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Trackside Update: Practice on the Streets of St. Pete

3.22.13 – The streets of St. Pete were a bustle today as the IZOD IndyCar Series and all three steps of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder kicked off the 2013 racing season. Each series took the track today for two practice sessions each and the Andretti Autosport stable showed strong all day.

In the IZOD IndyCar Series, reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay showed he is ready to defend the No. 1 as he posted the fastest time in today's morning session and recorded a P2 time in the afternoon.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti and E.J. Viso showed the same strength, all running inside the top 10. Canadian driver of the Chevy, Hinchcliffe, finished the morning session in the second position.

"Overall it was a pretty good day for the Go Daddy car," Hinchcliffe said. "We unloaded with a fairly strong setup, and this morning the track was really great. Everybody was kind of blowing the cobwebs out and getting used to the circuit again. One of the great things about having four cars is that we can try a bunch of different things, and now we get to take the best developments off each of the four cars and put them all together and try to make a strong package for tomorrow."

Marco Andretti knows his RC Cola Chevy is dialing in on the desired setup.

"I think we are within striking distance," he said, "which is all I can ask for on day one. A half second is a lot, but at the same time it's not. Obviously a half second is ten positions, but a half second is easier to find. I've made improvements on myself. The direction and set up that Ryan has is what we will take towards qualifying and into the race on Sunday."

E.J. Viso, the newest driver in the Andretti IndyCar quartet, showed right away that he is ready to compete alongside his new teammates, finishing the morning session P4 after running in third for a better part of the morning.

""We had a pretty good morning finishing fourth – it was a good performance for the team,." said Viso. "There were three of us in the Top Four so that's telling us that we have some good fundamentals in the car. In the second session we tried experimenting with some other changes which we ended with the conclusion that they were not the way to go. So today the plan is to regroup the whole team and start making some decisions for tomorrow based on the experiences that we acquired today during the two practice sessions."

In Firestone Indy Lights drivers Carlos Munoz and Zach Veach posted times of P4 and P7, respectively, in the combined results for the day.

"Practice is the time to really show up, and I think that we have a really good car here," said Veach. "In the first session we were P3. I think that we found a lot of solid speed for the amount of miles that we put in today. We have worked on a really great race setup, and we will really show our hand in qualifying tomorrow. This could be a really good weekend for us, as long as we stay smart and finish every lap of the race and stay consistent the rest of the season. Thank you K12 and everyone for their support this weekend."

Continuing with Andretti's strong opening-weekend the duo of Pro Mazda Championship drivers Matthew Brabham and Shelby Blackstock posted solid times in what is their second round of competition (Pro Mazda opened their season March 1 in Austin, TX). Brabham topped the charts in both sessions today while Blackstock was P2 in the morning and finished the day in the fifth position.

The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship is also entering their second weekend of competition after the opening round in Sebring last week. Drivers Garett Grist and Austin Cindric spent the day learning the 14-turn temporary street circuit and finished the day 12th and 24th respectively.

The IZOD IndyCar Series will take to the streets for the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Sunday. Be sure to tune in to NBC Sports Network to catch all the IndyCar race day action with coverage starting at 12 p.m. ET. Tu ne in an hour early (11 a.m. ET) to watch the Firestone Indy Lights coverage. In the meantime keep up to date on all things Andretti Autosport by joining us on Twitter (@FollowAndretti) and don't forget to 'Like' us on Facebook where you can enter to be our featured Fan of the Week.

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