Hondas rise to top in Phoenix open test night practice

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Drivers stocked with Honda engines and aero kits recorded the six fastest laps of the three-hour evening practice, after Chevrolet drivers nailed down the first four spots in the afternoon session.

Tonight it was Marco Andretti, driving the No. 27 hhgregg Honda for Andretti Autosport, who led the 21-car contingent with a lap of 189.122 mph (19.4541 seconds).

He was followed by another legacy name driver, Graham Rahal, whose best lap was 188.642 mph (19.5036 seconds). Rahal, in the No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, also logged the fastest lap of any driver tonight without benefit of a tow from a car in front, at 188.098.

“It’s always encouraging (to see your name at the top),” Andretti said. “It’s still early but it’s a good start. What I like about it is, you obviously want to be P1, but today we really focused on the car, the car, the car. We just focused on doing our jobs and maximizing whatever we can. And we ended up all right. I have a hunch that the opposition is turned down, but you might as well be there if you can be.”

The contrast in manufacturer showings between the two practices heightens anticipation for tighter competition between the two in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. Chevy collected its fifth straight manufacturers’ championship last year, winning 14 of 16 races and 13 of 16 pole positions.

“I think we’re pleased with the performance today,” said Rahal, Honda’s highest placer in points last season in fifth. “Obviously, we have to take into account that it’s a test, but we worked through a lot of stuff. I don’t think we were necessarily looking for speed to be honest with you, so I was a little bit surprised when we went out right away and did that lap time. We actually backed it up again completely on our own at the end of the session.”

Following Andretti and Rahal on the night session speed chart were: Takuma Sato in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (188.088), defending Phoenix Grand Prix race winner Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (187.944), Sebastien Bourdais in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda (187.702) and Charlie Kimball in the No. 83 Tresiba Honda (187.488).

JR Hildebrand, in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing entry, was the fastest Chevrolet in the second practice at 187.028, backing up his fourth-place showing in the first session (188.543).

Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden, in the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet, set the top lap in the afternoon practice – 190.129 mph – that held up as the best circuit of the day.

“I think we had a pretty good start to today,” said Newgarden, who finished a career-best fourth in the 2016 championship behind the Penske trio who are now his teammates – Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves. “The car was really great off the truck, so we didn't have to do too much. We just got into our program and had a pretty easy start.”

Saturday's final day of the test includes two more sessions, from 3-6 and 8-11 p.m. ET.