By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Scott Dixon’s No. 9 GE LED Lighting Honda sped to the top of the morning warmup time sheet in preparation for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
The switch Chip Ganassi Racing made during the offseason from Chevrolet to Honda has paid dividends thus far for the four time series champion as he laid down a lap of 1 minute, 01.9292 seconds (104.636 mph), just over half a second faster than his next closest rival, Helio Castroneves.
Castroneves’ No 3. Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet led a Chevrolet trio that had teammate and defending series champion Simon Pagenaud in third, and 2015 Indy Lights champion Spencer Pigot in a surprising fourth for Ed Carpenter Racing.
However, the biggest highlight was Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Hunter-Reay was approaching Turn 10 behind teammate Alexander Rossi when his rear brakes failed, sending the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner into the three rows of tires in front of the wall.
“It was just a brake failure,” said Hunter Reay. “The brake pedal went to the floor as soon as I hit it, so it looks like the rear brakes failed for some reason. The fronts engaged, but that’s not going to do anything to stop the car, it was brake lock all the way in.”
It’s unclear whether Hunter-Reay will go to a backup car or if the primary will be fixed.
This is not the first brake problem that the series has had. Andretti Autosport teammate Takuma Sato locked up the brakes heading into Turn 13 during the second practice session on Friday while during Saturday’s qualifying, Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais hit the wall in the same turn with a similar problem.
The race goes green at 12:30 PM ET on ABC.