BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – Josef Newgarden has found a home at his “home track.”
Winner of two of the last three Honda Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America’s First races, Newgarden led Verizon IndyCar Series practice today for this year’s ninth running that takes place Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park. Newgarden toured the picturesque 17-turn, 2.3-mile permanent road course in 1 minute, 7.4345 seconds (122.786 mph) in the latter of two practice sessions.
Newgarden, who hails from 200 miles away in Nashville, Tennessee, calls Barber his home track. The driver of the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet collected the first win of his Verizon IndyCar Series career at Barber in 2015. He won again in 2017, kick-starting a run to the season championship in his first year with Team Penske.
“I love this racetrack. I think it’s one of the best that we get to drive at from sort of a style standpoint,” Newgarden said. “It’s very technical, but it’s got a lot of flow to it. It feels kind of like a roller coaster to me is the best way to describe the style of it. I have a lot of fun here, I think it’s great.
“We had some issues in the first session,” Newgarden added. “Just kind of been dealing with a couple things that I think we got sorted out for the second session there, but we seem like we’ve got some speed.”
Third-year driver Spencer Pigot was second fastest on the day with a lap of 1:07.5372 (122.599 mph) in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, also set in the afternoon practice. Pigot was a four-time winner at Barber in the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder sanctioned by INDYCAR – twice in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires (2014) and twice in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires (2015).
“It’s great to be back here at Barber. It’s one of my favorites tracks and I really enjoy it,” Pigot said. “It’s very fast, very flowing and most of the time I’ve had success here. Happy to be here and the day was really good. We started off this morning with a little bit of balance issues, but made some obviously really good changes from P1 to P2 and the car felt really good.”
Will Power placed third on the combined-sessions time sheet with a lap of 1:07.5987 (122.488 mph) run in the morning session, when he was fastest in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
The two practices saw nearly half the 23 drivers go off course on at least one occasion. Notably difficult was the Turn 5-6 hairpin, where the search for grip was constant. Among those venturing into the grass or gravel in the area were Newgarden in the morning practice and James Hinchcliffe, Matheus “Matt” Leist, Zach Veach, Simon Pagenaud and Sebastien Bourdais in the afternoon.
“Today was very difficult with the wind conditions,” Newgarden said. “If you looked at the wind, it was kind of behind us today going into Turn 5, it was behind of going into Turn 12 and that’s the most difficult wind direction you’re going to drive around here. I think it’s going to flip 180 (degrees) tomorrow.”
Points leader Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport spun in Turn 15 in the first session. Juncos Racing rookie Rene Binder slid hard into the Turn 16 tire barrier in the second practice, but was released and cleared to drive after being checked at the infield medical center.
The final practice session of the weekend starts at 11:50 a.m. ET Saturday and streams live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app. Verizon P1 Award qualifying, featuring three knockout rounds concluding with the Firestone Fast Six to determine the pole winner, airs live at 4 p.m. on CNBC with a same-day replay at 6:30 p.m. on NBCSN.
The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is the fourth of 17 races on the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Rossi enters the weekend with a 22-point lead over Newgarden in the standings. Coverage of the 90-lap race begins at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.