ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.—The 2017 Verizon IndyCar season is officially underway, with care taking the track Friday, March 10, for the first practice session for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Twenty-one cars are entered for the season opener—a dozen from the three powerhouse teams, Penske, Andretti Autosport, and Chip Ganassi, and pairs from Foyt, Schmidt Peterson, Dale Coyne, Ed Carpenter, with a solo entry from Rahal Letterman Lanigan. No new teams for IndyCar opener, and only one new driver, though some drivers have switched teams—and Ganassi has switched engine suppliers.
Penske has picked up Josef Newgarden to replace Juan Montoya, who will move on to sports cars. The other three—2016 champion Simon Pagenaud, 2014 champ Will Power, and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves have stayed with the team/
Andretti still fields 2012 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, and Marco Andretti. New to the team for 2017 is Takuma Sato.
Chip Ganassi has switched back to Honda power after three seasons with Chevrolet. His driver lineup is mostly the same: four-time champion Scott Dixon, 2013 Indy 500 winner Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and a new addition, F1’s Max Chilton.
The only IndyCar rookie on the grid is Ed Jones, the 2016 Indy Lights champion driving for Dale Coyne.
Honda dominated the first practice session with eight cars in the top ten.
Marco Andretti in the #27 Andretti Dallara-Honda turned the quickest lap of the session, 1:03.7559 at 101.638 mph. (The time is slower than last year’s, because the track has been modified.) Ganassi drivers Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon were second and third.
The best-placed Chevrolet driver was last year’s champion, Simon Pagenaud, in the #1 Penske car. Team mate Helio Castroneves was the only other Chevy in the top ten, finishing seventh.
Penske’s Will Power lost the rear end in Turn Ten early in the session and slammed hard into the outside wall. His car was damaged but repairable. He was able to drive back to the pits for repairs and finished the sessions.
The afternoon session starts around 3:15 p.m.