Dario Franchitti topped the opening IndyCar practice session for this weekend's round at Sears Point.
The Chip Ganassi Racing driver managed a best time of 1m19.427s around the California road course, putting him just 0.136s ahead of his chief title rival Will Power.
The early part of the session had been dominated by Power's Penske team-mate Helio Castroneves, who quickly established himself at the head of the first group of cars to go out. But his hold on the top spot only lasted until the quicker cars took to the track with half an hour remaining; Power immediately moving to the top of the timesheets before being overhauled by Franchitti a few minutes before the end.
Franchitti credited the performance with gains that the team found in testing at the track last week.
"The chance to test was invaluable for us, because the car was pretty bad [at the test]," he said.
"That allowed us to make some big changes, and for me to understand more what I needed to do, driving the car. I'm a lot happier with the car than I was at the test. We'll have to improve the car because the track is going to change, but it was a good start today."
Giorgio Pantano's return to the series got off to a promising start; the 2008 GP2 champion going fifth quickest in the Dreyer & Reinbold entry that he is driving in place of the injured Justin Wilson.
His fellow ex-GP2 racer Ho-Pin Tung began his weekend by going 17th quickest for Dragon Racing.
Meanwhile, Alex Tagliani's afternoon was cut short when he lost control of his Sam Schmidt Motorsports car at the exit of Turn 3 and hit the barriers after completing just seven laps.
Pos Driver Team Time Gap 1. Dario Franchitti Ganassi 1m19.427s 2. Will Power Penske 1m19.563s + 0.163s 3. Helio Castroneves Penske 1m19.664s + 0.237s 4. Scott Dixon Ganassi 1m20.042s + 0.615s 5. Giorgio Pantano Dreyer & Reinbold 1m20.129s + 0.702s 6. Sebastien Bourdais Dale Coyne 1m20.228s + 0.801s 7. Ana Beatriz Sam Schmidt 1m20.251s + 0.824s 8. Ernesto Viso KV 1m20.348s + 0.919s 9. Oriol Servia Newman/Haas 1m20.386s + 0.932s 10. James Jakes Dale Coyne 1m20.421s + 0.994s 11. James Hinchcliffe Newman/Haas 1m20.423s + 0.996s 12. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti 1m20.564s + 1.137s 13. Charlie Kimball Ganassi 1m20.630s + 1.203s 14. Graham Rahal Ganassi 1m20.633s + 1.206s 15. Marco Andretti Andretti 1m20.671s + 1.244s 16. Ryan Briscoe Penske 1m20.695s + 1.268s 17. Ho-Pin Tung Sam Schmidt Dragon 1m20.719s + 1.292s 18. Mike Conway Andretti 1m20.724s + 1.297s 19. JR Hildebrand Panther 1m20.741s + 1.314s 20. Martin Plowman AFS/Sam Schmidt 1m20.787s + 1.360s 21. Alex Tagliani Sam Schmidt 1m20.849s + 1.421s 22. Tony Kanaan KV 1m20.852s + 1.424s 23. Takuma Sato KV 1m20.920s + 1.494s 24. Sebastian Saavedra Conquest 1m20.973s + 1.546s 25. Simon Pagenaud HVM 1m21.609s + 2.182s 26. Danica Patrick Andretti 1m21.634s + 2.207s 27. Vitor Meira Foyt 1m21.723s + 2.297s 28. Ed Carpenter Sarah Fisher 1m23.305s + 3.878s
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