Team Penske drivers, Will Power and Josef Newgarden, have topped the first two practice sessions ahead of this weekend’s 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series Grand Prix of Alabama. The pair, both former winners of the race at Barber Motorsports Park, topped one session each, with the Friday running punctuated by numerous red flag periods as drivers struggled to get on top of their cars and the race track.
As the drivers hit the track at Barber Motorsports Park for the first session of the Grand Prix of Alabama, they did so with a slightly altered schedule for the rest of the weekend’s running. Last year at most road course races, the drivers were allowed a thirty-minute warm-up session on race day, in which they would have their one chance to practice with push-to-pass.
This year, the teams lobbied for the session to be scrapped to decrease the workload on their pit-crews. IndyCar Series officials agreed to the change, with push-to-pass testing now being conducted in the first thirty minutes of the first practice session of the weekend.
An added complication heading into the weekend is the weather forecast for Sunday, which shows that it is very likely that we will have a wet race. Not just that, it appears as though a large amount of rain will fall, with some expecting there to be numerous interruptions to the running on race day.
Team Penske’s Will Power topped the opening practice session of the weekend in his #12 Chevrolet. He set a lap-time of 01:07.5987-seconds within the opening half an hour of the session, with the extra fifty horsepower provided by push-to-pass active on his car at that time. The time was also only just over half a second slower than his time in qualifying for this race last year, 01:06.9614, that was good enough for pole position twelve months ago.
Power’s team-mate Josef Newgarden was the only other driver to lap in the one-minute seven-second range during first practice. The American driver won this race a year ago, but he was struggling by the end of the session today. His #1 Chevrolet spun off the track and into a gravel trap. This caused the second of two red flag interruptions in the first session.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon was just behind in third place, six tenths down on Power in first place. A big surprise in the first session was the speed shown by Carlin‘s Max Chilton. The British driver was fourth fastest in the #59 Chevrolet and was just under seven tenths off of the fastest time of the session. His team-mate, Charlie Kimball, was twelfth fastest, but he was also showing better pace than the team have done in the first three races of the season so far. The British team will be hoping to carry over their speed into the rest of the weekend.
Fresh off of his podium last time out in Long Beach, Ed Jones started this weekend strong in fifth place, with Simon Pagenaud just behind in sixth. Ed Carpenter Racing‘s Jordan King was seven tenths down on the leader in seventh place, with Graham Rahal just a fraction of a tenth slower in eighth place. Sebastien Bourdais and Zach Veach rounded out the top ten.
Further back, last weekend’s winner at Long Beach and current championship leader, Alexander Rossi was way down in twentieth place in the #27 Andretti Autosport Honda. He seemed to be struggling to get to grips with either the car, the track, or both. He went off-track twice in quick succession early on, with the second spin bringing out the first red flag of the day. He will be hoping that his fortune this weekend only goes up from here.
2018 Verizon IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of Alabama – Practice One results:
[table id=2905 /]
After a handful of drivers had off-track excursions during the first practice session, you may have thought that the number of incidents would decrease as the day wore on and the drivers got more and more laps under their belts. This was not the case. The session was interrupted by three separate red flag periods involving three different drivers, with a further five drivers going off track at various moments.
The longest red flag came when Juncos Racing‘s Rene Binder slid off the track at turn sixteen and ended up hitting the wall on the exit of the corner. The #32 car’s left-front corner was heavily damaged in the crash, which meant that a recovery track had to come and lift the Chevrolet out of harm’s way.
Zach Veach and Simon Pagenaud caused the other two red flag stoppages, with both drivers going off at the hairpin of turn five and six and ending up stuck in the gravel trap. Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe also went off at the same corner later on in the session, but they were able to keep going without a red flag.
Amidst all the chaos, defending Alabama race winner Josef Newgarden set the fastest time in his #1 Chevrolet. His 1:07.4345 lap-time was a tenth quicker than the fastest time in the first session set by his team-mate Will Power. The time is still down on last year’s pole time, but the drivers could get closer to the 1:06.9614 time tomorrow in practice three or qualifying, when the track has rubbered in even further.
Second place was a somewhat surprising result for Spencer Pigot in the #21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. The American was a tenth off of Newgarden in an impressive display. His team-mate Jordan King, who finished down in seventeenth in practice two, has been overshadowing him so far this season, so Pigot will be hoping that this weekend could be the start of a turnaround.
Sebastien Bourdais finish practice two in third place in the #18 car. The Frenchman was yet another driver who went off at the turn five hairpin during the session, but he was able to get back on track with no damage to his car and no interruption to the session. Will Power slipped down from first place in first practice to fourth place in second practice, with Alexander Rossi bouncing back from a disappointing first practice to take fifth place in the second session.
Scott Dixon was just outside the top five in sixth place in session two. He was just ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay in seventh, who had a big off at turn sixteen just moments before Rene Binder hit the wall at the very same corner.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team-mates Takuma Sato and Graham Rahal finished eighth and tenth in the second session, with Marco Andretti in between them in ninth place despite his team having had to bleed his brakes mid-way through the session after the American driver complained of a bad feeling through the pedal.
Further back, Robert Wickens was down in sixteenth place after his day came to a premature end when his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports crew discovered a water leak on his #6 Honda.
The teams and drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series will have one more practice session tomorrow ahead of qualifying. Both sessions are expected to be run in dry conditions, with heavy rain set to hit Barber for race-day.
2018 Verizon IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of Alabama – Practice Two results:
[table id=2908 /]