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Rare extended practice helps Simon Pagenaud climb to top of Indianapolis' speed charts

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INDIANAPOLIS - Simon Pagenaud already has one Indianapolis victory in his pocket. He may soon be in position to win the second of this month's triple crown.

Four days after becoming the first IndyCar driver to win a road race at the famous speedway, the Frenchman jumped to the top of the speed chart on one of the strangest practice days in memory. Pagenaud turned a fast lap of 226.122 mph Wednesday — becoming the first driver to top 226 mph this week — after track officials extended practice by one hour.

"It's always enjoyable to get close to 230. Hopefully we can break that in qualifying," Pagenaud said in his normally understated tone. "That would be great, but the car is fantastic. I'm very happy."

The IndyCars almost didn't get a chance to run Wednesday.

Morning rain wiped out the first five hours of the scheduled six-hour practice window. Track workers spent roughly two hours attempting to dry the track in hopes of having it ready by late afternoon. At 5 p.m., the track finally opened with a rare announcement coming from speedway officials: practice would continue until 7 p.m.

Last year, the pole shootout was pushed back because of rain and didn't end until 7:12 p.m. Katherine Legge also was permitted to complete the rookie orientation program in 2012 after the track closed to everyone else at the normal 6 p.m. time slot.

Speedway officials couldn't recall any other time practice was extended for everyone.

For years, it was not possible because of darkness. That changed when state lawmakers passed a measure to recognize daylight savings time in 2005, a move that gave speedway officials more flexibility.

On Wednesday, they took advantage of that opportunity and Pagenaud made the most of it by beating out American J.R. Hildebrand for the top spot. Hildebrand was second at 225.854.

"It's great to see that the car has the speed in it because at the end of the day you rarely go through practice with guys that are capable of setting those fast times, they end up being the guys that have the quicker cars," said Hildebrand, who is driving for Ed Carpenter. "Certainly our focus is trying to make sure not that we put in a big tow lap, but that we can catch up to that guy and pass him, and leapfrog through the next few guys."

Here are five other things to know from Wednesday's practice:

QUICK TRIP: Though 29 cars made it onto the track for practice, one was notably absent: Kurt Busch's No. 26. With the forecast calling for rain all day Wednesday, the 2004 Cup champion who is attempting to become the fourth driver to complete "the double" decided to make a quick trip to Stewart-Haas Racing headquarters in Charlotte. He is expected to return for Indy practice Thursday and Friday.

ROOKIE CRASH: English rookie Jack Hawksworth became the first driver to crash on the oval this month. He spun in the third turn and slammed into the SAFER barrier before stopping in the chute between the third and fourth turns. Practice was halted after the crash, at 6 p.m., so the SAFER barrier could be repaired. Hawksworth climbed out of the car on his own, was checked at the infield medical centre and cleared to drive. "I have no idea what happened, to be honest. We just went into three and it just snapped, so we'll have to look into it," he said.

PENALTIES: Series officials also handed down three penalties from Saturday's race. Chevrolet was fined $20,000 and docked 10 engine manufacturer's points for violating rules on torque and traction control. Jim Campbell, the U.S. vice-president in charge of performance vehicles for the company, said in a statement the company disagrees with the ruling. IndyCar also fined Sam Schmidt's team for breaking a rule on the underwing splitter on Pagenaud's winning No. 77 car. Team Penske was fined $1,000 for breaking a rule on the differential assembly on Helio Castroneves' No. 3 car.

FORECASTING PROBLEMS: Rain wiped out almost nine hours of practice time over the past two days, and the weather isn't expected to get much better until qualifying begins Saturday. There's a 30 per cent chance of rain Thursday and a 50 per cent chance of rain Friday. But it's not just the wet weather causing problems. Temperatures were in the 50s on Wednesday and that's where they're expected to stay until Saturday.

JOINING THE TEAM: The Andretti Autosport Formula E team announced Wednesday it will become the first race team to join the Green Sports Alliance. The group is a collaboration of teams, venues and leagues dedicated to the greening of the sports industry. Last year, Andretti's team won the FIA Formula E Championship, which exclusively features open-wheel race cars powered by electricity.

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