Simon Pagenaud started his second Verizon IndyCar Series season with Team Penske off on the right foot as he rocketed to the top of the timesheet in the first practice session of the 2016 season on the streets of St. Petersburg.
Many teams opted to save tires and allow the track to rubber in as Practice 1 began, making for a quiet circuit during the opening segment of the session.
Jack Hawksworth was the first driver to set a true fast lap with a time of 1:02.7428. Rookies Spencer Pigot, Conor Daly and Max Chilton were the only other drivers to take advantage of the clear track but none were able to top the time set by Hawksworth.
Hawksworth set a final fast lap of 1:01.9649 before pitting as Alexander Rossi took to the track for his first laps in his Indy car debut with much of the remaining field joining him.
Mikhail Aleshin, returning with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports for this year, ran off track twice but the session remained green.
With 40 minutes remaining, Helio Castroneves, Carlos Munoz and Rossi all jumped up into the top 10. Castroneves eventually went all the way to the top with a 1:01.8051 but traded the top spot with Hawksworth who laid down a 1:01.7870.
Hawksworth and Castroneves remained 1-2 with Takuma Sato, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon rounding out the top five with 30 minutes remaining.
Will Power brought out a red flag when he made heavy contact the wall coming out of Turn 9 at the cause of a suspension issue. The driver was uninjured but the track stayed red for 12 minutes. The green flag returned with about 16 minutes to go.
Nine drivers immediately took advantage of the green track with the rest of the field following shortly. Simon Pagenaud jumped up into the top spot with a time of 1:01.7246 where he would remain for the remainder of the session.
Only 0.1488 seconds covered the top five with Hawksworth, Castroneves, Sato and Hunter-Reay following Pagenaud.
Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Juan Pablo Montoya, Charlie Kimball and Munoz rounded out the top ten.
The Verizon IndyCar Series will be back on track this afternoon for Practice 2 with Practice 3 and three rounds of knockout qualifying on Saturday. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg goes green on Sunday, March 13 at 12:52 p.m. EDT.