Dixon leads opening IndyCar practice at St. Petersburg

Gavin Baker/Motorsport Images

Dixon leads opening IndyCar practice at St. Petersburg


Dixon leads opening IndyCar practice at St. Petersburg


Hits, spins, breakups, and Honda made the headlines during Friday’s opening NTT IndyCar Series session on the streets of St. Petersburg.

On the positive side, the engine builders and tuners at Honda Performance Development appear to have found some added power and torque after Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon led a 1-2-3-4-5 for the brand with his No. 9 entry. Coming off a 2022 event where Chevrolet had a clear advantage, the first session of the new season offered hope that both manufacturers will give each other the business on a more regular basis.

“It’s always fantastic to be here in St. Pete,” Dixon said. “First session was a little mixed. We had some track repairs. The session ran really late but it was a nice and long hour and 15 minute session, which was good. It was a couple of sets of tires for most of the field, but we ended at the top, which was a nice way to start the weekend. Now, the tough part (is) trying to stay there.”

Dixon’s top lap of 1m01.614s edged Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta whose No. 26 Honda was just 0.033s behind. In fact, the entire top five were all on the same tenth as CGR’s Alex Palou (+0.064s), Andretti’s Kyle Kirkwood in the No. 27 Honda (+0.070s) and Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud in the No. 60 Honda (+0.081s) were capped by the Frenchman’s 1m01.696s lap. Owing to Team Penske’s dominance here one year ago, Chevy’s leading performer wasn’t who we expected as Rinus VeeKay served notice of his intentions with the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing entry in sixth (+0.236s).

Penske’s session ended with Will Power as its leading representative in eighth (+0.227s) but that wasn’t the most notable item for the reigning series champions. Defending race winner Scott McLaughlin was the first of the Penske trio to hit the wall, bending his right-rear suspension’s toe link. His No. 3 Chevy crew made quick repairs and sent him on his way, but as the 75-minute session drew to a close, McLaughlin was in the wall again, damaging the left-rear toe link. Soon after, teammate Josef Newgarden clouted the wall with his left-rear wheel, pitted, and climbed from his car as the session reached its final minutes.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing saw Jack Harvey find enough speed to lead the team in 17th, but that was a small consolation as teammates Graham Rahal and Christian Lundgaard also had encounters with the wall. Rahal, in particular, cited significant braking issues as the reason for his trouble-filled session. New pavement applied between Turns 3 and 4 also caused problems; a red flag was needed to inspect the trouble areas and repairs are expected to be performed overnight.

A.J. Foyt Racing rookie Benjamin Pedersen also had a few adventures that left the No. 55 Chevy sitting in a couple of runoff areas.

Of the positive surprises, CGR rookie Marcus Armstrong was ninth in his first official session, and Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Callum Ilott was 12th. Another surprise was the debut for the three-car Arrow McLaren team; Pato O’Ward was fastest as expected, but he was nearly a half-second adrift from Dixon.

It’s going to be a long night for the teams who expected to star on Friday and came up short.

UP NEXT: FP2, 10 a.m. ET Saturday