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Vautier, Rahal, Newgarden top 3 in Baltimore second practice

Aug 30, 2013, 4:11 PM EDT

Grand Prix Of Baltimore - Day 1 Getty Images

The second 45-minute IZOD IndyCar Series practice session for the Grand Prix of Baltimore presented by SRT (2 p.m. EST, Sunday, NBCSN) saw improved lap times and a Honda top-five sweep, led by Tristan Vautier. The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports rookie also led the first practice at Barber Motorsports Park earlier this year.

“I think it’s one of the rare street courses that’s this long and with this many corners,” Vautier said, praising the circuit. “Here you have everything with the chicanes, fast turns, 90-degree corner and hairpins. It’s very technical and requires a lot of commitment to get it all right. I feel it’s a complete street course, my favorite one.”

Vautier got down to a 1:19.4792 for his flier in the No. 55 Environmental Rail Solutions Honda, ahead of Graham Rahal in the newly reliveried No. 15 blu eCigs Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda. Rahal and new engineer Neil Fife are starting to gel, and the team did well unloading off the truck this weekend to begin straight on pace. Fife is based on Columbus while RLL’s IndyCar base is Indianapolis; Graham only sees his new engineer on the weekends.

“It’s a big improvement from where we’ve been; where we felt confident at any of our disciplines this year though, it’s been street courses,” he said. “There were improvements we made at Sonoma; you all can see it. You see where we were on road courses – we were terrible, the worst I’ve been in my career. Then we qualified eighth, right up front where we should be. We still need to keep improving and have quite a lot of work to do.”

Josef Newgarden clocked in third in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda. Newgarden is seeking a decent result in his first Baltimore IndyCar start.

“I’m so hot, it’s like driving in a sauna,” Newgarden told IMS Radio’s Nick Yeoman regarding the 89 degree ambient, 107 degree track temperatures and high humidity. “Yeah I’m trying to plow the car through there (the chicane). It’s one of the coolest things about this track. It’s a trick trying to nail it.”

Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud rounded out the top five. Will Power, in sixth, was the last driver in the 1:19 range and first Chevrolet-powered car. Power ended the session with a quick nosing into the tire barrier at Turn 9, a corner that has Dr Pepper signage prominent both on corner entry and exit.

“On the last lap there in the afternoon session I just locked up the tires going into Turn 9 and fortunately there wasn’t much in the way of damage to the front wing,” Power said.

Tony Kanaan, Takuma Sato, Sebastien Bourdais and Dario Franchitti rounded out the top 10.

Luca Filippi posted an impressive performance in the No. 98 Barracuda Racing Honda in 11th, just ahead of the returning Oriol Servia in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet.

Stefan Wilson, IndyCar debutante, found two seconds from this morning but was still shotgun on the 24-car field at 1:23.6238 in the No. 18 Nirvana Tea Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.

Points leader Helio Castroneves was 13th, with Ryan Hunter-Reay, also in the driver’s championship picture, 16th.

Several cars – James Hinchcliffe, Simona de Silvestro and Sebastian Saavedra notable among them – hit the chicane on the front straight pretty hard in the textbook definition of “crashing over the curbs.”

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