IndyCar rookie Tristan Vautier led the opening practice session at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Friday.
The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver clocked in at 1:09.0120 around the 2.3-mile road course. Vautier’s session was truncated with an off-course excursion near the end of the session. The 14-minute red flag extended the session an extra five minutes, but only two of the 26 drivers were able to improve their fastest laps.
Honda’s flagship team, Chip Ganassi Racing, got all three of its cars into the top six. Target teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti were second and sixth with Novo Nordisk/Race with Insulin driver Charlie Kimball the meat in that sandwich, in fourth place.
2012 championship protagonists Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power led the Chevrolet contingent, RHR with a late lap of 1:09.1917 to jump to third with Power a surprising fifth, by his usually illustrious pace standards.
Simona de Silvestro, Simon Pagenaud, open-wheel returnee AJ Allmendinger and Helio Castroneves completed the top 10. Allmendinger was within 0.1016 of a second of Power, an impressive time.
St. Petersburg winner James Hinchcliffe clocked in 15th.
All told the field was close, with the top 21 of 26 cars ahead of Power’s track record of 1:09.8529, and the top 22 down to Justin Wilson within 0.8888 of a second.
Only JR Hildebrand, Sebastian Saavedra, Ed Carpenter and Ana Beatriz were outside of one second off Vautier’s pace. Beatriz continues to struggle with the lamentable second Dale Coyne Racing entry, at 3.2247 seconds off the pace.
The second practice session goes off at 4:45 p.m. EST.