BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Graham Rahal led the final practice prior to Sunday afternoon’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst, but most of the eyes in the NTT IndyCar Series paddock followed the pace of the guy who was second fastest in the 30-minute session.
Alexander Rossi spent most of his 20 laps using a set of Firestone’s red-sidewall alternate tires, becoming one of the few drivers this weekend to test their longevity and response through a full stint at Barber Motorsports Park.
HONDA INDY GRAND PRIX OF ALABAMA: Warmup practice results I Combined practice results
Rossi’s best lap in the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda came on his eighth lap in the warmup, at 1 minute, 10.2853 seconds (117.806) on the 17-turn, 2.3-mile permanent road course. The lap came while the Andretti Autosport driver was on the set of “reds,” as the drivers and teams prefer to call the Firestone alternates.
Rahal bettered that late in the session with his lap of 1:10.1751 (117.991 mph) in the No. 15 One Cure Honda, but the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver was on a set of Firestone’s black-sidewall primary compound tires at the time.
The performance of the alternate tires, which feature a softer, grippier compound that usually helps deliver quicker lap times, has been a source of conversation this weekend since they seemed slower to most driver in Friday’s practice before performance improved for NTT P1 Award qualifying on Saturday. Few had logged as many laps on a set as Rossi did in Sunday’s warmup, but even he was unsure what it meant afterward.
“We tried both tire compounds, just trying to get an understanding,” Rossi said. “It’s easy to get lost in warmup, though, because conditions are a lot better than they’ll be in the race, so it’s hard to say. The tires are throwing everyone for a loop this weekend for whatever reason. I think we’re still trying to get our heads around it.”
Headed to the Andretti Autosport engineering prep and strategy session for the upcoming 90-lap race, Rossi wasn’t sure if what he did in the warmup provided any answers.
“We’re just trying to get some sort of clue and direction,” he said, “and I don’t know that we really did that, to be honest.”
Rossi will start eighth in the race, his lowest qualifying result on an NTT IndyCar Series road or street course in 10 races – since he also went off eighth in the INDYCAR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last May.
Rahal, meanwhile, starts on the outside of Row 1 alongside teammate and pole sitter Takuma Sato, who was eighth quick in the warmup practice.
Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden rallied from what has been a disappointing weekend to date by placing third in the warmup in the No. 2 Fitzgerald USA Chevrolet. The two-time defending race winner, Newgarden qualified 16th in the 24-car field. The 2017 series champion takes an 18-point championship lead into the race that airs live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.