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The diversity and challenge of the IndyCar Series was on full display for this morning’s opening practice at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix.

Five days removed from competing wheel-to-wheel at more than 200 mph on the iconic 2.5-mile oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 22 drivers took to the 2.35-mile, 14-turn Raceway at Belle Isle temporary street course to prepare for the only doubleheader race weekend on the 2017 schedule.

Graham Rahal set the pace in the opening 45-minute session with a fast time of 1 minute, 15.3328 seconds (112.302 mph) in the No. 15 SoldierStrong / Honda. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver, who finished 12th on Sunday in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, finished ahead of a pair of Team Penske drivers on the time sheet – Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden.

"I'm really pleased with the car," Rahal said. "We'll see how it goes over the weekend, but I felt like I had a couple more tenths (of a second quicker) in there easy. ... That being said, I feel like we're in a pretty good spot. I don't want to get too overconfident here but the car seems to be strong."

Castroneves' best lap in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet was 1:15.4890 (112.069 mph). Newgarden was third in the No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske at 1:15.5384 (111.996 mph).

Takuma Sato, fresh off his historic Indianapolis 500 win, was 12th in the first practice, with a lap of 1:16.1625 (111.000 mph) in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda. Esteban Gutierrez, making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in the No. 18 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing, turned 20 laps and was 21st on the chart with a lap of 1:18.2289 (108.144 mph).


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By taking the checkered flag in the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix at Phoenix Raceway, Pagenaud (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) scored his 10th career Indy car win and the 189th in the illustrious history of Team Penske.

Pagenaud’s teammate Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet) followed the Frenchman across the line by 9.1028 seconds, with Ed Carpenter Racing’s JR Hildebrand (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet) rounding out the podium.

“Those were the longest 50 laps of my life,” said Pagenaud of his final stint, in which he led after assuming the lead on Lap 137 of 250. “I have a button on my wheel that tells me how many laps were left. I kept pressing it. It was stressful.

“The car was phenomenal. It was an incredible day for the Menards Chevrolet. It’s been a fun day. This is incredible. This is my best win. You need to be so strategic to win on an oval and today was the perfect day. I couldn’t be any happier.”

With the win, Pagenaud jumps into the Verizon IndyCar Series points lead after four of 17 races. He and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon (No. 9 NTT Data Honda), who finished fifth in Saturday’s race and is now second in the title hunt, are the only two drivers to finish in the top five in each of the first four races.

Pagenaud’s win notched a pair of additional milestones for Team Penske. It was the team’s 450th race win in any motorsports form and the team’s 100th Indy car win on an oval.

For Hildebrand, it was his first top-three finish since he was second in the 2011 Indy 500 and his sixth career top-five.

“I was definitely anxious to make good on the speed that we had here in preseason testing,” said Hildebrand, who returned this weekend after missing the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama with a broken hand. “Team has a great short oval package. I know that from doing some testing last year.

“Excited to get the result for the team, for sure. The car was bitchin’. I mean, I think at the end of the race we had obviously one of the top three, but I think we might have had the best car on the track.”


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Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso needed about one hour of track time today to pass his rookie orientation test for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500.

“It was fun,” Alonso said during a break on pit road after his No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti car had completed 51 laps just before noon ET. “At this moment, everything looks good. Now it’s time to start the real thing.”

Alonso made quick work of the three rookie orientation phases with 10 laps at 205-210 mph, 15 laps at 210-215 mph and 15 laps at 215-plus mph.

Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti shook down the car, which is painted in classic Team McLaren papaya orange. McLaren is returning to the Indy 500 on May 28 for the first time in 38 years.

Practice for the Indianapolis 500 begins May 15 with qualifying on May 20-21, so the 35-year-old Spaniard has a lot to learn in a short time. He’s still had to juggle F1 commitments, which has meant an overabundance of travel. Alonso was unable to start Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix due to engine issues and will compete in the Spanish Grand Prix next week.

Although he ranks sixth on F1’s all-time win list with 32 victories and celebrated world championships in 2005 and 2006, Alonso hasn’t won a race since 2013 and his interest in enhancing his racing resume will require him to drive faster than ever before at 230 mph down the front straightaway at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A day after preparing in a racing simulator, Alonso said his confidence grew with each passing lap. When the test concluded, shortly after 3 p.m. ET, he had completed 110 laps with a top speed of 222.548 mph.

“I think it’s a good way to start, to build speed,” he said. “It was difficult at (the) beginning to reach the minimum speed. The next stages felt good, not because of the speed but because of the laps. You’re able to fine-tune the lines; upshift, downshift, which gears to use in the corner.

“The simulator is quite realistic. You have the first impression of how it’s going to be. But the real car is a unique feeling. When you have to go flat out in the corner, it’s not the same in the simulator as in the real car.”

Andretti Autosport CEO Michael Andretti, who will field six cars in the race including defending champion Alexander Rossi, liked what he saw from Alonso’s initial experience.

“That was great,” Andretti said. “He did everything he was supposed to do. Now it's time to go play a bit. So far, everything is really perfect. We had one trim we started with, so we have a reference of where we need to go.

“He gets it. He's one of the best in the world and you can see why. He had a little bit of understeer in that run and he adjusted his line because of the understeer. He's the real deal. I think he's going to be really strong this month.”

Three generations of Andretti racers – Mario, Michael and Marco – as well as Rossi and 2003 Indy 500 winner Gil de Ferran were among those giving Alonso advice. Mario won the 1969 Indy 500, Michael has celebrated four Indy 500 victories as an owner in addition to leading the most laps (431) without winning as a driver and Marco was a rookie runner-up in 2006 and is in his 12th season as a Verizon IndyCar Series regular.

“The team has been amazingly helpful,” Alonso said. “Running alone is quite OK. We'll see in the next weeks. So far a good experience. Now is the real deal.”

Marco Andretti said cooler track conditions, with ambient temperatures in the low 50s, combined with Alonso the only driver on track provided an ideal setting for the initiation. Alonso kept churning out laps amid a threat of afternoon showers as darker clouds drifted over the speedway.

“With this level of downforce, this is like race downforce, when there’s no traffic and you’re by yourself, it’s just stuck,” Marco Andretti said. “The front and rear are stuck right now, which is what you want for the first run.”

And what of sorting out the input from so many voices?

“He’ll have to learn by fire from a lot of it,” Marco said. “But he’s asking the right questions.

“He’ll be fine. He’s a race car driver. He’ll leave today pretty confident.”

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Will Power's No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet was riding fine as he enjoyed a Sunday cruise through the Alabama countryside. That was before a punctured tire left the Team Penske driver deflated.

Power led 60 of the first 76 laps in Sunday's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First and was comfortably out front. But with 14 laps remaining in the high-speed road race at beautiful Barber Motorsports Park, Team Penske team manager Jon Bouslog gave Power the bad news over the team radio. Computer telemetry revealed his rear tire was losing air pressure fast.

At first, Power didn't want to believe the team's command and said his car felt fine. He was still running “race pace” and staying well ahead of the second-place car driven by teammate Josef Newgarden. But a lap or two later, the telemetry showed the tire had dangerously low air pressure and Power was starting to feel the car “dribble” underneath him like a basketball.

Power pulled into the pits on Lap 77. He finished 14th and continues to take a beating in the Verizon IndyCar Series points, also sitting 14th in the standings after three of 17 races. When Power climbed out of his car after the race, he was visibly angered by the turn of events but quickly realized there was little he could do about it.

“I couldn't believe it,” Power said. “It was such a great car … such a great car! It had so much pace. I felt the tire going down and then it started bottoming more.

“That's five races in a row starting with Watkins Glen last September that we've had bad luck,” said Power, who started the Barber race from the pole position a record fourth time. “I can't believe how bad of a run I'm having.”

Power was hoping he could “will” the air to stay in the tire, but that was only a dream.

“Oh, man, you work so hard for a day like that and then you don't get it,” Power said. “It's so annoying.

“We definitely have what it takes to win, but I just want a good result. I want to finish without an issue. This is just too much.”

Bouslog didn't want to deliver the bad news to his driver but had to in the interest of safety.

“I feel horrible for Will and these guys,” Bouslog said. “From the very first minute of the practice session (Friday), we were good this weekend. Will was focused, the pit stops were great and the strategy was good with these guys.

“It's gut-wrenching. That's why we stayed out (as long as possible). We wanted to make sure it wasn't a (tire pressure monitoring) sensor but they were convinced it was a puncture. It was a slow leak so Will didn't feel it right away. Unless somebody made a big mistake, it was going to be Will's day.”

David Faustino, Power's longtime race engineer, had set up a fantastic car and potentially a winning strategy. Faustino was also deflated after the race.

“We had the best car, for sure, and we executed well and that's not easy here,” Faustino said. “I was proud of what we did to still be leading on the final stint, be able to pull away and pit and stay ahead and all that.

“It's definitely heartbreaking to come down to a small puncture making the difference in a race like that.”