Speedway, IN - The yard of bricks, the scoring pylon, four iconic turns, the Pagoda and a state-of-the-art infield road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the setting for Friday activities as a large group of F1600, F2000 and Atlantic Championship Series competitors took to the track for practice and a thrilling three sets of first round qualifying sessions.
F1600 Formula F Championship Series morning practice was paced by Zach Holden, who sits tied for first in the Series point standings for K-Hill Motorsports.
"I think it's fair to say there is no place like Indy, so to lead practice is a very good start," said Holden. "With all the straights here the races in F1600 will be close, but I am confident that we will have a great opportunity to fight for wins this weekend."
Joe Colasacco was second in free practice for Auriana Racing, leading the Masters Class and setting his quick lap time without a draft, he explained.
Colasacco is pulling double race duty at Indianapolis, also racing in vintage events during the weekend.
"I'm feeling great about it," said Colasacco, who like most other drivers, is competing at the Brickyard for the first time. "I am cautiously optimistic at this point. Hopefully we have a clean race and I'm there at the end."
Yuven Sandaramoorthy followed in third, while the other driver atop the Series points standings, Matthew Cowley, was sixth quick in the 22-car field.
First round qualifying was led by Holden, as another qualifying session follows on Saturday morning.
Combined times will make up the Saturday afternoon race grids for all three series, with fast race laps making up Sunday's race grids.
Holden's qualifying lap of 1:35.095 puts him on the pole, provisionally, just ahead of Team Pelfrey driver Jonathan Kotyk. Sundaramoorthy was third, followed by Colasacco and then David Osborne, in fifth.
Completing the top ten were Andy Brumbaugh, Matthew Cowley, John Benson, Mike Scanlan and Rick Payne, who is making his F1600 debut and made the trip to Indianapolis from California.
For F2000 Championship Series competitors, the Friday conversation at Indianapolis Motor Speedway revolved around learning the track and setup changes ahead of 12:15 p.m. practice, which was led by R-Sport driver Keith McCrone, who is back having last raced in F2000 competition at Summit Point in 2013.
McCrone said he ran a Porsche in an event at Indianapolis in 2016 and liked the track so much, if it was put on the F2000 schedule he would enter the race. He now reunites with R-Sport in a red Van Diemen and becomes among the early favorites to challenge for the win in both rounds five and six of the 2017 season.
John LaRue and Brandon Dixon were second and third fastest, respectively.
"We ended our practice session early," said Dixon, who leads the points. "I am trying to figure out if we are chasing old tires or the setup is really that far off. We're still trying to get the car better, and get me faster every session. We unloaded the car with a Road America (aero) setup, which is the lowest down force setting the car can have. We changed it for the second session and went 180 degrees different and I went faster."
Robert Armington and Matt McDonough completed the top five.
Among competitors learning Indianapolis while dealing with setup adjustments was LTD Motorsports driver Robert Allaer, who was seventh fastest in practice after Steve Jenks.
"It's definitely a lower-down force track from what we've done this year," said Allaer. "We'll see though, we have trimmed out the car more than we had at Mid-Ohio and Virginia.
"The track is awesome. I can't believe I'm here. When you think of racing you think of the Indy 500, so it's pretty cool to drive a car here."
Allaer said the keys to putting a lap together came down to good corner speeds coming onto the longer straights.
"You need a good exit and good corner speeds to carry the speed onto the straight," he said.
Allaer was followed by Polestar's Dan Denison and Tim Paul, who was ninth fastest in practice and is debuting a new car for the weekend with the No. 35.
"Practice was an experiment for sure with learning the track and figuring out a new car," Paul said. "It was just getting a handle on things with all the variables with a new environment and a new car."
In the second R-Sport entry, Bob Reid said passing under hard braking conditions will be the opportunity to advance come race time.
"It is my first time here, it is an eye-opening place," said Reid. "The first time you go across the bricks you say 'wow.' There are passing zones under hard braking here that are an opportunity because of the draft since the straights are so long. We're setting the car up for as much straight-line speed as we can without killing the infield."
F2000 will qualify at Indy Friday evening with another qualifying session set for Saturday morning.
David Grant was the man to beat in the first Atlantic Championship Series practice session at Indianapolis on Friday morning, with a quick lap of 1:21.579 in the Polestar Swift 016/Mazda. Grant led his brother and teammate, Keith Grant, by some seven tenths of a second.
The third fastest car in morning practice was the K-Hill Motorsports entry of Peter Portante, winner of the last three Atlantic races and the current 2017 Championship points leader.
"The first practice wasn't about pace for us, obviously having it is quite a good thing, but our main focus as a team was to navigate and target some of the problems we have had with the car since VIR. We finally have found the main issue and I think our package for the rest of the weekend will be quite good," Portante said.
Rich Zober, from Comprent Motorsports, and Mike Jacques completed the top five in practice.
Of note, Jimmy Simpson makes his first Series start since 2014 as the former race winner is a late addition to the field.
The first of two qualifying sessions, which was held later in the day at Indianapolis, saw David Grant , Keith Grant and Peter Portante locked in a heated battle for the fast lap.
With the checkered flag out, it was David Grant going fastest at 1:21.859, just .115 seconds faster than Keith and .121 seconds up on Portante. Simpson was fourth while Masters Class ace Bruce Hamilton completed the top five, followed by Mike Jacques, Lewis Cooper Jr., Dudley Fleck, Rick Zober and Lee Alexander.
Next up is Saturday, featuring morning qualifying for all three Championships and afternoon races, followed by another set of races on Sunday afternoon from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Full results are available on www.F1600Series.com, www.F2000Series.com and www.AtlanticChampionshipSeries.com.