.
Beyond those four, Giorgio Pantano showed his mettle in his first day of IndyCar practice in six years. The Italian clocked in best-of-the-rest, fifth fastest at 1:20.1292 for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
Proving how tight the field is from top to bottom, Pantano was followed by Sebastien Bourdais in his Sonoma debut for Dale Coyne Racing, Pantano's Dreyer & Reinbold teammate Ana Beatriz and KV Racing Technology-Lotus pilot E.J. Viso.
Oriol Servia (Newman/Haas Racing) and James Jakes (Dale Coyne Racing) completed the top 10. Fifth through 10th were separated by less than 0.3sec around the 2.303-mile Infineon Raceway. All except Castroneves participated in last Thursday's open test at the track, and Power set the fastest unofficial time then at 1:19.04.
“There's no doubt the chance to test was critical for us, because the car was pretty bad,” Franchitti said. “We made some big changes. So far we came out good out of the truck, and I'm a lot happier than I was out of the test. A good start today.”
Power has a straightforward strategy at this stage in the season and weekend.
“The gap can turn around in one weekend, and getting down 70 points would be near impossible to come back from," said the Penske driver. "I just have to keep finishing ahead of Dario, simple as that.”
Two yellow flags halted the proceedings, first for Alex Tagliani losing control past Turn 3, and finally when James Hinchcliffe spun at the last turn with less than five minutes remaining in the session.
Tagliani's afternoon ended early when he spun off in his Sam Schmidt Motorsports car at the exit of Turn 3 and hit the barriers after completing just seven laps
Hinchcliffe, who clocked in 11th, sustained no damage and was pushed off course – although the session resumed with less than a minute left and a number of cars ran off course at Turn 9. None suffered any damage.
Ho-Pin Tung clocked in 17th on his debut for Dragon Racing, while last minute HVM Racing substitute Simon Pagenaud managed 25th using his Schmidt seat and Simona de Silvestro's driving uniform, with the name shortened to just "Simon." Danica Patrick was 26th in her first practice after announcing her official departure to NASCAR on Thursday.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 1m19.427s
2. Will Power Penske 1m19.563s + 0.163s
3. Helio Castroneves Penske 1m19.664s + 0.237s
4. Scott Dixon Ganassi 1m20.042s + 0.615s
5. Giorgio Pantano Dreyer & Reinbold 1m20.129s + 0.702s
6. Sebastien Bourdais Dale Coyne 1m20.228s + 0.801s
7. Ana Beatriz Sam Schmidt 1m20.251s + 0.824s
8. Ernesto Viso KV 1m20.348s + 0.919s
9. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas 1m20.386s + 0.932s
10. James Jakes Dale Coyne 1m20.421s + 0.994s
11. James Hinchcliffe Newman/Haas 1m20.423s + 0.996s
12. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti 1m20.564s + 1.137s
13. Charlie Kimball Ganassi 1m20.630s + 1.203s
14. Graham Rahal Ganassi 1m20.633s + 1.206s
15. Marco Andretti Andretti 1m20.671s + 1.244s
16. Ryan Briscoe Penske 1m20.695s + 1.268s
17. Ho-Pin Tung Sam Schmidt Dragon 1m20.719s + 1.292s
18. Mike Conway Andretti 1m20.724s + 1.297s
19. JR Hildebrand Panther 1m20.741s + 1.314s
20. Martin Plowman AFS/Sam Schmidt 1m20.787s + 1.360s
21. Alex Tagliani Sam Schmidt 1m20.849s + 1.421s
22. Tony Kanaan KV 1m20.852s + 1.424s
23. Takuma Sato KV 1m20.920s + 1.494s
24. Sebastian Saavedra Conquest 1m20.973s + 1.546s
25. Simon Pagenaud HVM 1m21.609s + 2.182s
26. Danica Patrick Andretti 1m21.634s + 2.207s
27. Vitor Meira Foyt 1m21.723s + 2.297s
28. Ed Carpenter Sarah Fisher 1m23.305s + 3.878s