By Frank Santoroski, Contributing Writer
Heading into qualifying this afternoon, Penske Racing’s Will Power set the fastest time in the final practice session for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the opening round of the 2016 season for the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Power, a two-time winner of the event, crashed heavily in Friday morning’s practice, and came back to lead the afternoon session which was interrupted for track repairs.
Today’s session went forward without incident, save for a brief red-flag to retrieve the Andretti Autosport Honda entry of Ryan Hunter-Reay, who ran out of fuel on the course.
Power’s fast lap of 1:00.896 seconds (106.410 mph) was the fastest of the weekend thus far, and is a mere .25 seconds shy of the track record. That track record could certainly fall this afternoon as the teams setup their cars with the softer-compound Firestone alternates.
Closely behind Power was the A.J. Foyt Racing entry of Jack Hawksworth. Both Hawksworth and his teammate, Takuma Sato are having a great opening weekend as they have both flirted with the top of the time sheets in all three practice sessions.
Power’s Penske teammates, Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves took the third and fifth positions in the session, separated by Graham Rahal in fourth.
Today’s session saw three Chevrolet cars and two Hondas comprising the top five. Chevrolet has seven of the top ten cars in the combined practice times as the teams prepare for qualifying.
Target Chip Ganassi Driver, Scott Dixon, put up the tenth fastest time today. However, his fast lap on Friday puts him second in the combined standings, and a threat to win the Verizon P-1 Pole award when the knock-out qualifying session takes place this afternoon.
The qualifying groups are as follows:
Group One: Hawksworth, Rahal, Newgarden, Bourdais, Dixon, Andretti, Hinchcliffe, Rossi, Munoz, Chilton and Daly
Group Two: Power, Montoya, Castroneves, Pagenaud, Sato, Aleshin, Kimball, Hunter-Reay, Kanaan, Pigot and Filippi
Qualifying will commence at 3:40 PM EST with a live stream available at www.indycar.com
Image: Josh Chin/Tribute Racing