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Sato, Dixon put Ganassi team atop speed chart in 1st Indianapolis 500 practice

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Takuma Sato and Scott Dixon gave Chip Ganassi Racing a big boost in the first Indianapolis 500 practice.

Nobody else could catch the two Indianapolis 500 winners Wednesday.

Dixon, the 2008 champ, needed less than 10 minutes to produce a fast lap of 229.174 mph, which stayed atop the speed chart until Sato, a two-time Indy winner, topped it with a late run of 229.439.

Only Santino Ferrucci, of A.J. Foyt Enterprises, prevented Ganassi from sweeping the top three spots. His speed, 228.977, barely edged 2021 series champion and current points leader Alex Palou (228.720). Ganassi's other driver, defending 500 winner Marcus Ericsson, was seventh.

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“It's good to be on the fast side and to see all the Ganassi cars (high on the speed chart),” Sato said before talking about Dixon's run. “That was quite impressive to see, Scott up to speed that quickly because I wasn't up to speed by that time."

It was an incredibly fast start as Dixon embarks on a potentially historic qualifying weekend.

If he captures a sixth career pole, he'll tie Rick Mears' all-time 500 record (six) and become the first driver in race history to earn the top starting spot in three consecutive years. In 2022, Dixon also posted the fastest four-lap qualifying average of any Indy pole winner, 234,046, while his 53 wins and six series titles both rank second all-time to A.J. Foyt (67 wins, seven series titles).

Yet, the 500 has produced some baffling final results for The Iceman.

Since winning his first Indy pole and his only 500 title 15 years ago, Dixon has made 14 starts, won four poles, had six top-five finishes and been the runner-up in 2012 and 2020.

When qualifying is held Saturday and Sunday, his biggest challenge may come from his own teammates.

Palou was third for most of the final hour, four days after winning on Indy's road course for his first victory this season. Speeds are expected to increase starting Friday, when cars will be given a power boost.

"I think when it goes back to the qualifying trim, I think the speeds will be very similar to last year," Sato said when asked to predict what it will take to win the pole.

Who else could contend?

Perhaps Rinus VeeKay, who had the fastest no-tow speed at 223.212, or his teammate driver-owner Ed Carpenter, a three-time Indy pole winner. Carpenter's no-tow speed was 222.341.

Dixon was fourth on the no-tow list at 221.230.

Ferrucci could be in the mix, too. He's the only IndyCar driver to complete every lap and finish in the top 10 in each of the last four 500s.

“We're in full race trim, nose down, pretty stacked on there,” he said. “I'm really comfortable.”

Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske's fastest driver Wednesday, and Colton Herta, the fastest driver for Andretti Autosport, both topped 228 to finish fifth and sixth in practice.

Wednesday's ideal conditions — light wind and warming temperatures until afternoon clouds helped cool the track — were a welcome change after Tuesday's practice was rained out.

Drivers couldn't wait to get started. Nineteen cars were turning laps in the first five minutes of practice, and Dixon was up to speed before most were even watching.

The early week strategies varied.

Some, like RC Enerson, were simply getting acclimated to the track.

Abel Motorsports filed its entry in April, the 34th in a field vying for 33 starting spots in the May 28 race. Enerson was one of two drivers who went home after failing to qualify for the 2021 race and hadn't been back until passing rookie orientation test in a two-hour session before practice.

Others will be working overtime to find speed.

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing struggled during April's open test and again Wednesday when he had the slowest speed of the day at 223.409.

Marco Andretti, Indy's runner-up in 2006 and the pole-sitter in 2020, had better luck after taking his car to the garage and making adjustments to the car. He wound up 10th at 226.982.

“To really have everything together, to have that extra test day, to roll out and be able to just be comfortable was nice," VeeKay said.

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports