BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Focus forward has served Ryan Hunter-Reay well during his motorsports career -- when he was out of an open-wheel ride following the 2005 Champ Car season, when he was bent on proving his race craft in '07 in a part-time gig with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and especially when he was pointing to his first series title in 2012.
So, following what was a disappointing race day April 13 on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., he focused on the next race -- the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, which he won last year at Barber Motorsports Park. Great timing, and after pacing the field in both practice sessions, great confidence boost.
Hunter-Reay, who was involved in a Lap 56 incident involving six other cars during the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach while running at the front, swept the top spot on the time chart on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber road course. His lap of 1 minute, 8.7836 seconds in the No. 28 DHL car for Andretti Autosport was a tenth of a second quicker than the one he posted in the 45-minute morning session.
“The track was good; this is quite a bit hotter than we’re used to here at Barber," he said. "It takes some getting used to and the track conditions have certainly changed, but we’ve tested here quite a bit – we tested here in the offseason and we definitely can’t get enough of Barber. It’s going to be a little bit hotter (April 26 for qualifications) and the track temp is going to go up, so we’ll look at what we did her last year preparing for qualifying.
"The Andretti Autosport car is great right now, we’re not where we want to be yet, but I expect to see all four of us up front.”
Click it: Combined practice results || Practice 2 results || Practice 1 results
Hunter-Reay, who earned the Verizon P1 Award last April and won the race by .6993 of a second over Scott Dixon, enters the 90-lap race fifth in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.
Click it: Session 1 qualifying groups
"In 2013 at Barber, we had one of those race weekends you strive to achieve each time you show up at the track," he said. "Taking the win from pole at such a challenging track was a tremendous achievement by our team as a whole, and proved that our preparation for the road courses had paid off. Hopefully we can defend our win, but it will be tough as hundredths of a second in qualifying could prove to be the difference-maker."
Sebastien Bourdais, who also had a race to forget on the streets of Long Beach, checked in .1475 of a second behind Hunter-Reay as mid-afternoon track and ambient temperatures rose.
“We know how slick this place can be when it gets hot and how much tire degradation can be a factor," said Bourdais, driving the No. 11 Hydroxycut/KVSH Racing car. "We come here (in March) and test for two days and it’s drizzling and it’s British weather in the 50s, no wind, and the track is awesome – and the car feels great and it’s super fast. And then we come back and the track is 125 degrees, and it’s gusty, and you’re like, ‘Is this the same car?’
"You’re 2 seconds slower and you’re P1. And that’s interesting. I think it’s very difficult to anticipate what might happen; the track might not pick up any speed at all and it’s getting very slick out there. We’ll see what happens."
Josef Newgarden, who advanced 13 positions last April to claim his first top 10, was third quick overall based on his morning time of 1:08.9336 in the No. 67 Hartman Oil/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing car. He was sixth in the afternoon (1:09.0877). Will Power, a two-time race winner and pole sitter at Barber, was fourth overall (1:08.9746) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, and James Hinchcliffe was fifth (1:09.0036) in Andretti Autosport's No. 27 United Fiber & Data car.
Helio Castroneves, who won the inaugural race at Barber in 2010 and has finished third the past two years, also posted his best lap in Session 1 (1:09.0094) in the No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske car for sixth overall.
Practice at 10 a.m. (CT) April 26 precedes the three rounds of qualifications. The IMS Radio Network broadcast, in conjunction with real-time Timing & Scoring, is on www.indycar.com
and INDYCAR 14 app. Paul Page is the chief announcer. NBCSN telecasts taped qualifications (11:30 p.m., April 26, Central time) and the 90-lap race live (1:30-4:30 p.m., April 27). Leigh Diffey is the chief announcer.