Day One at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and it’s sunny and fresh Friday on the waterfront – a term which means chilly. The breeze would temper any heat wave, but none are due. The crowds are everywhere including the front gate for walk-up tickets. One needs elbow spurs to make it through the Esplanade crowd. JIM MICHAELIAN, President/CEO of the Long Beach Grand Prix Association, is pleased. “I’m exhausted from having to make my way through the crowd corridors at the Grand Prix and I couldn’t be happier being exhausted.”

Izod IndyCar Points Leader, WILL POWER/No.12 Team Penske continues to dominate as he turned the fastest lap in the first practice session. His time was1:11.4039/99.221 mph. The top four drivers ran 99+ mph. His two teammates, HELIO CASTRONEVES/No.3 and RYAN BRISCOE/No.6 were second and fourth, respectively.

Last year’s LBGP winner, DARIO FRANCHITTI/No.10 Chip Ganassi Racing was fifth in practice. Friday it was announced by Scottish-based TW Steel that Franchitti has been signed as the latest global brand sponsor for the maker which calls itself “Big on oversized watches.” Franchitti helped design his own watch, which will be officially launched during the Indy 500 qualifying weekend.

Franchitti admits to being “into watches” and was gifted by a TW watch four years ago by his good buddy, TONY KANAAN/No.11 Andretti Autosport. Having a home-based watch company means for Franchitti “I love big watches and we can understand each other.” Other TW clients include the Renault F1 Team and EMERSON FITTIPALDI. TW’s Chief Commercial Officer, STEWART BAIN of Scotland, said “Dario personifies the spirit of our brand in his pursuit of perfection, and everything he’s done for the racing community.”

Dario Franchitti. Photo by Lynne Huntting
Dario Franchitti. Photo by Lynne Huntting

Franchitti did a TW Steel photo shoot, and could have a new career in modeling based on the photos used in the announcement. He enjoyed the experience and wanted an oversized suitcase to take away all the TW watches. Franchitti said his fellow drivers are eager to see his watch and want to get one.

Franchitti said it was “pretty special to win here at Long Beach last year. I’ve been wanting to do it for a long time. It will be tougher this weekend, with 0.2 seconds covering the first five cars. Any slight mistake will take care of contending for the Fast Six in Qualifying. I barely missed it last week.”

All 25 IndyCars ran practice, and the differential between Power’s top time and last-placed MILKA DUNO/No.18 Dale Coyne Racing was more than eight seconds. SIMONA de SILVESTRO/No.78 HVM Racing was the top Rookie, in fifteenth place.

Duno spun out.

IndyCar has another practice Friday afternoon.

Firestone Indy Lights driver, SEBASTIAN SAAVEDRA/No.29 Bryan Herta Autosport turned a 1:15.1732/94.246 mph lap to top the charts for the only Lights practice session Friday. He said the track is bumpier this year but has good grip. The street surface is and will continue to get better. There are lots of passing zones. Saavedra said he’s learned that “some drivers ‘sleep’ on the long straights, and that’s when I can pass.” Because of the track surface this weekend, his team is changing the 2009 settings.

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE/No.2 Team Moore Racing was second. Never one to blend into the woodwork, he is sporting a new look on his driving shoes. There are rubber spots on the inside exterior of each shoe, so they tend to stick to each other while he’s driving. He covered the sticky area with a racer’s answer to everything – duct tape. That wasn’t much for getting attention – which Hinch likes to do…so he used his ever-present Sharpie to mark the shoes Stop and Go. Now he’s thinking of painting them red and green. I suggested he contact the graphic shrink wrap vendor in the ALMS paddock and have something custom designed for his shoes.

JK VERNAY/No.7 Sam Schmidt Motorsports was fifth overall, making him the top Indy Lights Rookie of the ten newbies in the field. DAN CLARK/No.40 Walker Racing is classified as a Rookie in Indy Lights as his previous open wheel experience was Champ Car, not IRL, and he lacks oval track experience.

All eighteen Indy Lights cars were on track. and the speed differential was more than four seconds.