Castroneves paces Barber Friday practice

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Helio Castroneves, the defending polesitter at Barber Motorsports Park, led practice Friday for the second round of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season.

The Brazilian was one of 11 drivers who dipped into the 1:08 range in Friday’s second practice session around the 2.3-mile road course. That’s still nearly a second off times set in testing, but teams have not yet run Firestone’s softer, grippier alternate red tires.

“I think it’s better to be lucky than good,” he said. “Obviously with the yellow in the end a lot of guys probably put tires, but the car felt pretty good. The AAA team felt really strong, the morning unfortunately it was a little bit difficult because seeing that the track has lots of grip and when you have an extra set of tires certainly it helps a little bit. In the end of the day, with AJ and Will we’ve been actually doing a lot of different stuff out there and it seems to be working.”

Like several other drivers this weekend, Castroneves’ car features an alternate livery. Castroneves is sporting blue and white AAA colors, with an additional marketing campaign that sees “Turbo,” the upcoming DreamWorks Animation film about a snail who races in the Indianapolis 500.

Although a Chevrolet was quickest, Honda runners took four of the next six spots on the timesheets for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Sam Schmidt’s two cars were third and fourth, rookie Tristan Vautier again getting the better of Simon Pagenaud, while Alex Tagliani leapt to second in the Barracuda/Bryan Herta Autosport entry and Scott Dixon ended the day in sixth.

Will Power was fifth once again, as in the morning, with AJ Allmendinger continuing his weekend within a tenth of his Australian Team Penske teammate once again in eighth place.

EJ Viso was seventh, best of Andretti Autosport’s quartet of cars, with James Jakes (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) and St. Petersburg front row starter Takuma Sato completing the top 10. Viso’s session included an off course excursion at Turn 8, but without any damage he was able to return back to the pits.

Dale Coyne Racing made strides with its brakes – both Justin Wilson and Ana Beatriz knocked one full second off their morning times – while the rest of the AGR contingent struggled. Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti have not yet been on the pace. KV Racing Technology also dropped to 16th and 17th with Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro – both found some time but not as much as others – and Charlie Kimball was one of only two drivers to fail to improve on his time from practice one. That meant a drop from fourth to 18th on the day.

Through two sessions, 23 of 26 drivers have eclipsed Power’s track record of 1:09.8529, which will almost certainly be broken with official times in qualifying on Saturday. Qualifying airs at 5 p.m. EST Saturday on the NBC Sports Network.

Combined times from Practice 1 and 2 are below:

Rank  Car Driver            Team                C/E/T Time 

1.     3    Helio Castroneves    Penske                 D/C/F 1:08.5440
2.     98   Alex Tagliani        Barracuda/BHA          D/H/F 1:08.6288
3.     55   Tristan Vautier      Schmidt Peterson       D/H/F 1:08.6720
4.     77   Simon Pagenaud       Schmidt Hamilton       D/H/F 1:08.7627
5.     12   Will Power           Penske                 D/C/F 1:08.8066
6.     9    Scott Dixon          Target Chip Ganassi    D/H/F 1:08.8446
7.     5    EJ Viso              Venezuela/Andretti/HVM D/C/F 1:08.8556
8.     2    AJ Allmendinger      Penske                 D/C/F 1:08.9119
9.     16   James Jakes          RLL                    D/H/F 1:08.9479
10.    14   Takuma Sato          Foyt                   D/H/F 1:08.9817
11.    19   Justin Wilson        Coyne                  D/H/F 1:08.9917
12.    1    Ryan Hunter-Reay     Andretti               D/C/F 1:09.0524
13.    22   Oriol Servia         Panther DRR            D/C/F 1:09.1384
14.    10   Dario Franchitti     Target Chip Ganassi    D/H/F 1:09.1492
15.    27   James Hinchcliffe    Andretti               D/C/F 1:09.2602
16.    11   Tony Kanaan          KV                     D/C/F 1:09.2755
17.    78   Simona de Silvestro  KV                     D/C/F 1:09.2779
18.    83   Charlie Kimball      Novo Nordisk Ganassi   D/H/F 1:09.2798*
19.    25   Marco Andretti       Andretti               D/C/F 1:09.3452
20.    7    Sebastien Bourdais   Dragon                 D/C/F 1:09.3480
21.    67   Josef Newgarden      Fisher Hartman         D/H/F 1:09.5084
22.    15   Graham Rahal         RLL                    D/H/F 1:09.6315
23.    4    JR Hildebrand        Panther                D/C/F 1:09.7176
24.    6    Sebastian Saavedra   Dragon                 D/C/F 1:10.1026*
25.    20   Ed Carpenter         Carpenter              D/C/F 1:10.2497
26.    18   Ana Beatriz          Coyne                  D/H/F 1:11.2361

*Fastest time set in Practice 1 instead of Practice 2

INDYCAR Preview: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Photo: IndyCar
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Three consecutive race weekends in the month of April for the Verizon IndyCar Series come to a close this weekend with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the series’ ninth race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.

IndyCar’s annual trek to the “Alabama Rollercoaster” – as Barber has been referred to in the past – began in 2010, and the venue has quickly become a favorite for teams, drivers, and fans, and while concerns existed that passing would prove too difficult prior to the first race in 2010, every race has featured more than its fair share of overtaking, and the track has seen thrilling late-race battles in each of the last three seasons.

Graham Rahal put on one of the greatest drives of his career to finish second here in 2015, passing Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, and Scott Dixon in the final laps to do so, but he could not quite catch Josef Newgarden that day, with Newgarden taking his first career IndyCar win.

Rahal dueled Simon Pagenaud for the win in 2016, with Pagenaud getting the upperhand after Rahal damaged his front wing following contact with the lapped car of Jack Hawksworth.

And in 2017, Josef Newgarden benefited from teammate Will Power suffering a punctured tire to assume the lead late in the race, and held off Scott Dixon to take his first win for Team Penske.

In summary, Barber has developed a habit of creating late-race drama, and given how the first three races of the 2018 season have gone, it could easily happen again.

Key talking points ahead of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama are below.

Championship Picture Beginning to Take Shape

Alexander Rossi leads the championship three races into the 2018 season. Photo: IndyCar

Though it is admittedly very early in the season – only three of 17 races have been completed – the championship picture is beginning to come into focus, and Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi is currently at the head of the table.

The Andretti Autosport driver sits in the lead on 126 points, 22 ahead of of Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal sits third with 93 points, with Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais in fourth on 88 points. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe rounds out the Top 5, with 83 points through the first three races.

That’s five different teams represented in the Top 5 at the moment, and a few faces have emerged as potential favorites.

Points leader Rossi is the only driver to finish on the podium in each of the first three races, with finishes of 3-3-1.

Team Penske has had somewhat of a quiet start to 2018, though Newgarden did win the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway, and his results at St. Petersburg and Long Beach – seventh at both races – could have been much better if only a couple small things went differently.

Rahal has been a title contender in each of the last three seasons, even going into the 2015 season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma with a shot at the championship. And his 2018 season, highlighted by finishes of second at St. Petersburg and fifth at Long Beach, could be even better if not for miscues and contact in both races that hampered his efforts.

Throw in Bourdais and Hinchcliffe as well, who like Rahal, compete with smaller teams – Bourdais with Coyne in a venture with Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, and Hinchcliffe with SPM – and more legitimate players are emerging in the title hunt.

And with big names like Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud stumbling out of the gates so far – Dixon is sixth in the championship while Pagenaud sits 16th – there’s a lot of room for championship drama to develop in the coming races.

Will Power Seeks Barber Redemption

Will Power started on pole last year at Barber, led a race-high 60 laps, and looked set to take his third win at the Alabama road course before suffering a cut tire, and the Penske squad was left no choice but to bring Power’s No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet into the pits.

It was a heart-breaking result for a driver who, at the time, needed to right the ship after finishes of 19th and 14th to open the season.

One year later, Power again heads to Barber looking right the ship after a troublesome start to his season, with finishes of 10th and 22nd in the opening two races.

He took the first step by finishing second at Long Beach, and now looks to avenge last year’s Barber disappointment to get his first win of 2018.

“Long Beach was really great for the whole No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team after we finished second. It was our best finish so far this season, so it’s done a lot for team morale going into this weekend at Barber,” Power explained. “Road courses are always a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to racing one with the new car. My team has been really working hard over the past several weeks with back-to-back races and they have a really strong car ready to go. Barber is such a cool course and the fans there are always really excited to be there. It’s just a really fun event for everyone and I can’t wait to get on track.”

Power

Misc.

  • There have been five different winners at Barber: Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, and Simon Pagenaud. Power, Hunter-Reay, and Newgarden are the only ones with multiple wins at Barber, though, with each sitting on two wins apiece.
  • Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal have also been successful at Barber. Rahal has two second place finishes, while Dixon has five. However, neither has been able to break through for a win, although that could easily change this weekend.
  • Marco Andretti sits tenth in the championship, with finishes of ninth and sixth the highlights of his early season. However, his race pace has been very impressive, and if he can get his qualifying up to a similar level, Andretti could be a darkhorse.
  • Ed Jones and Zach Veach look to build on finishes of third and fourth at Long Beach, their best results of the 2018 season.

The Final Word…

From Josef Newgarden, winner of the two of the last three races at Barber Motorsports Park, including last year:

“We had a decent finish at Long Beach but we’re definitely hungry for more. Barber is one of my favorite tracks we visit – not just because we’ve won there – but because it’s a cool track and it’s only a few hours away from where I grew up (in Nashville, Tennessee). That just makes it even more special when I’ve won there. Barber is going to be interesting since it’s the first time we’re racing the new car on a road course. I think it could lead to some really exciting racing for the great fans at Barber and the fans at home. The whole No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet team and I are ready to take the strong car we have ready for this weekend to the track and run a great race.”

Here’s last year’s top 10:

1. Josef Newgarden
2. Scott Dixon
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Helio Castroneves
5. Alexander Rossi
6. James Hinchcliffe
7. Tony Kanaan
8. Sebastien Bourdais
9. Takuma Sato
10. Mikhail Aleshin

Here’s last year’s Firestone Fast Six:

1. Will Power
2. Helio Castroneves
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Scott Dixon
5. Ryan Hunter-Reay
6. James Hinchcliffe

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