Photo: IndyCar/Chris Jones

IndyCar: What Drivers Said after Friday’s qualifying in Phoenix

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Here’s What Drivers Said after IndyCar qualifying for Saturday night’s Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix:

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, pole winner: “I have to say every time I jump in that car in qualifying trim and stuff, I think (about my crash in qualifying for the 2017 Indianapolis 500). It stays in the back of your mind. You fight yourself more than the car, I think at some point. It was just a good effort. The guys did a really good job. Obviously, qualifying position is pretty big. I knew it was going to take a flat (Turn) 3 and 4. I wasn’t quite sure about Turn 1 and 2 and how much I needed to dig. The car was really solid. That SealMaster No. 18 Honda was really solid. As soon as that track temp cooled off, it just gives you all the grip you need to make it happen. It’s high tension, high pressure. Really listening to the car and making sure you don’t overdo it. It’s a great achievement for the whole Dale Coyne Racing team with Vasser and Sullivan.”

SIMON PAGENAUD, qualified 2nd: “It was fun. What a phenomenal qualifying session for our team. We were mid pack, and I knew we would go faster at the end. When you see the lap time hold on, you hope. The hope was strong. Congratulations Seb (Sebastien Bourdais). Very cool that we have a French front row on an oval. It’s rare. It’s very cool for him, too. He’s obviously having great success right now. Well deserved. It’s good for him, but we’re friends and want to beat each other really bad. He got me today, I’ll try to get him tomorrow. But the conditions were a lot easier this afternoon. This morning was super tough. Very, very difficult, very greasy. The cars were sliding around, which actually I thought was good because driving was really difficult. This afternoon with the temperature going down for qualifying, it got better, everybody got better. It was easier to drive. I would say qualifying was not as challenging as this morning practice. I think the race is going to be quite similar to qualifying. The cars are fun to drive. So far I love it. Hopefully, we can bring another trophy.”

WILL POWER, qualified 3rd: “In practice, the track temperatures were really high and we were having massive lifts. During qualifying, the track was just totally different and the car was really stuck. It felt really good. It is just a very different condition because all of the downforce comes from the floor. When the track gets hot, it loses a lot. I am hoping tomorrow night we can open a second lane because if that happens, it will make the racing great. Otherwise it is a single line and it makes it tough. So hopefully, early on people will go up for a second lane and then it starts rubbering in as the race progresses.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI, qualified 4th: “The Military to Motorsports Honda was good, no doubt about it. There was a big change in track conditions from just two hours ago. It was a good two laps – I’m happy with it. We qualified fourth and had a strong run for the team. It’s definitely a handful out there, I hope the fans get quite the show tomorrow night because we’re working really hard out there.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE, qualified 5th: “A huge credit to the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports guys, because we did not have a great test here back in February. Obviously, things have changed a lot conditions-wise, but we went back, had a big think about it, a big look inside ourselves. I just can’t thank those guys and gal enough for getting us good cars and getting us both up there – it’s awesome. This is a long race, and I think with these new cars, with the way they’ve been driving and the way that they’ve been falling off, it’s going to be a lot more of an interesting race than it has been the last couple years. If we can stay on top of our tires and have clean pit stops, out laps, all that good stuff, I think we’ll be sitting pretty.”

ROBERT WICKENS, qualified 6th: “I had my moment of fame there for a couple of moments (sitting in P1), but I’m pretty happy with the job that we did. The Lucas Oil car was good… it was my first oval qualifying. I was a little too safe on the first lap, especially when that kind of sets the mood for the whole run. I feel pretty good (on the oval). To be honest, that qualifying was the best I’ve felt so far, so I just wish I could give it another go.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN, qualified 7th: “The grip was good. Simon (Pagenaud) and Will (Power) did good laps, but I had a lot of understeer. I think we had a good shot there.  We tried to do what we could after practice. We didn’t have the best first practice session, but we’ve got speed in this car. As you can see with Pagenaud and Power, they did a great job. Hopefully, they hold on and we will get a Team Penske pole position here, but just missed it there. (Turn) 3 and 4 were really the worst spot for me, so I think if we get that cleaned up and really focus on our race car then hopefully tomorrow we can capitalize.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY, qualified 8th: “We thought we’d be a bit better than eighth. We’ll have to go back and look at it, we were a little bit conservative with our run. The track conditions really improved from earlier today, so it’s interesting. We just didn’t get everything out of it. But tonight’s practice is, I think, the most important session of the weekend – aside from the race. Hopefully, we can make up some ground tonight, set up our car for tomorrow and get the DHL Honda up front.”

TONY KANAAN, qualified 9th: “That was a helluva save, so instead of talking about qualifying, let’s talk about the save. The car’s in one piece. We were expecting the track to change, but it gained more front grip than expected and that’s why we got loose. If it wasn’t for that, we would have been a couple tenths quicker and we would have picked up a couple more positions, but I don’t think we had a car for the pole. But I’m really proud of my guys, we’ve worked really hard. We’re in the top 10, so we’ll take it and go from there.”

PIETRO FITTIPALDI, qualified 10th: “It was great. A first top ten in my first Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying, I’m happy with that. The car felt really good. The engineers did a great job giving me a good car for qualifying. Practice was a lot different than when we tested here in February. The track is a lot hotter and the Paysafe car is moving around a lot more but overall it felt good, I felt confident. The Dale Coyne team has done a great job in getting me up to speed. I’m doing my best and trying to learn as much as I can. I’m really happy overall with everything.”

ED JONES, qualified 11th: “In the first practice today the track was really slippery. We ran into a bit of traffic on our mock qualifying runs but it wasn’t terrible. I was happy overall with the NTT DATA car to that point, but in qualifying it wasn’t an ideal run. My front bar in the car did something odd and I couldn’t make the adjustments I needed to. So we were a bit behind with the car and it’s really hard to attack. So it’s moving on to the night session to try and improve the car for tomorrow.”

GRAHAM RAHAL, qualified 12th: “All in all it was a decent day for us.” (About the difference having a teammate made): “It did make quite a difference. We heard Takuma’s (Sato) report that his car was extremely loose in qualifying, so we adjusted ours. And then mine in qualifying had a ton of understeer, which, I think, limited us a fair bit. Having said that, it’s a powerful thing to have a teammate. We rolled off the trucks this morning we both struggled, but at least we both had the exact same feedback, which gives us a good opportunity to improve the One Cure car as we go through this next session. Twelfth isn’t great, but if you look at it, if you gain a tenth and a half (of a second), you are four or five spots up. INDYCAR racing is the most competitive form of motorsport in the world.  Here is just a prime example: I ran my laps and thought they were going to say over the radio that is was eighth or seventh and they said 11th. I thought ‘No way.'”

TAKUMA SATO, qualified 13th: “It was a challenging qualifying. In the practice session, we couldn’t get things together and we had to change so much on the car for qualifying. I had a wiggle twice over the two laps, but I saved it. It was a bit too sketchy, but I’m relatively happy with where we are. Compared to where the car was in practice, it was much better in qualifying.”

KYLE KAISER, qualified 14th: “I am very happy with the way my first Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying session went. The Chevy engine was super strong.  We rolled out with a ton of power and I was getting used to it. As we got going the track was very different from the practice session earlier, but I felt really great. I personally feel like I may have left a tiny bit on the table not knowing how well the car was going to be during this session. Overall, I’m thrilled, I think we put down a good lap. Now let’s see how the car is during the race tomorrow night.”

SPENCER PIGOT, qualified 15th: “We’re still struggling a little bit to find the balance we had at the end of the test in February, but we made good improvements in qualifying. However, we’re still looking for more for both Fuzzy’s Vodka cars for tomorrow. It’s going to be a totally different animal during the race, with traffic and long stints on the tires. Phoenix is definitely a new challenge for me but it’s an exciting one.”

MATHEUS LEIST, qualified 16th: “The car is good. The first lap was a bit tough because I didn’t know how the car would be. It’s tough too because it’s my first oval track (in an Indy car). Practice was tough because the track was so slippery and then we go right into qualifying. The car was better than it was in practice, which means we made some progress. I’m looking forward to the race. We have 250 laps and it’s going to be a crazy tough race, probably the most difficult race I’ve ever been in. Hopefully, we can get a top 10, or maybe a top five.”

SCOTT DIXON, qualified 17th: “I’m really not sure what happened. We struggled a bit too in the session earlier today with overall grip. We just had a lot of understeer in Turn 4 and the car just wanted to break loose and take off. We just missed the balance with the PNC Bank car, and if you do that on a short track like this you really pay the price in the lap times.”

ED CARPENTER, qualified 18th: “It was tough out there, for sure. The car had been feeling pretty good. I wasn’t quite expecting to get that loose. I had a pretty big wiggle in Turn 1 on my first lap, which probably didn’t help my confidence for the second lap. It’s qualifying, though, you just have to adjust the best you can. It’s going to be tough tomorrow night, but I know we’ll be up for the challenge.”

GABBY CHAVES, qualified 19th: “This qualifying was a big improvement in terms of how the car feels from Practice 1, so that is a major positive. We won’t be starting near the front, but at least we get to take away that we improved the car, and hopefully, we can work on it some more during practice and make even more improvements for the race tomorrow.”

MARCO ANDRETTI, qualified 20th: “Not where we wanted to end up in qualifying. We’re going to work tonight to just get a good race car for tomorrow. Halfway through a stint around a track like this, things are going to get difficult. We need to get the No. 98 comfortable from Lap 15 to 50 on tires. We were a lot too low on our qual run – we weren’t expecting the big pace gain. I was just bottoming everywhere and at the limit of the deck of the car. After qualifying, we found that the skid was pulling down, and we were bottoming in third gear. That caused our struggle and lost time. We’re going to need to make some headway and work our way back in the race. Hoping to put on a good show and get a good result with for our Oberto Circle K throwback.”

MAX CHILTON, qualified 21st: “Short oval qualifying is always a bit hectic – it’s out and within two minutes you’re completely done with qualifying. We went the wrong way with our setup for the first practice and unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time between the first practice and qualifying to change it back. We just had to put a band-aid on the car and get it through qualifying. Now we just need to get the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet back to where it needs to be to make sure it’s ready for race running, which is really what matters tonight and tomorrow.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL, qualified 22nd: “Our qualifying result isn’t where we want to be, but I think we found the direction we need to go after the first practice. Part of it is that the conditions are a little bit easier and everyone is going quicker as the track temps cool down. We didn’t roll off the trucks setup-wise exactly where we wanted to be, so we’re just trying to get the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet back to where it needs to be for tonight’s practice. This last practice is going to be really important for getting ready for tomorrow night’s race with the conditions being similar to race conditions. We just have to keep making forward progress and make the car better, because anything can happen over 250 laps.”

ZACH VEACH, qualified 23rd: “I don’t know what we’ve done from the test to now. At the test, we had a really good car, but since we’ve come back we just haven’t had it. Every time we get into a corner, it feels like I’m saving my life. The guys have been working insanely hard to try and fix it, we just don’t have a lot of time to figure it out with only a one-hour session before qualifying. Hopefully we can work with the teammates and figure it out tonight, but we’re going to have a long day tomorrow working our way back up.”

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IndyCar: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Recap

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After two days, with both featuring a lot of rain, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is finally in the books for the Verizon IndyCar Series.

With Mother Nature intervening with rain and fury over both days, it’s understandable if there’s a sense of relief that the weekend at Barber Motorsports Park is behind us.

Still, as is usually the case, Barber produced plenty of thrills, and a few spills, across the weekend of racing.

A recap of big stories to emerge from the weekend is below.

Rain Drops Keep Falling on My Head…

Mother Nature was ever present on Sunday and Monday, dropping a lot of rain on Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

Rain races can be very fun and entertaining…if they’re able to run. Sadly, that just wasn’t the case on Sunday.

The undulating and picturesque Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most striking road courses in the country, and often produces some of the best racing anywhere. But, the nature of the track and its dramatic elevation changes can make it susceptible to standing water in heavy rains.

And that’s the exact scenario that played out on Sunday, with heavy and persistent rain hitting the track late in the morning, and hanging around the entire day.

While INDYCAR officials and Barber track crews worked tirelessly on Sunday to disperse the standing water, the rainfall was simply too heavy for them to make any impact.

While very unfortunate, postponing the finish of the race to Monday was the right decision, as several drivers explained.

“It’s tough because we have so many people that come out here to watch us,” said eventual race winner Josef Newgarden following the Sunday postponement. “We want to put on a good race. We want to put on a show. So calling the race, running around behind the pace car not running, it’s tough, it’s tough to do that. But I think it was the right thing in the end. When we started the race, the conditions were OK. You could run at that level of rain. Then, it intensified right before that first caution. I think when the caution came out, it got to a point where it was just too much.”

Graham Rahal echoed Newgarden’s sentiments, also emphasizing poor visibility as a big factor in making the conditions too treacherous.

“It was a tough beginning, but when we kind of got going it was OK and kind of fun to challenge for a while, but visibility was a major issue (on Sunday), no doubt. I’m glad that the series postponed it. I would have like to get it in (on Sunday), but that’s life,” he explained.

Rest assured, Firestone makes a strong rain tire, and IndyCar teams, drivers, and track crews are more than equipped to handle a rain shower from Mother Nature. But, Sunday’s weather was simply too extreme.

Newgarden Shines in the Rain and the Sun

Josef Newgarden in Victory Lane at Barber Motorsports Park. Photo: IndyCar

About the only thing as powerful as Mother Nature during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden.

Last year’s IndyCar champion was quickest at the end of Friday’s practices, scored the pole on Saturday, and led all but nine laps across Sunday and Monday.

And his leads were always decisive. He quickly gapped the field when racing started on Sunday, holding down a gap of as much seven seconds over teammate Will Power in the early laps. And on Monday, he gapped the field by as much as 27 seconds during the second half of the race.

Only outside circumstances could have prevented Newgarden from getting to Victory Lane…and that nearly happened. A late rain shower in the final minutes created split strategies across the field, with Newgarden among those opting for rain tires, while Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay and Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais gambled by staying out on slicks.

Hunter-Reay, however, jumped into the pits soon after for rain tires, a move that helped him eventually finish second, while Coyne and Bourdais gambled that the track would not get wet enough to force them to pit.

Alas, with only a few minutes remaining and the rain getting heavier, conditions became too slick and Bourdais was forced to pit, handing the lead back to Newgarden and dropping Bourdais to fifth.

“More hectic than you would want at the end,” Newgarden quipped when asked about conditions at the end of the race. “It seemed like it was pretty straightforward all day. We weren’t having yellows. It was dry. Then that rain made it very nerve-racking.

Newgarden added that pitting for rain tires, and doing so early, was their best option, even though it opened the door for others to jump ahead.

“I think for us we did the only thing we could,” he said of their strategy. “We went to rains as soon as it intensified. We had to. I think it was the right thing to do, just because we’re in the lead, we have the most to lose by not putting on rains early.”

The victory, Newgarden’s second of 2018, moves him back into the championship lead with 158 points, 13 ahead of Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi.

Misc.

  • Ryan Hunter-Reay enjoyed a solid weekend following a troublesome day at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The Andretti Autosport driver ranked in the Top 10 through practice, qualified a strong fourth, and ran a very clean race to finish second, his best finish of 2018, and he now sits only three points out of third place in the championship – he is currently sixth, with 113 points.
  • While teammate Robert Wickens has made more headlines, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe is having one of the best early-season efforts of his IndyCar career. With finishes of fourth, sixth, ninth, and second to his name through four races, Hinch sits fifth in the standings on 118 points, and is keeping himself well within reach of the championship lead. A race win would do wonders for his championship standing, but the consistent start puts him in a good position heading into the month of May.
  • Conversely, four-time champion Scott Dixon has yet to finish on the podium in 2018 – his best finish is fourth at ISM Raceway. Still, at seventh in the standings with 107 points, Dixon is within striking distance despite the quiet start.
  • Elsewhere, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have had comparatively disastrous starts to their seasons. Power has hit the wall in three of the first four races, while Pagenaud only has a best finish of ninth, coincidentally at Barber this weekend, through four races. Power sits tenth in the championship on 81 points, while Pagenaud languishes down in 15th on 66.
  • He made not have made many friends out there, but Zachary Claman De Melo gave viewers some thrills after the Monday restart, pushing his way through the field despite being two laps down. It also created one of the highlights of the race, with he and Spencer Pigot going for a slide through Turns 7 and 8 (video below). For his efforts, Claman De Melo recorded the fastest lap of the race on his way to finishing 19th.

The Verizon IndyCar Series now has two weeks before their next race, the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 11-12. However, the series will be plenty busy, with testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicking off next week.

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