Dan Wheldon led the way for Panther Racing as the IndyCar Series' Texas weekend got underway with floodlit evening practice on Thursday night.
Like most of the frontrunners, Wheldon set his best time (a 24.2744-second lap) very early on, and then spent most of the night focusing on race preparation as drivers simulated the type of slipstreaming pack racing that will dominate Saturday evening's race.
This proved too close for comfort for Wheldon at one stage in the closing minutes when he brushed wheels with KV Racing's Mario Moraes as the Brazilian tried to go around his outside. Wheldon pitted as a precaution but his car had escaped damage.
Danica Patrick took second for Andretti Green Racing, ahead of Penske's Ryan Briscoe and Ganassi duo Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon.
Helio Castroneves completed the top six in Penske's second car, with Graham Rahal continuing his strong oval form in seventh for Newman/Haas/Lanigan. His teammate Robert Doornbos had been fastest in the opening half-hour session reserved for rookies and drivers outside the championship top 10.
Milka Duno (Dreyer & Reinbold), Alex Tagliani (Conquest) and Sarah Fisher (Sarah Fisher Racing) all made their first appearances since Indianapolis, and it was Duno who fared best – her ninth place on the timesheets one of her best ever IndyCar performances.
Tomas Scheckter, who drove Duno's No. 23 entry at Milwaukee last weekend, has stayed on with the team in the No. 43 machine used by John Andretti at Indianapolis. That gives Dreyer & Reinbold a three-car line-up for Texas, with Scheckter and Duno alongside full-season driver Mike Conway. The latter missed much of tonight's session while a fuel pump problem was cured.
Only 23 cars took part in practice, but the field will be up to 24 tomorrow when 3G rejoins the fray with veteran Jaques Lazier in place of Stanton Barrett. The team is present at Texas but opted not to participate in tonight's running.
The session ran without drama, only a single yellow for a track inspection interrupting the evening. Another practice hour follows on Friday afternoon before qualifying.
Pos Driver Team Time
1. Dan Wheldon Panther 24.2744s
2. Danica Patrick Andretti Green 24.3759s + 0.1015s
3. Ryan Briscoe Penske 24.4023s + 0.1279s
4. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 24.4272s + 0.1528s
5. Scott Dixon Ganassi 24.4311s + 0.1567s
6. Helio Castroneves Penske 24.4411s + 0.1667s
7. Graham Rahal Newman/Haas/Lanigan 24.4510s + 0.1766s
8. Tony Kanaan Andretti Green 24.5033s + 0.2289s
9. Milka Duno Dreyer & Reinbold 24.5295s + 0.2551s
10. Marco Andretti Andretti Green 24.5470s + 0.2726s
11. Hideki Mutoh Andretti Green 24.5550s + 0.2806s
12. Ed Carpenter Vision 24.5702s + 0.2958s
13. Robert Doornbos Newman/Haas/Lanigan 24.5964s + 0.3220s
14. AJ Foyt IV Foyt 24.6387s + 0.3643s
15. Raphael Matos Luczo Dragon 24.6587s + 0.3843s
16. Alex Tagliani Conquest 24.6757s + 0.4013s
17. Sarah Fisher Fisher 24.6785s + 0.4041s
18. Ryan Hunter-Reay Vision 24.7087s + 0.4343s
19. Mario Moraes KV 24.7088s + 0.4344s
20. Justin Wilson Coyne 24.7108s + 0.4364s
21. Mike Conway Dreyer & Reinbold 24.7477s + 0.4733s
22. Tomas Scheckter Dreyer & Reinbold 24.7796s + 0.5052s
23. EJ Viso HVM 24.7915s + 0.5171s
24. Jaques Lazier 3G