Welcome to Barber Motorsports Park, undeniably the most beautiful facility we visit on the schedule, as it is the topic of conversation every season, during every session.
Today was no different; a glorious, sunny day, the big, blue sky dotted with cartoon like fluffy clouds. (a sharp contrast from the cool, rainy day being called for on Sunday.
This session was delayed by an hour due to repairs being made to the guardrails on course. (not caused by IndyCar) Once it got going however, it was smooth sailing. Mostly.
Mikhail Aleshin took a spin into the gravel early in the session but was able to right himself and bring the car back to pitlane unscathed, then, near the end of the session, Sebastien Bourdais found himself stopped in Turn 2, a piece of signage comically teetering on the nose of his car. This would bring out the red flag.
As is generally the case during the first session of the weekend, especially with the shortened practice times, teams spend the time on set ups, and shaking down the cars and the tires, hoping that the cars came off the truck "race ready". Judging by the order when the checkers waved, Team Penske came to win, place, AND show this weekend.
Top Five: Pagenaud, Newgarden, Power, Castronves, Rossi
Everyone took a good run of laps however, and again, the top of the charts were filled with Penske’s, until Marco Andretti crashed the party taking top spot.
No incidents, but a couple of spins (Chilton, Jones) and a little creative off-roading (Hunter-Reay) judging by the post practice quotes, some drivers are clearly struggling with their set up this weekend.
Top Five: Andretti, Power, Pagenaud, Castronves, Dixon
SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “It was a good day for the Menards Chevrolet team. We were able to get a lot of laps in and collect some good data. The car felt good. I think we’re in a good place in terms of speed and balance. This track can be a little tricky and it’s really important to get that balance. Everyone tested here not that long ago, so the cars are pretty dialed in. This is just a fun track to drive.”
JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet): “I really enjoy racing here at Barber. I feel pretty good at where the Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevy is right now. On the speed side, we were a tick quicker in the first practice, but we were experimenting a little in the afternoon session. The warmer track this afternoon made it a little slick, but that’s not always a bad thing. It’s supposed to be warm again tomorrow and we’ll see what Sunday brings. But for qualifying tomorrow, if it doesn’t rain, should be pretty similar to today. Qualifying will be as important as it always is and we are in a good position to get a good starting spot for Sunday’s race.”
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet): “This track, it’s very challenging in the setup, obviously Firestone has been doing a very good job changing a little bit of the compound or the construction, and it seemed to suit our setup on the No. 3 AAA Chevy. We keep chasing all the areas, so it’s not only straight, brake and turn, you have a lot of technical corners here that are becoming very difficult, so it makes a big difference when you have a good setup.”
CONOR DALY (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Chevrolet): “Today was a good day for us overall. We’re continuing to make progress. We rolled off the truck pretty happy which is nice. We could have gotten a little more time out of our reds there but I had to try two different lines myself after looking at some data and so I didn’t take advantage of it as best I could but we’re close. We’re in the hunt for the top 12 so we’ll look at things overnight and hope to be in that top 12 group again tomorrow.”
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “Pretty rough day for us to be honest. We just seemed to miss the balance, especially in the afternoon as the track got hotter. I don’t think we maximized our new tire runs, but the balance was never exactly where the Arrow Electronics crew wanted it. We certainly have our work cut out for us because the field is very close, as it always is, and being a couple tenths off is going to put you a few rows back. We’ll put our heads together and try and come up with a solution for tomorrow.”
MIKHAIL ALESHIN (No. 7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “I think we had a decent day today as a team. We made some progress from Practice 1 to Practice 2. I think the team is headed in the right direction, so let’s hope for the best tomorrow; I’m sure we’re going to do well.”
MAX CHILTON (No. 8 Gallagher Honda): “Of course we wanted to be further up the scoring sheets than where we ended up today with the Gallagher car. I was confident coming in today based on the testing we did last month. We just looked for grip all day here at Barber and didn’t find any. It didn’t matter if it was the primary or the alternate tire, there was just no grip.”
SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda): “It wasn’t a terrible day overall for the No. 9 NTT Data car. We are working through some things and trying to get the balance of the car right where I want it. Honda and the team are working hard on it and we hope to move up the timing sheets for qualifying tomorrow here at Barber.”
TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Honda): “We really struggled out there today to find grip. It didn’t help that it was so much hotter today than it was when we tested here a month ago. I’m definitely not happy with where we were today, but I’m feeling good about the direction we need to go to get the car quick for qualifying.”
WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I’m pretty excited about qualifying tomorrow at Barber after today’s two practice sessions. We had podium finishes in both sessions and we’re feeling strong. The Verizon Chevy has performed really well today and we think we have the machine to help us make a strong showing in tomorrow’s qualifying session. This track is a great mix of speed and technical. The speed in the turns is amazing. It really makes it a lot of fun.”
CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We made a lot of progress compared to the test. We are much more competitive. I think we still have to work a little bit on the (Firestone alternate) red tires. Everyone is really close to each other in the lap times but I feel really competitive.”
GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda): “It was a frustrating day. So far this season, we have struggled on the first day of practice and we need to find a way to be stronger out of the box. We will look at the data and work hard to rebound overnight and get to the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying like we did at the last race. We have a lot of work to do but I’m confident my guys can make it happen.”
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Sonny’s BBQ Honda): “t was a tough day. There’s something I’m not putting my finger on and I’m struggling to understand and explain what the car is doing. Just a challenging day. Regardless of the result and the lap time, I just seem to have a tough time to make sense of everything, so I’m going to sit down to try and understand what I’m not getting. It’s been a weird day.”
ED JONES (No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda): “It was a difficult first day at Barber Motorsports Park aboard the Boy Scouts of America Honda car. We started off not too badly and then we made a few changes for the afternoon session and they didn’t really work out. We’ll work overnight to try and make the car better for tomorrow. We went through the same stuff in Long Beach so I’m confident that we can work through it and be back running well tomorrow.”
SPENCER PIGOT (No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “We obviously need to improve in some areas. There are a couple of corners in particular that we can really make some gains in. When we figure that out, we’ll definitely jump up a lot. Our focus overnight will be to pinpoint things that aren’t going exactly how we would like and hopefully we’ll take a big step forward tomorrow<.”
ZACH VEACH (No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “It is definitely a baptism by fire. I’m so thankful to Ed Carpenter Racing and Fuzzy’s Vodka for allowing me to be here this weekend. With the very limited amount of time I’ve had in the car before this, and after two 45 minute practice sessions, we’re still trying to work up to it. It’s extremely difficult, but everyone is doing the best that they can to get me up to speed. We want to take it bit by bit. We don’t want to bite off more than we can chew right now. We’re working up to it nice and slowly; if anything, this whole weekend is a big test session for me, learning how it is to be in an Indy car.”
TAKUMA SATO (No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda): “I think it was a difficult day for us. We tried a few things and it seems like the condition of the car was going the opposite way that we wanted – which is OK because we’re still learning. The sister cars are recording very fast times so I am looking forward to going into debrief and sharing all our data. We didn’t have a strong day today, but hopefully we’ll be in the front tomorrow<.”
MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda): “I think as a team on the No. 27 Honda side we’re just really trying to focus on us and trying to make the best educated guess at what the (Firestone alternate) red (tires) would do, and I think we did a good job of that today. We did a good job of that at Long Beach, too. We just need to do it when it counts tomorrow (in qualifying). You know, it’s very important to qualify well here, so I’m pleased that we have the pace to hopefully be able to do that. So far, so good. We just need to replicate it tomorrow.”
RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “Overall, we ended both sessions in the top 10 and I think it’s a day where we learned a lot. We learned some things to keep and what not to do as well. That last session I was way too loose with the settings on the car so we know what we need to do tomorrow and hopefully we can be right there at the front. I think Marco (Andretti) showed good pace, so I think as a team we can all be up top.”
CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 Tresiba Honda): “The Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing team made some good changes between sessions today. I could tell within the first lap or two that the car was a lot better this afternoon. It was really night and day from the first session. This morning we were working from data picked up from the test last month, but the grip level changed a lot. We made a damper change and found a good amount of speed. I’m confident the No. 83 team will come back for another strong qualifying.”
ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 98 Andretti/Curb Honda): “This morning was pretty good, but we started to develop some brake issues this afternoon which definitely compromised our performance on the time sheets. We’ll have to understand why that is. Otherwise, I think the car is pretty good and Marco (Andretti) was P1 so we can compare data and make our car even better. We’ll just have to make sure we resolve those issues and come back strong