Joe Skibinski / IndyCar

Hinchcliffe fastest again in wild third practice at Barber

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After topping yesterday’s second practice, James Hinchcliffe was once again the fastest driver in an eventful third practice session for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park on Saturday.

The Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver was the only driver to post a lap under 1 minute, 9 seconds. His fastest lap of 1 minute, 8.7351 seconds knocked Sebastien Bourdais (1 minute, 9.0351 seconds) off the top spot in the final lap of the session.

Watch the race on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN or at NBCSports.com or the NBC Sports app

Just as Hinchcliffe remained quick, Practice 3 continued another trend of red flags coming out for cars off-course.

Zach Veach was the first driver to bring out the red flag, when he locked up entering Turn 5 and slid his No. 26 Andretti Autosport car into a gravel trap with 35 minutes remaining in the session.

Hinchcliffe’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, later brought out another red flag after going off in Turn 1 and making contact with the outside wall with 15 minutes to go, causing significant suspension damage to his No. 7 car. Ericsson walked away from the accident safely.

Right before Ericsson’s trouble, Jack Harvey had spun unassisted in Turn 1 and Ryan Hunter-Reay also went off there. But both drivers were able to avoid further trouble; Hunter-Reay in particular managed to go through the gravel pit and avoid the wall.

The session almost ended under red after Graham Rahal became stuck in the gravel pit near Turn 5. However, INDYCAR officials allowed drivers to make one more lap under green before waving the checkered flag on the only practice session of the day.

Scott Dixon (1 minute, 9.2334 seconds) was third fastest, with Colton Herta (1 minute, 9.2444 seconds) and Takuma Sato (1 minute, 9.2692 seconds) rounding out the top five.

Qualifying will take place later today at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN & NBC Sports Gold.

Full Practice 3 results 

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Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

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“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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