It was an eventful first practice for the stars of the Verizon IndyCar Series as they took to the tarmac at the Barber Motorsports Park. Will Power led the session in his Team Penske machine with a best time of 1:07.598 (122.488 mph). Team Chevy drivers flipped the script a bit in this first practice compared to the season’s norm by filling five of the top seven spots with Bowtie-powered cars.
The session kicked off with news that INDYCAR permitted teams 30 minutes of practice time with Push-to-Pass capability enabled. Team Penske showed its speed early on with veterans Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud filling the top five in the session’s early stages.
With 25 minutes remaining in practice, Alexander Rossi ran a bit wide on one corner exit and wiped out a nearby track advertising sign before he spun completely just moments later as his car oversteered through one of Barber’s sweeping left-hand corners.
Just ten minutes later, it was two-time Barber race winner Newgarden who lost control of his Chevrolet-powered machine while locking up the rear tires on entry to the hairpin complex. Newgarden’s car collected a substantial amount of gravel in the driver’s cockpit and shredded multiple tires that he had to limp back to pit lane during the red flag period.
Facing Barber’s aggressive off-camber corners, elevation change and blind corners, drivers were visibly struggling with the handling of their cars as they attempt to find a balance between loose-and-fast and loose-and-wrecking.
Chip Ganassi Racing was strong in first practice with Scott Dixon placing his No. 9 machine 3rd overall with a time of 1:08.262, while CGR freshman Ed Jones was a respectable 5th in his No. 10 Honda with a time of 1:08.308. Right there with them were the Team Penske bunch, with Power taking the top spot and Newgarden posting a fast lap just over three tenths of a second behind him. Simon Pagenaud, Barber race winner in 2016, rounded out the practice’s Fast Six with a time of 1:08.312.
Carlin’s Max Chilton was the surprise finisher of the session as he was placed fourth overall, the only non-Penske or Ganassi driver in the top six. He recorded a lap time of 1:08.2882 while his teammate also showed promise with Charlie Kimball placing 12th.
Ed Carpenter Racing’s Jordan King continues to show pace on the road and street circuits, taking well to the winding Alabama road course with a fast lap that placed him 7th in first practice. His teammate Spencer Pigot was less fortunate in the session, wheeling his No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka machine to a lap that was 16th-quickest.
For Andretti Autosport it was a forgettable first practice. Their highest finishing driver was rookie Zach Veach who placed 10th with a lap of 1:08.421, while Marco Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi finished 14th, 15th and 20th respectively. Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports was also less-than-stellar, as Canadians Robert Wickens (13th) and James Hinchcliffe (18th) both were behind the top-12 – the cut-off line had this been qualifications.
While expectations have been high for the Indianapolis-based Harding Racing, they struggled out of the gates this weekend as Gabby Chaves was 22nd in his Chevrolet-powered No. 88 machine. Rookies Zachary Claman de Melo (17th), Matheus Leist (19th) and Rene Binder (23rd) helped fill in the rear of the field in first practice. Veteran A.J. Foyt Racing driver Tony Kanaan was 21st.
Stay tuned to Open-Wheels for coverage all weekend long for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from Barber Motorsports Park.
Image courtesy of INDYCAR Media.