The roar of 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines filled the air with sweet sounds at Phoenix Raceway, day and night, as 21 Verizon IndyCar Series entries turned laps for the first time together in 2017.
The first of a two-day open test for all full-season teams saw Team Penske newcomer Josef Newgarden record the fastest of 2,638 total laps turned on the 1.022-mile oval over the course of two three-hour practice sessions. The second practice came under the lights during the same time period that the Phoenix Grand Prix will take place April 29 on the short oval steeped in Indy car history.
Newgarden, who joins the 14-time Indy car champion Team Penske following five years as a rising star with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing and most recently Ed Carpenter Racing, clocked the fastest lap of the day near the end of the afternoon practice at 190.129 mph (19.3511 seconds) in the No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
Teams focused on race setups and running in packs in the night session, which was led by Andretti Autosport's Marco Andretti in the No.27 hhgregg Honda at 189.122 mph (19.4541 seconds).
"I think we had a pretty good start to today," said Newgarden, who finished a career-best fourth in the 2016 championship behind the Penske trio who are now his teammates - Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves. "The car was really great off the truck, so we didn't have to do too much. We just got into our program and had a pretty easy start."
Second on the combined session speed chart was owner/driver Ed Carpenter, in the No.20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, at 189.990 mph in the first practice.
"It was a good start to the test. We had good cars here last year, and Josef (Newgarden) and I both qualified well and both were a factor in the race." said Carpenter "I made a mistake in the race, otherwise I think we probably would have been on the podium. Coming here, we did a tire test here in the offseason, so we felt pretty good about where we were as a team coming in here, which I think is good for JR (Hildebrand), too, coming in, to make that transition back to fulltime guy a little easier. Chevy does have a good package here and we're thankful for that. But it's a good place for us to start. We have a good handle on this track and hopefully we can keep it rolling."
Defending Phoenix Grand Prix champion Scott Dixon was eighth in the No.9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (187.944) and reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Pagenaud 14th in the No. 1 PPG Team Penske Chevy (186.403).
"It's good to be back in an Indy car." said Dixon "It's been a little while, so it's nice to be out running and obviously back here in Phoenix, fond memories from last year. It's always good to be back at a track that you won at. For us, big changes in the offseason. It's the second time in the Honda-powered car, first time on a short oval, which as we know is maybe not the best package to have. But all in all, it ran fairly smoothly. ... As for right now, the engine feels really good and lap times I thought for what we were doing were actually fairly decent."
Added Pagenaud, "We reset it to zero, so here we are, another year. Last year was fantastic, but we have to use what we learned last year to do even better this year. So I'm very excited. It's the first time that I've had the opportunity to actually capitalize on such a great season, so it was a good test today. Just trying to understand everything that we learned during the winter, going slowly test after test, and hopefully we can put the package together and come back and be strong for the race here."
While drivers running Chevrolet engines and aero kits locked down the top four spots in the first practice, those equipped with Hondas claimed the first six positions in the night practice - led by Andretti, the third-generation Indy car racer.
"It's always encouraging (to see your name at the top)," Andretti said. "It's still early but it's a good start. What I like about it is, you obviously want to be P1, but today we really focused on the car, the car, the car. We just focused on doing our jobs and maximizing whatever we can. And we ended up all right. I have a hunch that the opposition is turned down, but you might as well be there if you can be."
The 21 drivers and teams return for two more practice sessions Saturday, from 3-6 and 8-11 p.m. ET. A video stream of both sessions is available at racecontrol.indycar.com. The day is also open free to the public, beginning at 2 p.m. ET.
Indy cars raced 61 times from 1964-2005 at Phoenix Raceway. Following a 10-year hiatus, the Verizon IndyCar Series returned last year with Dixon leading the final 155 laps to collect the 39th of his 40th career Indy car wins, which ranks fourth all-time.
The Verizon IndyCar Series season begins with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 12 (noon ET, ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network). The Phoenix Grand Prix, on April 29 (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network) is the fourth of 17 races on the 2017 schedule.
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