Photo: Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

Rinus VeeKay Paces Second Practice at Barber

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – A new challenger enters the fray.

After Josef Newgarden topped the board in Friday’s opening practice of the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park, Saturday brought a new contender with Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay putting his No. 21 Chevrolet on the top of the scoring pylon during the morning session.

VeeKay’s lap of one minute, 6.5463 seconds was enough to hold off the second fastest car of Romain Grosjean, giving the smaller teams in the paddock something to hang their hat on during this race weekend in Alabama.

Both VeeKay and Grosjean count the 17-turn, 2.3-mile road course as their best statistically, with VeeKay’s last podium finish coming here back in 2022, the same race he won the pole at, while Grosjean has yet to finish outside the top-10 in his three starts at this track.

Grosjean’s best run at Barber came one year ago when he won the pole and finished as the runner-up.

“I like this track. That’s for sure,” VeeKay said with a smile. “The car feels really good. It felt pretty good yesterday, but couldn’t really get a lap in on the red tires. We made some changes overnight on what we thought was the right direction and it was the right direction.

“Really good. Great job by the [No.] 21 Ed Carpenter Racing crew. I’m excited for qualifying. It’s usually a very good sign when you’re fast in Practice 2.”

Defending race winner Scott McLaughlin timed in third fastest, followed by Graham Rahal, Christian Lundgaard, Pato O’Ward, Will Power, Alex Palou, Newgarden, and Marcus Armstrong to round out the top-10 finishers.

The session was slowed by a few off-track excursions, all of which came from drivers that are making their first start at the track nicknamed the “Alabama Rollercoaster.”

First was Pietro Fittipaldi out of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan camp, who found the gravel trap in Turn 1 when his No. 30 Honda failed to make the right-hander, sending him off track. Luckily, he was able to get the car stopped before impacting the barrier on the other side.

After climbing out of his car following the rough ride, Fittipaldi explained that the steering rack in his car broke, leaving him with no way to control the car. At that point he was just along for the ride.

“We were just doing laps, just warming up the car. We weren’t really pushing and then my steering rack just came loose,” Fittipaldi said.

“Luckily, it didn’t happen in a high-speed corner because it would have been pretty scary. The steering rack just came loose and I had no steering basically. Disappointed because we needed laps obviously with these tracks I don’t know. Obviously doesn’t help the race weekend.”

Fittipaldi wasn’t the only Barber rookie to have issues with Arrow McLaren pilot Theo Pourchaire, filling in for the injured David Malukas, going off track in Turn 13.

Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Kyffin Simpson had a wild ride of his own, running off track in Turn 1 and then trying to save it, launching his No. 4 Honda skyward, with all four wheels off the ground momentarily. He was no worse for the wear following his Dukes of Hazzard impression as he returned to the track and kept on digging.

Next up for the NTT IndyCar Series at Barber Motorsports Park will be qualifying to set the 27-car field. The first round of time trials kicks off at 3:30 pm ET on Peacock.

The Children’s of Alabama Grand Prix is scheduled for 1:30 pm ET on NBC and Peacock.

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David Morgan is the Associate Editor for Motorsports Tribune. A 2008 graduate from the University of Mississippi, David has followed NASCAR since the early 90’s and became hooked at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993. He has traveled across the country since 2012 to cover some of the most prestigious events both IndyCar and NASCAR have to offer, with an aim to only expand on that in the near future.