The NTT IndyCar Series hit the track at Barber Motorsports Park today for the opening two practice sessions ahead of this weekend’s Grand Prix of Alabama, with Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Felix Rosenqvist and Arrow Schmidt Peterson‘s James Hinchcliffe topping each session.
The first forty-five-minute practice session was interrupted heavily by numerous red flags. The only substantial and unimpeded running took place at the very start of the session, with only the rookies venturing out onto the circuit with their extra sets of Firestone tyres. Of the rookies, it was Rosenqvist who would lead ahead of defending race-winner Colton Herta and Carlin‘s Patricio O’Ward.
Coming up to the halfway point of the opening practice session, the rest of the drivers slowly began to trickle out onto the circuit. Soon, however, they would all be coming back to the pits. This was due to the first red flag of the session, caused by A.J. Foyt Enterprises‘ Matheus Leist, who spun at the kink on the exit of the hairpin and nosed his #4 Chevrolet into the wall. The car then snapped around and hit the wall rearwards; causing damage to both ends of the car.
Once the debris had been cleared, only fifteen minutes remained. However, the racing surface looked treacherously slippy, as evidenced a few minutes later when Takuma Sato, Tony Kanaan and James Hinchcliffe all spun at almost the exact same moment at three different points on the track. Sato spun at the chicane of turn seven, shortly after setting his best lap of the session. Hinchcliffe had literally just crossed the timing line to set the second fastest lap at the time, before spinning at the entrance of the pit-lane seconds later.
It was Kanaan’s spin that would bring out the second red flag, however. After looping his #14 Chevrolet, Kanaan stalled the car and had to be re-fired before he could make his way back to the pits.
As the session drew to a close, more drivers ventured out onto the track to try and salvage some meaningful running in what had been a very interrupted first session. However, the red flag would come out a third and final time with two minutes remaining on the clock. This time, the incident was caused by Ed Carpenter Racing‘s Spencer Pigot, who spun at turn seventeen and found himself beached in the gravel trap. The session would be concluded under the red flag.
Rosenqvist’s second run on fresher tyres toward the end of the session saw him retain the top spot, improving by two-tenths compared to his previous lap in the early moments. Dale Coyne Racing‘s Sebastien Bourdais took the second-fastest time, setting a lap-time within a tenth of a second of Rosenqvist seconds before the final red flag came out.
James Hinchcliffe’s lap just before his spin would be good enough to give him third place at the end of the first practice session. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Andretti Autosport‘s Ryan Hunter-Reay would complete the top five.
A brace of rookies would be the next on the time-sheets, with COTA race-winner Colton Herta sixth fastest ahead of Patricio O’Ward.
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing‘s veteran driver, Takuma Sato was just behind in eighth place, with Alexander Rossi and Simon Pagenaud completing the top ten. Pagenaud’s two Penske team-mates, Will Power and Josef Newgarden weren’t too far behind. Power was twelfth fastest ahead of Newgarden in fourteenth. Expect to see all three drivers much higher up the order later on in the weekend.
2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of Alabama – Practice one top twelve results:
[table id=3740 /]
Full results of practice one can be found by clicking the following link: http://www.imscdn.com/INDYCAR/Documents/5516/2019-04-05/indycar-results-p1.pdf
Undoubtedly, the entire field of twenty-four drivers were hoping for much more substantial and uninterrupted running when the second practice session came around later in the afternoon. Mercifully, they got their wish, with only one brief pause due to a red flag at the mid-way point of the forty-five-minute session.
Despite there only being one red flag, the drivers were still pushing hard to get themselves acclimatized and find the limits ahead of qualifying and the race later in the event. This was evidenced by many drivers dipping a wheel into the much more unforgiving run-off areas of Barber Motorsports Park; a far cry from the miles of tarmac run-off from the Circuit of the Americas two weeks ago.
Marco Andretti was the early leader of the session, with cars hitting the track much sooner than we saw in session one. Soon after, it was Harding Steinbrenner’s rookie, Colton Herta, who took over the top spot with a lap time of 1:09.0084. The track had undergone a lot of evolution between sessions, with the circuit much faster due to the increase of racing rubber on the racing surface.
Herta’s time remained at the top of the scoring pylon for much of the session, but Arrow Schmidt Peterson’s James Hinchcliffe would usurp the teenager from the top with just four minutes until the chequered flag.
Hinchcliffe would end the session as the fastest driver and the only man to lap the circuit in the 1:08’s, albeit it only just with a lap time of 1:08.9994. After being somewhat outpaced by his rookie team-mate Marcus Ericsson back at COTA, Hinchcliffe will be hoping to re-establish himself as the team leader this weekend.
Herta would hold on to second place, with his Friday running providing a solid foundation for him to build off of for the rest of the weekend. Barber Motorsports Park was a circuit that Colton had highlighted as one of his potential weak spots. Although he was one of a handful of drivers to make a trip off into the run-off area during the session, he looks to be much more competitive than he might have thought.
Herta’s fellow rookie, Santino Ferrucci, would take the third fastest time for Dale Coyne Racing. Despite the solid lap time of 1:09.0461, the session wasn’t undramatic for the young American. He was the cause of the sole red flag in the session after losing the rear of his #19 Honda on the exit of turn fourteen. Santino found himself skating across the grass and into the tyre barrier, but thankfully the impact was slight enough to allow him to rejoin the session later on with a new front wing.
Ferrucci’s team-mate, Sebastien Bourdais, was fourth fastest at the end of the session, perhaps indicating that Dale Coyne Racing has found some much-needed pace for this weekend. Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay were just behind in fifth and sixth respectively.
The aforementioned top six drivers were all Honda-powered entries. Spencer Pigot was the highest-classified Chevrolet driver in seventh place. Fellow Chevy driver, Patricio O’Ward was just behind him in eighth place for Carlin. Former session-leader, Marco Andretti, slipped down to ninth place by the end of second practice, with Scott Dixon completing the top ten.
Zach Veach caught the attention of many throughout the opening day of practice, but perhaps for the wrong reasons. Once again, the #26 Andretti Honda driver looked to be having a tough time out on the track, with his car looking very tricky to drive at various points. He ended the session in twelfth and will be hoping to get everything back under control for the rest of the weekend.
Team Penske did not make an appearance in the top ten of the second session. Will Power was the highest-placed driver in eleventh place, with team-mates Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden further back in fifteenth and eighteenth respectively. Of course, practice times are not the be all and end all and we have often seen Penske turn up the pace later than others in race weekends.
2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Grand Prix of Alabama – Practice two top twelve results:
[table id=3742 /]
Full results of practice two can be found by clicking the following link: http://www.imscdn.com/INDYCAR/Documents/5517/2019-04-05/indycar-results-p2.pdf