BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – As if Verizon IndyCar Series teams didn’t have enough on their minds this weekend at Barber Motorsports Park –with the new car for 2018 making its permanent road course competition debut Sunday in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama – a schedule change necessitated more on-the-fly strategy in today’s opening practice.
INDYCAR, after consulting with its teams, has eliminated the traditional 30-minute race-morning warmup practice at most of the six road-course events this season. Teams pushed for the change to lessen the weekend workload on crews, knowing that team testing is available to gather data at the permanent circuits prior to a race weekend.
The warmup practice has also been the first opportunity for drivers on a race weekend to test their push-to-pass overtake assist. With the warmup gone from the schedule, INDYCAR allowed teams to use it the first 30 minutes of today’s opening 45-minute session.
HONDA INDY GRAND PRIX OF ALABAMA: Practice 1 results
Will Power, a two-time Barber winner, paced the 23 cars in practice with a lap of 1 minute, 7.5987 seconds (122.488 mph) around the popular 2.3-mile course. Power’s pace-setting lap in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was his sixth of 12 in the session and came within the first half hour, with push-to-pass and its added 50 horsepower or so at his disposal.
He led three Team Penske drivers in the top six, with Josef Newgarden second (1:07.9141, 121.919 mph) and Simon Pagenaud sixth (1:08.3122, 121.208 mph).
Max Chilton, driving the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet for first-year Verizon IndyCar Series team Carlin, finished an impressive fourth in practice (1:08.2882, 121.251 mph). The third-year driver wasn’t sure how it truly stacked up on the speed chart, however.
“That session was difficult because we’re not having a Sunday session,” Chilton said. “There was push-to-pass out there so you don’t know who used it. I didn’t use it on my new set of tires, so I think that’s pretty good.
“We’ll take it. It’s a positive for the team and it gives them a great morale boost. Hopefully, we can continue on tomorrow and Sunday.”
Chilton said he enjoys coming to Barber each year because it coincides with his birthday. The native of Reigate, England, turns 27 on Saturday.
“I’ve always liked this track. I’ve had my birthday here the last four years, so I always want to try and make it a good one. I got on the podium here in Indy Lights (in 2015).”
While Team Penske hoarded spots atop the timesheet, it was a Jekyll-and-Hyde session for Newgarden. He brought out the second red-flag stoppage of practice when he slid off course and through the gravel trap in Turn 5.
“Well, I locked the rears, I’ll tell you that much,” the driver of the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske and defending Barber winner said. “It was a pretty good lock-up. Not the smoothest start but this is why we come to a race weekend, this is why we have practice. Sometimes things don’t go right.
“We’ll be just fine. We had a top-two car and it’s still quick. Even though I wasn’t happy with it, it was still very quick. We’ll fix whatever we need to fix and we’ll be back out here and hopefully get the most out of Session 2.”
Alexander Rossi, the series points leader after winning April 15 at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, went off in Turn 15 earlier in the session to bring out the first red flag. Rossi, in the No. 27 Kerauno / Curb Honda for Andretti Autosport, wound up 20th on the time sheet.
A second practice, this one for 60 minutes, starts 3:30 p.m. ET today and will be followed by a 15-minute live pit stop practice at 4:55 p.m. A final practice begins at 11:50 a.m. Saturday. All will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.
Another implemented rule change adds five pounds to the minimum car weight for cars on road and street courses, to 1,625 pounds. The change reflects a more accurate reading of car weight requirements with the universal aero kit. The car weight – which excludes the driver, driver weight equivalency, fuel and drink bottle content – remains 1,620 pounds for short ovals and 1,590 pounds on superspeedways.
In a television change due to NHL playoff telecast commitments, Verizon P1 Award qualifying will air live on CNBC at 4 p.m. ET Saturday, with a re-air on NBCSN at 6:30 p.m. The 90-lap race airs live at 3 p.m. Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.