Castroneves paces Barber Friday practice

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Helio Castroneves, the defending polesitter at Barber Motorsports Park, led practice Friday for the second round of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season.

The Brazilian was one of 11 drivers who dipped into the 1:08 range in Friday’s second practice session around the 2.3-mile road course. That’s still nearly a second off times set in testing, but teams have not yet run Firestone’s softer, grippier alternate red tires.

“I think it’s better to be lucky than good,” he said. “Obviously with the yellow in the end a lot of guys probably put tires, but the car felt pretty good. The AAA team felt really strong, the morning unfortunately it was a little bit difficult because seeing that the track has lots of grip and when you have an extra set of tires certainly it helps a little bit. In the end of the day, with AJ and Will we’ve been actually doing a lot of different stuff out there and it seems to be working.”

Like several other drivers this weekend, Castroneves’ car features an alternate livery. Castroneves is sporting blue and white AAA colors, with an additional marketing campaign that sees “Turbo,” the upcoming DreamWorks Animation film about a snail who races in the Indianapolis 500.

Although a Chevrolet was quickest, Honda runners took four of the next six spots on the timesheets for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Sam Schmidt’s two cars were third and fourth, rookie Tristan Vautier again getting the better of Simon Pagenaud, while Alex Tagliani leapt to second in the Barracuda/Bryan Herta Autosport entry and Scott Dixon ended the day in sixth.

Will Power was fifth once again, as in the morning, with AJ Allmendinger continuing his weekend within a tenth of his Australian Team Penske teammate once again in eighth place.

EJ Viso was seventh, best of Andretti Autosport’s quartet of cars, with James Jakes (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) and St. Petersburg front row starter Takuma Sato completing the top 10. Viso’s session included an off course excursion at Turn 8, but without any damage he was able to return back to the pits.

Dale Coyne Racing made strides with its brakes – both Justin Wilson and Ana Beatriz knocked one full second off their morning times – while the rest of the AGR contingent struggled. Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Marco Andretti have not yet been on the pace. KV Racing Technology also dropped to 16th and 17th with Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro – both found some time but not as much as others – and Charlie Kimball was one of only two drivers to fail to improve on his time from practice one. That meant a drop from fourth to 18th on the day.

Through two sessions, 23 of 26 drivers have eclipsed Power’s track record of 1:09.8529, which will almost certainly be broken with official times in qualifying on Saturday. Qualifying airs at 5 p.m. EST Saturday on the NBC Sports Network.

Combined times from Practice 1 and 2 are below:

Rank  Car Driver            Team                C/E/T Time 

1.     3    Helio Castroneves    Penske                 D/C/F 1:08.5440
2.     98   Alex Tagliani        Barracuda/BHA          D/H/F 1:08.6288
3.     55   Tristan Vautier      Schmidt Peterson       D/H/F 1:08.6720
4.     77   Simon Pagenaud       Schmidt Hamilton       D/H/F 1:08.7627
5.     12   Will Power           Penske                 D/C/F 1:08.8066
6.     9    Scott Dixon          Target Chip Ganassi    D/H/F 1:08.8446
7.     5    EJ Viso              Venezuela/Andretti/HVM D/C/F 1:08.8556
8.     2    AJ Allmendinger      Penske                 D/C/F 1:08.9119
9.     16   James Jakes          RLL                    D/H/F 1:08.9479
10.    14   Takuma Sato          Foyt                   D/H/F 1:08.9817
11.    19   Justin Wilson        Coyne                  D/H/F 1:08.9917
12.    1    Ryan Hunter-Reay     Andretti               D/C/F 1:09.0524
13.    22   Oriol Servia         Panther DRR            D/C/F 1:09.1384
14.    10   Dario Franchitti     Target Chip Ganassi    D/H/F 1:09.1492
15.    27   James Hinchcliffe    Andretti               D/C/F 1:09.2602
16.    11   Tony Kanaan          KV                     D/C/F 1:09.2755
17.    78   Simona de Silvestro  KV                     D/C/F 1:09.2779
18.    83   Charlie Kimball      Novo Nordisk Ganassi   D/H/F 1:09.2798*
19.    25   Marco Andretti       Andretti               D/C/F 1:09.3452
20.    7    Sebastien Bourdais   Dragon                 D/C/F 1:09.3480
21.    67   Josef Newgarden      Fisher Hartman         D/H/F 1:09.5084
22.    15   Graham Rahal         RLL                    D/H/F 1:09.6315
23.    4    JR Hildebrand        Panther                D/C/F 1:09.7176
24.    6    Sebastian Saavedra   Dragon                 D/C/F 1:10.1026*
25.    20   Ed Carpenter         Carpenter              D/C/F 1:10.2497
26.    18   Ana Beatriz          Coyne                  D/H/F 1:11.2361

*Fastest time set in Practice 1 instead of Practice 2

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”