By Christopher DeHarde, Staff Writer
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama– The 2019 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama has two practice sessions in the books and quite honestly, nobody really knows what to expect for the third round of the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series at Barber Motorsports Park.
With a forecast changing about as rapidly as the track’s direction, it’s almost as if nobody knows where to go for the right setup, nor does anyone have any clue about the Firestone red sidewall (alternate) tires except for maybe James Hinchcliffe since he was third in the first practice session and first in the second practice session.
Many drivers had difficulty working with the softer tires that give more wear, Alexander Rossi even called them ‘terrible’ on the IMS radio feed after the second Friday practice session.
That revelation will have many engineers and drivers scratching their heads as they try to prepare for 90 laps around the 17-turn, 2.3 mile natural terrain road course, such as Ryan Hunter-Reay.
Hunter-Reay was fifth fastest in the first Friday practice session and sixth fastest in the second Friday practice session. With many drivers going off course in the first practice session and some more going off in the afternoon, many teams were scrambling to get their cars sorted.
“It was a rockin’ handful,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was tough out there today. I don’t know why, we’ve got to go back and look. I think everybody’s kind of dealing with that overall. Lap times aren’t what they were last year for the whole field so we’ll have to just look into it and figure out what’s going on. I think everybody’s got their hands full.”
Hunter-Reay has the chance to become the first Honda-powered driver to win at Barber since he did it in 2014. Since that time, Tennessee’s Josef Newgarden’s won three times for Chevrolet (2015, 2017 and 2018) while Simon Pagenaud won in 2016.
“I’d love to do it, absolutely,” said Hunter-Reay. “I’d love to do it for this team, for DHL, for Honda, the whole lot. It’s been two races since we’ve won so we’ve got to get back there,” Hunter-Reay referencing his win at the 2018 season finale.
In the Porsche GT3 Cup support race this weekend we’re looking at the sports car racing debut of Canadian Parker Thompson. Thompson finished second in last year’s Indy Pro 2000 (formerly Pro Mazda) points and is currently leading that championship’s points standings. With only a one-race weekend deal ironed out with Abel Motorsports, Thompson signed a deal to race in Barber this weekend with JDX Racing and was third after Friday’s practice.
This was also the Red Deer, Alberta native’s first experience driving a car with a windshield, a roof and fenders.
“Everything is different, to be honest I’m a bit of a duck out of water but I’m learning quick and adapting as fast as I can,” said Thompson. “These Porsches are known to be one of the hardest cars to drive in sports cars so to come in on a week’s notice and try and compete with these guys that have been doing it for a couple of years is a tall order but we’re only a tenth or two off in practice so I’ll be working overnight with my JDX engineer Luke and hopefully we can challenge for a pole tomorrow.
“It’s been a big learning experience but I couldn’t have asked for a better team than JDX Racing, this No. 3 Hertz Buyers car is pretty quick and to end up P3 on my first official day in IMSA, I’ll take it.”
Thompson isn’t showing up just to let people know he’s here. With three Barber wins in the Road to Indy, Thompson is aiming for the top.
“I feel like I can jump in anything and be competitive so I wasn’t coming in here to shoot for nothing,” said Thompson. “I was coming in here to show everyone what I can do and to show everyone that I’m not just an open wheel driver, I can drive sports cars, too.”
Saturday’s NTT IndyCar Series track activity begins with the Saturday practice at 10:45 in the morning with qualifying taking place at 3:00 p.m.