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Saturday, March 27, 2010

IndyCar Race Preview: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

The IZOD IndyCar Series runs its first stateside race of the season this Sunday on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be run as an IndyCar event for the sixth time. Ryan Briscoe won the event last year.

Briscoe has been fast in two out of three practice sessions, posting the third-quickest time in sessions 1 and 3. The biggest story of the young season, however, continues to be his Team Penske teammate, Will Power. Power, coming off a win in Brazil two weeks ago, has paced the field in all three practice sessions, and will clearly be fast in the upcoming race. In the second session, his best lap was an astounding seven tenths of a second faster than the next car. Power almost seems like a lock to take home the checkered flag this weekend, based on both practice speeds and momentum carried over from two weeks ago.

Over the three practices, nine cars besides Power's have turned laps good enough to put them in the top five in at least one session. None, however, have been up there in all three sessions, or nearly as consistent as Power. The Chip Ganassi Racing teams, as well as Penske's other cars, have also been fast most of the time. Other than Penske, only Ganassi has had a car in the top five in all three sessions, but neither individual car has been fast in all three.

A surprise towards the top of the charts in the third session was E.J. Viso, whose lap of 1:02.3615 was good enough for second place in the session, about a quarter of a second behind Power. Viso was sixth in the second session as well, a marked improvement from his first session pace, where he was a second and a half off the pace. Viso's best career IndyCar finish came at St. Petersburg in 2008, when he placed fourth.

As for the Firestone Indy Lights cars, Martin Plowman paced the field in the Friday's practice session in preparation for tomorrow's race. He was followed in that session by James Hinchcliffe, who was about .12 seconds off the pace. On Saturday, however, they swapped spots at the front of the field, with Hinchcliffe holding a .16 second advantage over Plowman. Look for the two, widely viewed as the top contenders for this year's Indy Lights title, to battle for the win this weekend.

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