Graham Rahal set the pace in first practice for the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio as the Ganassi driver went fastest on the final lap of the session.
The 22-year-old local driver's time of 1m09.603s was some way short of the expected pace (Will Power's pole lap last year was a 1m07.120s) and several drivers commented on the gripless nature of the dusty, unrubbered track. But the Chip Ganassi Racing driver's time was still nearly half a second quicker than next man up, KV Racing's EJ Viso.
"It feels good to start the weekend off this way, for sure," enthused Rahal. "I think we showed the grip is low, but at the end of the day it felt pretty good. I can't complain too much. We're definitely sliding around a lot, but I felt like I had a pretty strong car in the test.
"We didn't change anything at all. We just showed up. We worked with it a little bit in the session, but not much. Nothing big. I was satisfied that we didn't run a second set of tires. I know others around us did and we were still quickest. And that lap wasn't really a good one. I think Dario [Franchitti] was struggling and he was dropping wheels left and right and I was following him. I missed some apexes, but to get the speed out of it feels pretty good."
Rahal was lucky to be in a position to set that time at all, having had to take avoiding action when he encountered Tony Kanaan's KV Racing machine moving across the track on the back straight, forcing the Ganassi car took to the grass momentarily.
Dario Franchitti, who moments before Rahal and Viso posted times had been fastest, was third quickest ahead of championship rival Will Power. Justin Wilson meanwhile, who had been quickest for much of the session in newly-liveried Dreyer & Reinbold car, tumbled down the order to fifth in that final dash.
An upbeat Viso reckoned he ought to have been even quicker: "We could have been faster but a yellow flag came out on the final lap so I wasn't able to complete it," he said. "This result is very important – it shows us that we have a fast car for the weekend, and hopefully we have the control to bring a good result. We certainly deserve it – we have been so close so many times this year."
James Hinchcliffe was another to lose out in the final moments, having been up the sharp end right from the very beginning of the 75-minute session, which was restricted to just rookies and those outside the top 10 in the standings for the first 45 minutes. He ended up an impressive sixth fastest in the first of the Newman/Haas cars.
Edmonton polesitter Takuma Sato was forced to sit out much of the session following an engine failure on his KV Racing machine, while Marco Andretti's car spent much of his session in the garage. Neither man figured in the times. Other incidents included an off for Sebastian Saavedra at Turn 2 which saw him beach his Conquest car in the gravel and spin for Ryan Briscoe on entry to Turn 6.
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Pos Driver Team Time Gap
1. Graham Rahal Ganassi 1m09.6031s
2. EJ Viso KV 1m09.6522s + 0.0491s
3. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 1m09.6936s + 0.0905s
4. Will Power Penske 1m09.7198s + 0.1167s
5. Justin Wilson Dreyer & Reinbold 1m09.7912s + 0.1881s
6. James Hinchcliffe Newman/Haas 1m09.8138s + 0.2107s
7. Scott Dixon Ganassi 1m09.9713s + 0.3682s
8. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti 1m10.0505s + 0.4474s
9. Ryan Briscoe Penske 1m10.1394s + 0.5363s
10. Helio Castroneves Penske 1m10.2027s + 0.5996s
11. Simona de Silvestro HVM 1m10.3522s + 0.7491s
12. Vitor Meira Foyt 1m10.3599s + 0.7568s
13. Tony Kanaan KV 1m10.3686s + 0.7655s
14. Alex Tagliani Sam Schmidt 1m10.3718s + 0.7687s
15. James Jakes Dale Coyne 1m10.4045s + 0.8014s
16. JR Hildebrand Panther 1m10.5981s + 0.9950s
17. Sebastien Bourdais Dale Coyne 1m10.7947s + 1.1916s
18. Charlie Kimball Ganassi 1m11.0650s + 1.4619s
19. Martin Plowman Sam Schmidt 1m11.1767s + 1.5736s
20. Mike Conway Andretti 1m11.4336s + 1.8305s
21. Sebastian Saavedra Conquest 1m11.5791s + 1.9760s
22. Danica Patrick Andretti 1m11.6077s + 2.0046s
23. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas 1m11.6317s + 2.0286s
24. Ana Beatriz Dreyer & Reinbold 1m12.0141s + 2.4110s
25. Ed Carpenter Sarah Fisher 1m13.4975s + 3.8944s
26. Marco Andretti Andretti 1m14.1995s + 4.5964s
27. Takuma Sato KV 1m15.0390s + 5.4359s