BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Let the competition begin.
The initial two sessions of a two-day IZOD IndyCar Series Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park -- 10 days before the season opener -- produced:
• Twenty-five drivers who were quicker than the official record on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn road course.
• Eight different teams represented in the top 10.
• Nineteen of the 26 drivers within 1 second of the leader.
• Six Chevrolet and four Honda teams in the top 10.
• Mike Conway, who is scheduled to drive only at Long Beach at the moment, placing fourth on the time sheet.
Will Power set the record of 1 minute, 9.8524 seconds in Round 1 of qualifications last April. Driving the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, he was quickest in the chilly morning session with a lap of 1:08.4984 and lowered it to 1:07.8625 in the afternoon -- 2 seconds quicker than his record.
Click it: Practice 1 times | Practice 2 times | Combined times
Teammate Helio Castroneves was second (1:07.9388) in the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske car, while James Hinchcliffe was third (1:07.9869) in the No. 27 GoDaddy.com car for Andretti Autosport.
"When the offseason is so long, our speed bottles up," Hinchcliffe joked.
Power, the defending race winner at Barber, won three of the initial four races in the 2012 and entered the season finale as one of two drivers contending for the series title. He's looking for another quick start -- and his first championship.
"The car is incredibly hooked up here," he said. "I never felt quicker in this car. It's good to have Penske 1-2; it's only the first day of testing but it shows we've worked hard in the winter and I think as a team we're determined to kick a couple of boxes this year. The Indy 500 and the championship are at the top of the list. I've let it go too many times."
Recent surface grinding combined with a new compound for the Firestone primary tires developed for the track and cool temperatures helping the turbo-charged engines were contributing factors. All teams are using the slicks for the test, with alternate tires that trade off even more grip for fewer laps for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on April 5-7 at Barber.
“It runs like a diamond-bladed polisher horizontal with the surface of the racetrack and takes the aggregate back down to the base," track manager Mark Whitt said of the surface grinding process. "We’ve been running 10 years so the aggregate gets exposed. We ground the aggregate to get it back down to the base, which makes a smoother surface but more grippy surface."
The process will prolong the life of the course, which is in use more than 220 days a year. Porsche driving school events and motorcycle and car club weekends followed the project before the IZOD IndyCar Series test.
The March 13 sessions have been revised because of the potential of inclement weather to 11 a.m.-1 p.m. and 1:45-6 p.m. (ET) with live Timing & Scoring on indycar.com.
Conway, testing for the first time this year, was behind the wheel of the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts car for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and recorded a quick lap of 1:08.1584.
“Today was about getting comfortable in a car, working with the guys and seeing how they work and getting myself dialed in for Long Beach," Conway said. "I think we got through a lot of stuff, and hopefully helped the guys out for tomorrow. James will be in the car and hopefully he’ll like some of the things we got through today and be quick out of the box."
AJ Allmendinger, who is scheduled to compete at Barber and the Indianapolis 500 in the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske car, was 16th on the time chart (1:08.5098).
"Today was another positive step in the learning process and I thought the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet showed some good speed," Allmendinger said. "We need as many laps as we can get, but my teammates are being great about sharing information to accelerate the learning curve and I am excited to see what we can get done (March 13)."