Dixon leads opening Indy 500 practice

NTT IndyCar Series championship leader Scott Dixon opened the 104th Indianapolis 500 by posting the fastest lap of the two-hour session for veterans with a 224.047mph lap in his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Speeds crept up in the waning moments of the session as packs of drivers towed each other around the 2.5-mile oval, with Dixon displacing reigning IndyCar champion Josef Newgarden, who turned a 223.188mph lap in the No. 1 Team Penske Chevy. James Hinchcliffe’s No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda was third with a 223.071mph run.

The veterans spent the 11 a.m.-1 p.m. ET outing under warm but overcast skies, and got to work on learning the handling characteristics of the cars with the new aeroscreen fitted to every entry. Although Dixon reached 224mph in a tow, the best lap of the session — without the aerodynamic benefit of having a leading car punch a hole in the air — went to Andretti’s Ryan Hunter-Reay in the 219mph range. With a tow, the 2014 Indy 500 winner posted the fifth-fastest lap (221.884mph).

“Decent start. Just trying to get through some items on the list; we have an extensive list with the condensed schedule,” Dixon told RACER. “Totally new car for me this year with Mike Cannon (as race engineer) and some offseason projects and directions, so first practice (speed) doesn’t mean anything, but we were just trying to get the car feeling good in traffic, and so far that seems pretty good.”

Hinchcliffe was also pleased with how the opening session went with his entry.

“A solid start,” said the 2016 Indy 500 polesitter. “We have a lot of work to do still. A lot of things we want to change and get through. Each car has got their list of things we’re getting through. But a nice, clean start for us.”

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Dramas were kept to a minimum as drivers got up to speed. With 55 minutes left to run, Marco Andretti rolled to a stop at the entry to pit lane, telling the team his No. 98 Honda had suffered an electrical malfunction that shut off the car. After that brief caution period, cars ran to the checkered flag without interruption. Graham Rahal, while rolling into the pits, mentioned something similar happened to his No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, but it did not interrupt the proceedings.

Rookies and veterans needing to complete a refresher run took to the track at 1 p.m. and run until 3 p.m.; the final session of the day, for all drivers, goes from 3-5:30 p.m.

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