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Colton Herta headed an Andretti Autosport 1-2 in opening practice for the IndyCar season finale on the streets of St Petersburg as Scott McLaughlin impressed on his series debut.
Seven months after the season was due to get underway at the track, before the escalating COVID-19 pandemic caused the event to be postponed and rescheduled as the season finale, Chip Ganassi Racing's Felix Rosenqvist was the first driver to duck into the 61sec bracket with a 1min01.8248s lap.
That was soon beaten by Team Penske's Will Power, while a fired-up Sebastien Bourdais soon went second in his AJ Foyt Racing-Chevrolet after outbraking himself at Turn 3.
But it was three-time Supercars champion McLaughlin, making first IndyCar start for Penske ahead of a full-season in 2021, who impressed most after strapping on fresh primaries and all-but matching Power's effort.
Andretti driver James Hinchcliffe had a short-lived spell at the top before his benchmark was beaten by Herta's 1m01.13s.
The session was then red-flagged with five minutes to go, as Rosenqvist spun and stalled heading into the final turn.
The session restarted with just over two minutes remaining, only for series returnee Oliver Askew – passed fit after missing the Indianapolis road course event due to the lasting effects of his Indianapolis 500 concussion – to skate his Arrow McLaren SP-Chevrolet straight on at the final corner and nose into the tyre barrier.
When McLaughlin made a similar error, the session ended under red flags, but the Kiwi still finished the session 10th, 0.546s behind Herta's best.
Hinchcliffe finished the session second, 0.097s behind his team-mate, with Alex Palou third for Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh, as Takuma Sato celebrated his RLL contract extension in fourth ahead of Bourdais.
Championship leader Scott Dixon was one of several drivers, including Andretti's Alexander Rossi who needed his toe-link replacing after tagging a wall.
The Ganassi driver finished the session in 16th, just behind his teammates Marcus Ericsson and Rosenqvist, explaining that his best lap had been ruined by red flags.
The only man who can prevent Dixon taking the title, Penske's Josef Newgarden, finished the session in eighth.
St Petersburg Indycar practice results
|1||Colton Herta||Andretti Harding||1m01.1306s|
|2||James Hinchcliffe||Andretti Autosport||0.0973s|
|3||Alex Palou||Dale Coyne Racing||0.3013s|
|4||Takuma Sato||Rahal Letterman Lanigan||0.3518s|
|5||Sebastien Bourdais||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||0.3847s|
|6||Alexander Rossi||Andretti Autosport||0.4474s|
|7||Rinus Van Kalmthout||Ed Carpenter Racing||0.4822s|
|8||Josef Newgarden||Team Penske||0.4894s|
|9||Will Power||Team Penske||0.4970s|
|10||Scott McLaughlin||Team Penske||0.5464s|
|11||Santino Ferrucci||Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser Sullivan||0.5648s|
|12||Ryan Hunter-Reay||Andretti Autosport||0.5771s|
|13||Oliver Askew||Arrow McLaren SP||0.5916s|
|14||Marcus Ericsson||Chip Ganassi Racing||0.5965s|
|15||Felix Rosenqvist||Chip Ganassi Racing||0.5984s|
|16||Scott Dixon||Chip Ganassi Racing||0.7153s|
|17||Patricio O'Ward||Arrow McLaren SP||0.7418s|
|18||Simon Pagenaud||Team Penske||0.7458s|
|19||Conor Daly||Ed Carpenter Racing||0.7913s|
|20||Marco Andretti||Andretti Autosport||0.8624s|
|21||Charlie Kimball||A.J. Foyt Enterprises||0.9949s|
|22||Jack Harvey||Meyer Shank Racing||1.0382s|
|24||Graham Rahal||Rahal Letterman Lanigan||1.1960s|
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