On opening day of practice at St. Pete, Takuma Sato placed third and then first, respectively, in the opening two practice sessions. (Photo: Getty Images)

placed third and then first, respectively, in the opening two practice sessions at St. Pete. (Photo: Getty Images)

Takuma Sato was third fastest in opening practice in St. Petersburg this morning, then was able to move up two markers during second practice, topping the timing sheets by 0.05 seconds over . Will Power got the top spot for Chevrolet, again, in third.

For Rahal, in particular, this is a promising sign to a particularly eventful week in which the team’s hauler caught fire and discussions brewed about a potential ride swap with NASCAR driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr. The American confessed earlier in the week that qualifying pace has been hindering him, and so this fast pace early on in practice is a promising sign for the 2008 St. Pete winner.

“For us to be that competitive right off the bat feels awesome,” says Rahal. “I’ve got to say most of all I am proud of these National Guard guys because it was only 48, maybe 72 hours ago that we had a big trailer fire and our guys did an incredible job getting everything switched back over in Indy.

“When I strap into the car, I can smell smoke; it covered everything. For us to be in the position we are in says a lot about the people we have.”

Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud were able to move up from their opening practice times also, pushing last year’s St. Pete winner, James Hinchcliffe, off the top marker from practice one and down to sixth. However, judging from his post-practice tweet on Twitter, Hinchcliffe still has a positive vibe heading into the rest of the weekend:

 

 

Jack Hawksworth took away fastest rookie honors from Carlos Munoz in the latest practice session, lapping the 1.8 mile circuit just half a second slower than Sato.

“Coming into the race weekend, we have had a couple of solid tests and I think we should be in pretty good shape to start the season,” said Hawksworth, who has won in Pro Mazda and Indy Lights the past two years at St. Petersburg.

“The track is quite short, low grip but still technical. We’ll have to work hard and execute a clean weekend, but if we can do this then we’ll be in with a shout.”

Meanwhile, former CART Champion and Formula 1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya has had a difficult start to the weekend, placing 14th in opening practice and dropping down to 19th in second practice.

“Obviously we wanted to be a little further up the speed charts, but we knew it was going to be a learning process,” says the Columbian. “This is my first time on this circuit so we had to guess a little bit on the setups. Unfortunately we unloaded pretty far off.”

With one practice session and qualifying left to go tomorrow, there is still plenty of work to do for some teams before Sunday’s race at 3 p.m. ET.

Combined practice results:

  1. Takuma Sato (14) – 1:02.5615
  2. Graham Rahal (15) – 1:02.6122
  3. Will Power (12) – 1:02.6443
  4. Helio Castroneves (3) – 1:02.8178
  5. Simon Pagenaud (77) – 1:02.9129
  6. James Hinchcliffe (27) – 1:02.9326*
  7. Justin Wilson (19) – 1:02.9385*
  8. Ryan Briscoe (8) – 1:03.0142
  9. Scott Dixon (9) – 1:03.0510
  10. Sebastien Bourdais (11) – 1:03.0671
  11. Jack Hawksworth (98) – 1:03.0793
  12. Ryan Hunter-Reay (28) – 1:03.1796
  13. Carlos Munoz (24) – 1:03.1814
  14. Mikhail Aleshin (7) – 1:03.2045
  15. Josef Newgarden (67) – 1:03.2846
  16. Tony Kanaan (10) – 1:03.3067
  17. Charlie Kimball (83) – 1:03.3812
  18. Marco Andretti (25) – 1:03.4077
  19. Juan Pablo Montoya (2) – 1:03.4624
  20. Mike Conway (20) – 1:03.6336
  21. Sebastian Saavedra (17) – 1:03.8422
  22. Carlos Huertas (18) – 1:04.3481

* = fastest time set in first practice

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