Rossi sets pace in Road America opening practice

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisconsin – Alexander Rossi knows how to win at Road America, capturing a pair of junior formula victories at the popular permanent road course nine years ago.

Now driving the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda in the Verizon IndyCar Series, the 25-year-old American displayed his Road America acumen in opening practice today for the KOHLER Grand Prix. Rossi was fastest in the 45-minute session with a lap of 1 minute, 43.3285 seconds (139.849 mph) on the 4.014-mile, 14-turn circuit.

KOHLER GRAND PRIX: Practice 1 results

Rossi won two Formula BMW USA races at Road America in 2008, on his way to the season championship before he ventured to Europe to continue climbing the open-wheel ladder. Rossi returned to North America last year to join Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian in the Verizon IndyCar Series. He was the surprise winner of the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in May 2016.

Simon PagenaudFollowing Rossi atop the speed chart in today's practice were three Team Penske teammates. Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud was second in the No. 1 Menards Chevrolet (1:43.5625), defending race winner Will Power third in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet (1:43.7508) and Josef Newgarden fourth in the No. 2 DeVilbiss Chevy (1:43.7780).

The session also marked the Verizon IndyCar Series debut for Robert Wickens, called in to substitute in the No. 7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda while regular driver Mikhail Aleshin makes his way back to the United States following visa issues that prevented the Russian from leaving France following last weekend's 24 Hours of Le Mans sports car race. SPM officials said Aleshin is in flight to the U.S. now and should be back in the car on Saturday. Wickens, whose fulltime job is driving in the DTM touring car series in Europe, turned 11 laps in the session and ranked 20th of the 21 cars on the time sheet.

A second practice is scheduled for 4:15 p.m. ET today and will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

The lone incident of the opening session came with five minutes to go, when 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay spun exiting Turn 14 – the final corner before the uphill climb on the front straight. Hunter-Reay’s No. 28 DHL Honda made contact with the tire barrier, ending the session early. Hunter-Reay was unhurt.

Verizon P1 Award qualifying is set for 4 p.m. ET Saturday, with NBCSN airing a same-day telecast at 5 p.m. Live race coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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