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Marco Andretti tops Friday night test session at Phoenix

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Yes, it’s only a test session, but Marco Andretti was fastest during the second of two three-hour test sessions on Friday for this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series Prix View at Phoenix International Raceway.

Interestingly, the 29-year-old also led last year’s Friday night test session at PIR as once again Honda-powered cars excelled in the cooler conditions.

Last year, five of the top-10 speeds in the night session were Hondas and this year, it was seven of the top-10, including the top six.

Andretti’s best speed in the No. 27 hhgregg Honda of 189.122 was almost two mph faster than his best speed in this session last year, 187.678. From a timing standpoint, that’s a time of 19.4541 seconds compared to 19.6038 seconds last year.

Earlier in the afternoon, Andretti described some of the changes coming to his No. 27 team, with Bryan Herta his new strategist and with Eric Bretzman taking over as technical director for the team.

“It’s too early to tell about anything. Probably these two days will still be early as hell, but good so far, steady, really having fun working with Bryan (Herta), and even having Eric Bretzman there has been a good addition, as well,” Andretti said.

“We’ve been pushing it. That’s for sure. All I can say is the only thing that I think can help is just closing the holes up on the bottom of the floor. But that’s just me.”

Graham Rahal was second, having experimented with an earlier version Honda aero kit rear wing package for his No. 15 United Rentals Honda, at 188.642 mph. Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Charlie Kimball completed the top-six Honda sweep, with JR Hildebrand best of the Chevrolet runners in seventh.

Several yellow flags flew for track inspections, but there were no mechanical ailments or incidents during the session.

Arguably the most interesting part of this one was that Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay briefly swapped seats at Andretti Autosport, Rossi taking laps in the No. 28 DHL Honda and Hunter-Reay stepping into the No. 98 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda, to see where each other was from a setup standpoint.

Rossi (24 laps) and Hunter-Reay (11 laps) added those laps to their laps in their primary cars to provide 23 car/driver combinations that took place in the session.

Although the ambient and track temperatures both dropped into the 70-degree range this session, Josef Newgarden’s lap from earlier Friday stood as the day’s fastest.

Another set of three-hour sessions, in the same time frames of 1-4 and 6-9 p.m. MT (3-6 and 8-11 p.m. ET) take place tomorrow. Session times from the evening are below:

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Alexander Rossi’s Grand Prix of Alabama gamble fails to pay off

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Alexander Rossi bobbled for the first time in 2018 with an 11th-place finish in the Honda IndyCar Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.

And to add insult to injury, Rossi also lost the points lead as a result.

Rossi got off to about as great a start to the season as possible. He finished third at St. Petersburg and sat third in the standings. He finished third again at Phoenix and climbed to second in the points.

Rossi won the Long Beach Grand Prix after starting from the pole and leading 71 laps. That put him at the top of the standings after three races.

Then, as quickly as he climbed to the top, he got knocked down a spot after finishing off the podium for the first time in 2018.

Rossi not only missed the podium, he finished outside the top 10.

“We didn’t get the result that we wanted,” Rossi said after the race. “That remains a mystery. But at the end of the day it was about survival. We couldn’t make the tires last; we couldn’t really get a great fuel number.”

The biggest negative was the one factor that was mostly out of his control. Rossi gambled that he was facing only a brief shower when rain began to fall with about 15 minutes remaining. He was wrong.

“We tried to be pretty aggressive on the dry tires and stay out and survive the rain, hoping it would dry out,” Rossi said. “And it didn’t really work.

“Sometimes you’ll have those days.”