Dixon tops disrupted first practice at St.Pete

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By Luke-John Buckle

Scott Dixon topped first practice at St.Pete for Chip Ganassi Racing ahead of Colton Herta and Kyle Kirkwood.

The top two were ultra-competitive separated by just under a tenth of a second in the season opening session.

Pato O’Ward lacked ultimate speed for Arrow McLaren SP and ended up in P11 just ahead of British driver Callum Ilott.

At the green light a flurry of cars joined the circuit for first practice including the reigning champion Will Power and Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Ilott for an installation lap.

Benjamin Pederson set the first representative time of the session with a 1:05.8286 for A.J Foyt as the 23-year-old made use of the extra set Firestone Primary tyres, given to him for being a rookie.

The Danish driver subsequently caused the first red flag of FP1 after damaging his front wing.

He was able to return to the pits after a small stoppage with an hour remaining and occurred a 5 minute penalty for Saturday’s qualifying session.

The four rookies and Santino Ferrucci had St. Pete to themselves as the other 22 cars sat in the pits.

Marcus Armstrong topped the timesheets with a 1:04.1360 ahead of Sting Ray Robb and 15-time Argentinian Touring Car champion Agustin Canapino.

Two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves joined the circuit for Meyer Shank Racing and slotted into fifth place, prior to the sessions second red flag for minor track repairs.

The session resumed with just under an hour left on the clock and plenty of cars left the pit lane.

Kirkwood soon drive to the top of the timesheets for Andretti Autosport ahead of last years winner at St. Pete Scott McLaughlin and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.

The times continued to tumble as Alex Palou set the quickest time, a 1:02.2118 ahead of Felix Rosenqvist and Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson.

Kirkwood and Grosjean usurped the Spaniard with 45 minutes to go as multiple cars struggled putting the power down during first practice.

Simon Pagenaud spun and stalled at Turn 4 causing a red flag. The Frenchman sat 15th after getting his car restarted and driving away.

O’Ward took advantage of a quieter track and set lap times for Arrow McLaren SP but complained of bottoming out in his number 5 car.

The Mexican driver floundered outside the top 10 before improving to ninth place with a 1:02.6046.

Turn 4 continued to be troublesome at St Pete as Power ran into the runoff area in a harmless, minor error.

David Malukas went into second place with 26 minutes to go, setting a 1:01.8613, two tenths slower than Kirkwood’s 1:01.6851.

Pederson locked his front-right tyre at Turn 10 and went into the run-off area. The Danish driver struggled to get going as the clock ticked down.

Christian Lundgaard hit the wall at Turn 3 damaging his left rear suspension with 15 minutes remaining, the Danish driver sat in P22 in his second outing at St. Pete.

The 2021 champion Palou went quickest, going marginally quicker Kirkwood with a 1:01.6790 in the final stages of the session.

Dixon improved to P1 with a minute to go, ahead of Herta and topped the session with a 1:01.6145.

It was a very messy session for Team Penske as McLaughlin and Newgarden damaged three toe links between them in a scrappy, messy session.

Photo: Penske Entertainment | Chris Owens