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Castroneves, Rahal Start Fast For Detroit Double

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, June 3 2017

Graham Rahal is enjoying his trip to Detroit, site of this weekend’s IndyCar doubleheader. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

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Helio Castroneves and Graham Rahal swapped top-of-the-chart honors during Friday’s practice sessions for the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, the only doubleheader race weekend on the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule.

After Rahal led the morning’s 45-minute practice and Castroneves ran second, the veteran drivers exchanged spots in the afternoon. Castroneves’ lap of 1 minute, 15.1511-seconds/112.573 mph in the second practice put the driver of the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet atop the combined speed chart for the day.

Castroneves, who is competing in his 20th Indy car season, has more wins on the 2.35-mile/14-turn Raceway at Belle Isle Park temporary street course _ three _ than anyone. The popular 42-year-old Brazilian collected the first of his 29 career victories on the track in 2000.

“When you win your first race ever, you do have good memories,” Castroneves said. “In race-car driving, some drivers’ careers, some tracks are really, really suitable. (At Belle Isle,) probably because the combination with the asphalt, concrete, it suits me really well. It’s extremely important to come out of the truck with the car well set up. I’m very glad we did that again this year.”

Rahal paced the first practice in the No. 15 SoldierStrong/TurnsforTroops.com Honda with a lap of 1:15.3328-seconds/112.302 mph, with Castroneves second. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver came within two-hundredths of a second of his morning flyer when he ran second in the afternoon to Castroneves, the series point-leader after six of 17 races.

“I’m pleased with what we had today,” said Rahal, a two-time podium finisher at Belle Isle, with a second place in 2014 (Race 1) and third in 2015 (Race 2). “It seems like we were very competitive. Trust me, I wanted to be fastest both sessions today, kind of set the tone a little bit, but it was a good day.

“Helio is one of the best, one of the all-time greats. … We give him a lot of crap for being the ‘old guy,’ but we’re all still working hard to keep up. Actually, it gives me a lot of hope that I can be here for a lot longer.”

Alexander Rossi, driver of the No. 98 Andretti Autosport/Curb Honda, ran the third-fastest lap Friday afternoon and third best for the day at 1:15.4323-seconds/112.154 mph before his car spun midway through the session and the rear made contact with the wall in Turn 8.

“It was just loose in entry,” Rossi said. “It’s a weird place to spin, especially on entry, so it just got away from me. I don’t think the car is too bad, but that’s a concrete wall there.”

Takuma Sato, fresh off his victory Sunday in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, was seventh-fastest in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda with a lap of 1:15.5923-seconds/111.586 mph. Sato, first Japanese driver to win “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” will continue to carry Indiana-based Ruoff Home Mortgage on his car into the doubleheader weekend in Motown.

“It was a pretty productive day; it’s nice to be back on a street course,” said Sato, who scored his first series victory on the Streets of Long Beach in 2013 for A.J. Foyt Racing. “It’s quite different, of course, from a superspeedway. After having the most incredible experience of my lifetime the past couple days, I am happy to be back in the car.

“The first session went smooth and the second session was a little bit unusual _ we tried the red (Firestone alternate) tire, but it seems like we lost a little bit of grip. So, we need to go through all the data, but at least the car worked quite positively. I look forward to qualifying and the race.”

Meanwhile, road-racing specialist Esteban Gutierrez _ who spent three seasons competing in Formula One _ made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut by completing 41 combined laps with a best time of 1:18.2289-seconds/108.144 mph. Gutierrez is driving the No. 18 UNIFIN Honda for Dale Coyne Racing as a substitute for Sebastien Bourdais, as the four-time Indy car champion recovers from pelvis and hip fractures sustained in a crash during Indianapolis 500 qualifying on May 20.

“My approach this weekend is to learn,” said Gutierrez, a 25-year-old native of Mexico who contested the 2016 FIA Formula One World Championship schedule for Haas F1 Team. “I’ll take it step-by-step very progressively, no mistakes, just enjoying the experience and the speed will come naturally.

I really enjoy the feeling of driving the Indy car. It’s really natural, you get a lot of feedback from the steering wheel. The track is very bumpy and the track layout is also very interesting with how you enter Turn 1 and then Turn 2 is a very high-speed corner; on a street circuit it’s pretty special.

“Everything is a bit in a rush since I’ve arrived, but I’m going to take it progressively, step-by-step, to try and get into a rhythm and understand the car, especially with the two different tire compounds. Right now it was the first time I used the Firestone reds, so it will be interesting to see how they react (Saturday).”

Qualifying for this weekend’s races will vary from the typical three knockout rounds seen on road and street courses. Instead, 30-minute qualifying sessions will be held for each race. The field will be split into two groups, with each group receiving 12 minutes of track time. The fastest driver overall will be the Verizon P1 Award pole winner for that race, with the fastest driver in the other group also earning a championship point and the race starting position on the outside of Row 1.

Qualifying for the first race starts at 10:20 a.m. (EDT) Saturday (with live stream on RaceControl.IndyCar.com). The 70-lap race will air live on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network at 3:30 p.m.

Qualifying for Race 2 is scheduled to begin at 10:45 a.m. Sunday (RaceControl.IndyCar.com), with Race 2 coverage starting at 3:30 p.m. on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

| , RacinToday.com Saturday, June 3 2017
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