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Honda teams resurgent in St. Petersburg

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The troubles with Honda’s aero kit have been well documented. And even with Chip Ganassi Racing back under the Honda umbrella, the freeze in aerodynamic development led many to think that things wouldn’t be much better in 2017.

However, if Friday practice and Saturday qualifying were any indication, Honda has found some serious speed. Honda entries led all three practice sessions (Marco Andretti led the first session, and Scott Dixon led the second and third sessions) and Hondas took eight of the top ten spots in qualifying for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Further, four Hondas made the Firestone Fast Six, their best qualifying performance since the aero kit era began in 2015.

Surprisingly, though, Dixon expressed disappointment. As he explained, an error on his behalf may have cost him the pole. “That was just on me unfortunately. We have a super fast car and should have been on pole,” he asserted. “I just messed up a little on my fastest lap there. I’m obviously disappointed, but the team has four fast cars. We’re working together great with Honda and I can’t wait to start the race tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll have the GE car up front when it counts.”

Takuma Sato, who qualified fifth, detailed that despite a very small window with which to work, Honda has clearly made gains. “It’s really a great job from Honda over the course of the winter. I know it’s a frozen package. We can do very little things, but I think engine development as well as how you try and use the car and the package, I think today is a result that we are really coming back in strong,” said the Andretti Autosport driver.

James Hinchcliffe leads teammate Mikhail Aleshin. Photo: IndyCar

James Hinchcliffe, who qualified third, detailed that, even though Chevrolet held the upper hand, no one within Honda or its IndyCar teams were laying down. “We were always pushing and always trying to improve. Certainly if you look at the results, it was leaning in (Chevrolet’s) favor for a while, but Honda is not one to lay down and just take a beating, so yeah, I think you’ve seen a lot of that.”

The Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Driver also noted that the aero kit freeze actually helped the Honda teams further understand their aerodynamics as the package went unchanged. “Coming into the start of ’16, all the Honda teams were dealing with a brand new aero kit. We were doing a second consecutive year of starting from scratch essentially where the other manufacturer wasn’t going through that. So now that we’ve got a year of development under it, it was natural that we were going to gain more.”

The speed of Honda’s aero and engine package is further exemplified in Alexander Rossi and Charlie Kimball. While neither advanced to the Firestone Fast Six, both enjoyed strong runs to qualify seventh (Rossi) and ninth (Kimball). Yet, neither was satisfied. “I’m disappointed to miss the Firestone Fast Six because I know that we’re quickest on the (Firestone primary) blacks in that second run before going to (alternate) reds. I think the potential is there, we just didn’t put it together,” said Rossi, who actually had his best qualifying result on a road/street course.

Kimball, too, was unhappy with a seemingly strong qualifying result. “I’m disappointed with qualifying ninth,” said he Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing driver. “I think coming into the weekend my goal was to qualify in the top 10 and finish in the top five. We’re obviously already hitting that goal with starting ninth, but after the last couple of days I think we’ve been faster than where we’re starting tomorrow.”

Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg rolls off at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Fast Facts

Image courtesy Barber Motorsport Park
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Here’s what you need to know about this weekend’s Verizon IndyCar Series race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama:

Race weekend: Friday, April 20 – Sunday, April 22

Track: Barber Motorsports Park, a 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course (clockwise) in Birmingham, Alabama

Race distance: 90 laps / 207 miles

Entry List:  Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (PDF)

Push-to-pass parameters: 200 seconds of total time with a maximum time of 20 seconds per activation.

Firestone tire allotment: Seven sets primary, four sets alternate

Twitter: @BarberMotorPark @IndyCar, #HIGPA, #IndyCar

Event website: www.barberracingevents.com

INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com

2017 race winner: Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet)

2017 Verizon P1 Award winner: Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet),1:06.9614, 123.653 mph

Qualifying lap record: Sebastien Bourdais, 1:06.6001, 124.324 mph, April 23, 2016 (Round 2 of knockout qualifying)

NBCSN qualifying telecast: Saturday, April 21 (4 p.m. ET, live)

NBCSN race telecast: Sunday, April 22 (3 p.m. ET, live)

Leigh Diffey will be the play-by-play announcer for NBCSN’s telecast of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy. Marty Snider, Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller are the pit reporters.

Radio broadcasts: The Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network is led by chief announcer Mark Jaynes, with analyst Anders Krohn. Turn reporters are Jake Query and Nick Yeoman, with Rob Howden and Michael Young reporting from the pits.

All Verizon IndyCar Series races are broadcast live on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app. Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying is broadcast on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app and Verizon IndyCar Series practices are broadcast on  IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Video Streaming: All practice sessions will be available on RaceControl.IndyCar.com and on the INDYCAR YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/indycar)

At-track schedule (all times EASTERN):

Friday, April 20

12:15 p.m.-1 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (live)

3:50-4:50 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (live)

4:55-5:10 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series pit stop practice, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (live)

Saturday, April 21

11:50 a.m.-12:35 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #3, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (live)

4 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of Verizon IndyCar Series knockout qualifications), NBCSN (live)

Sunday, April 22

3 p.m. – Driver introductions

3 p.m. – NBCSN on air

3:35 p.m. – “Drivers, start your engines” command

3:42 p.m. – Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (90 laps/207 miles), NBCSN (live)

Race Notes:

* Alexander Rossi firmly established himself as a championship contender, claiming his first win of the season at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15. The 26-year-old Californian leads reigning series champion and defending Barber race winner Josef Newgarden by 22 points heading into this weekend’s race.

* The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will be the ninth Verizon IndyCar Series event conducted at Barber Motorsports Park. Helio Castroneves won the inaugural race in 2010.

* Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud are the entered drivers to have won at Barber Motorsports Park. Power won the race in 2011 and 2012, Hunter-Reay in 2013 and 2014, Newgarden in 2015 and 2017 and Pagenaud in 2016.

* Ryan Hunter-Reay, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud are the entered drivers to have won the pole position at Barber Motorsports Park. Pagenaud won the pole in 2016. Power claimed the pole position in 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2017 and Hunter-Reay won the pole in 2013.

* Three drivers have won the race from the pole – Will Power in 2011, Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2013 and Simon Pagenaud in 2016.

* Scott Dixon has finished on the podium in seven of his eight previous starts at Barber Motorsports Park – including five runner-up finishes – but he has yet to finish on the top step of the podium at the picturesque road circuit.

* Eight drivers have competed in every Indy car race at Barber Motorsports Park – Marco Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Will Power, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato. Castroneves is not entered this year.

* Team Penske has five wins at Barber Motorsports Park (2010, 2011, 2012, 2016 and 2017). Andretti Autosport and Ed Carpenter Racing are the only other teams to win at the track. Andretti Autosport won in 2013 and 2014 with Ryan Hunter-Reay. Ed Carpenter Racing won with Josef Newgarden in 2015.

* Six Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders – Rene Binder, Zachary Claman De Melo, Jordan King, Matheus “Matt” Leist, Zach Veach and Robert Wickens – are entered this weekend. It is the most rookies entered for a Barber race since six rookies started in 2011.

*  Eighteen of the 24 drivers entered in the event have competed in Indy car races at Barber Motorsports Park. Ten entered drivers have led laps: Will Power 208, Ryan Hunter-Reay 93, Simon Pagenaud 87, Josef Newgarden 60, Scott Dixon 44, Graham Rahal 24, Charlie Kimball 14, Sebastien Bourdais 2, James Hinchcliffe 2 and Marco Andretti 1.

* Tony Kanaan seeks to start his 286th consecutive race this weekend, which would extend his Indy car record streak that began in June 2001 at Portland. Kanaan will attempt to make his 347th Indy car start, which ranks third on the all-time list.

* Scott Dixon has made 227 consecutive starts heading into the weekend, which is the second-longest streak in Indy car racing. Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti has made 203 consecutive starts, which is the fourth-longest streak in Indy car racing.

* Scott Dixon, the longest-tenured driver for Chip Ganassi Racing, is fourth on the all-time Indy car victory list with 41 wins. 2018 St. Petersburg race winner Sebastien Bourdais is sixth on the all-time list with 37 wins and Will Power ranks ninth on the all-time list with 32 wins.