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Hinchcliffe, Sato lead Grand Prix practice as rain holds off

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Rain held off for the opening day of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and defending champion James Hinchchliffe and Takuma Sato led the two IndyCar practice sessions.

Hinchccliffe turned a top speed of 102.967 mph over the 1.8-mile street course in morning session. Justin Wilson was next, followed by Sato; Will Power and St. Petersburg’s Sebastien Bourdais.

Sato, whose boss, legendary driver A.J. Foyt is in attendance after missing last year’s race, led the second session at 103.578 mph. He was followed by former race winners Graham Rahal and Will Power.

Former Champ Car champion and Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya wasn’t particularly fast in his return to open-wheel racing after seven years in NASCAR. He was 14th in the first session and 18th in the second for Team Penske.

Friday was mostly overcast and windy, with temperatures in the low 70s. The Bay News 9 weather team is calling for an 80 percent chance of rain Saturday, which could impact qualifying, but no rain on Sunday.

Unlike racetracks like Daytona and Indianapolis, road and street courses are safe enough for practice, qualifying and racing in the rain. Crews will mount treaded rain tires on the cars and, barring a monsoon or lightning, the event will go on as scheduled.

Rain isn’t much fun for fans, since there is limited cover around the 1.8-mile downtown course, but watching the cars speed around the course throwing rooster tails of displaced water can be an unexpected treat.

It’s a challenge, to say the least, for drivers.

 

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