Dixon believes starting the season at St. Petersburg is a perfect place and the city embraces the event and that has been a great reason for its success.
“It’s one of the best street courses we go to as far as the spectators and being able to put on a good race,” Dixon said. “I can’t think of a better place to kick off the season.”
Team Penske’s Will Power is a two-time Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg winner and a six-time pole winner of the streets of St. Petersburg. He didn’t get to compete in this race last year because of concussion like symptoms after he crashed last year in the first practice.
He also crashed in the first practice this year, but recovered to finish second fastest at 1:02.8416 (103.116 mph) in his Verizon Chevrolet.
“It was about the same lap as I did it last year when I hit the bloody wall again,” Power said. “It was a good session. We made progress with the car and it’s great to be here. It looks nicely mixed up there with Honda and Chevy and that is great for competition so that makes for a very competitive year.”
Power believes the new pavement on the streets is nice and smooth and has set the standard for how street courses should be. He expects the surface to provide great racing on Sunday.
Marco Andretti’s preseason confidence was validated, at least in the first practice, as the Andretti Autosport driver was the quickest at 1:03.7559 around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street course.
The Honda driver was just a tick faster than another Honda racer driven by Tony Kanaan, who clocked in at 1:03.8450. Kanaan’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon was third at 1:03.8798 followed by another Honda driver, James Hinchcliffe, at 1:04.1506.
The four fastest drivers in the first session were in Honda-powered cars.
Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske rounded out the top five as the Chevrolet driver made it around the course in 1:04.2131.
Team owner Michael Andretti is taking a “wait-and-see” attitude about Marco’s fast performance on Friday.
“It’s too early to say,” Michael Andretti said. “He’s been working very hard in the offseason and hopefully we can give him a car. He is capable of doing it if we give him a car. It looks good on paper but we’re not 100 percent happy yet.”
Andretti finished the day eighth on the combined speed list.