Dixon leads Ganassi charge up front in St. Pete afternoon practice

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ST PETERSBURG, Florida – It appears the growing pains between reunited Chip Ganassi Racing and Honda may be short-lived. Three of the top four cars in this afternoon’s practice for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg came from the Ganassi stable, with four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon (No. 9 GE LED Lighting Honda) leading the way with a fast lap of 1 minute, 2.5591 seconds (103.582 mph).

“Generally comfortable,” Dixon said of his Honda, “in a different rhythm from what I’ve had here previously with the car, just with some fundamental changes we made in the winter.”

FIRESTONE GRAND PRIX OF ST. PETERSBURG: Practice 2 resultsCombined practice results

But for Dixon, today’s result isn’t worth much. After all, Dixon has never won at St. Petersburg, despite three second-place finishes.

“It’s Friday. It doesn’t pay anything, doesn’t mean anything,” said Dixon, whose 40 career Indy car wins rank fourth all-time. “Hopefully what we learned today, we can continue on and help improve the car come tomorrow, and more importantly for the race on Sunday.”

Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) made up for a morning crash by running second fastest (1:02.8416) this afternoon on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit. He was followed by a pair of Chip Ganassi Racing drivers, Tony Kanaan (No. 10 NTT Data Honda, 1:02.8545) and Charlie Kimball (No. 83 Tresiba Honda, 1:02.8748). Sebastien Bourdais (No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda) rounded out the top five with a fast lap of 1:02.9056.

“Yeah, it was a good session,” said Power, who has won the pole at St. Pete six out of the last seven years and won the race in 2010 and ‘14. “Definitely made progress on the car. Great to be here. Great to start the season off.”

The afternoon session saw most drivers bolt on alternate Firestone tires, as part of a new rule delivered by INDYCAR giving teams an extra set of the red-sidewall tires to use in practice.

A single red flag came out early in the session when Takuma Sato made contact with the Turn 13 wall. Sato was uninjured, but the damage to his No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda was too severe for him to continue.

Defending series champion Simon Pagenaud (No. 1 PPG Automotive Refinish Team Penske Chevrolet) finished the session ninth quickest at 1:03.1462 (102.619 mph), as the first 18 cars were covered by less than a second when the checkered flag fell.

Saturday is qualifying day for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Practice 3 begins at 10:50 a.m. ET, followed by qualifying at 2:55 p.m. Coverage can be found RaceControl.IndyCar.com. The 2017 season kicks off Sunday with the 110-lap race, airing live at noon on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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