Verizon IndyCar Notes & Quotes: Barber Friday (VIDEO)

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – After two street course races to open the season, the Verizon IndyCar Series is back to the flowing terrain of a permanent road course, at the picturesque Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham.

A few notes and quotes throughout the 23-car field for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama to follow from this Friday:

  • Second on the day, KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais described how radically different the track is now compared to the test last month. “We know how slick this place can be when it gets hot and how much tire degradation can be a factor. We come here (in March) and test for two days and it’s drizzling and it’s British weather in the 50s, no wind, and the track is awesome – and the car feels great and it’s super fast. And then we come back and the track is 125 degrees, and it’s gusty, and you’re like, ‘Is this the same car?’ You’re two seconds slower and you’re P1. And that’s interesting,” said the Frenchman.
  • Although he was only P6 in second practice, Josef Newgarden’s time from the morning put the Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing driver third on the day. The Tennessee native described the physicality of the joint: “I think now that we’ve had Long Beach as well and we actually all have pretty much had a Texas test, I think everyone is conditioned enough for getting into it, but it is one of the tougher races of the year. This is probably the most physically demanding course if it goes green all the way through, which is nearly what happened last year. So yea, you got to be hydrated and you know, you really got to man up in this type of race. Even if you get worn out, you got to fight through all the way to the end.”
  • Long Beach winner Mike Conway struggled for pace on day one in the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing, but isn’t terribly worried after ending the day 16th on the combined timesheets. “We didn’t have the grip level in the practice sessions that we wanted. This place is challenging and tough to get everything just right. But we’ll work overnight and be ready for Saturday’s practice and qualifying.”
  • Team Penske: P4, 6 and 8. Chip Ganassi Racing: P9, 11, 14 and 21. Make of that what you will. Said Tony Kanaan, who is running a blue GE Reveal livery this week in the No. 10 Chevrolet and ended today P21, “Well we really didn’t know what we had to start with in the GE Reveal car because of all the problems in the first session with cars going off and causing red flags. It was frustrating to say the least. Every time you thought you were able to get something going, the red flag would come out again and stop the session. We struggled today with the setup and will go back to see what the rest of the team is doing and be ready for tomorrow.”
  • Scott Dixon missed all the morning session and then only turned 14 laps in the afternoon, least in the field, but still ended P9. “We had a very slow start to the weekend after not even getting to turn a lap in the morning session due to an electrical issue. It was frustrating for the Target guys to say the least, but we made good progress in the second session,” said the defending series champion.
  • Marco Andretti was frustrated with seventh, but still in range of teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay in first and James Hinchcliffe fifth. “We weren’t as high on the charts as we wanted to be today and still have a few things to dial in on the Snapple car. But our teammates were quick and we are headed in the right direction,” he said.
  • Neither Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda had much of a day. Graham Rahal ended P19, Oriol Servia P21 after the two sessions. “There are still some things we have to figure out and some time to be found but at the end of the day, we aren’t that far off time-wise. You look at the time sheets and it looks like both of our cars are struggling but when you are only eight-tenths (of a second) off (fast time), yet you’re 19th, it’s a difficult thing. If you find less than one-tenth (of a second) a corner, you are right up there with those guys,” said Rahal.
  • Difficult day for the four rookies: Carlos Munoz ended P12, Mikhail Aleshin P17, Carlos Huertas P20 and Jack Hawksworth, the revelation of the first two weekends, P23 and last.

Here’s the video highlight package from INDYCAR of the day on track.

More tomorrow with Practice 3 at 10 a.m. CDT and qualifying at 2 p.m. CDT (delayed on NBCSN at 1 a.m. EDT).

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

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