Photo: Walter G Arce, Sr./ASP, Inc.

Rosenqvist, Hinchcliffe Fastest in Opening Day Practices at Barber

By David Morgan, Associate Editor

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama – The opening day of NTT IndyCar Series practice for this weekend’s running of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park was a bit treacherous, to say the least.

With overcast skies and rain threatening during the first of two scheduled practice sessions, several drivers found themselves making off track excursions on the mix of wet and dry pavement around the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course, bringing out a number of red flags in the process.

When all was said and done, rookie standout Felix Rosenqvist, driver of the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, was the fastest in the first session with a lap of one minute, 09.2296 seconds (119.602 mph).

Veteran Sebastien Bourdais was second quickest, followed by James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Colton Herta, Patricio O’Ward, Takuma Sato, Alexander Rossi, and Simon Pagenaud to round out the top-10.

Among those going off track in the first session were A.J Foyt Racing teammates Matheus Leist and Tony Kanaan, as well as Sato, Spencer Pigot and others. Leist got the worst of the deal after his No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet snapped loose off of Turn 8, causing the Brazilian to impact the guardrail lining the outside of the track.

Later in the afternoon, the drivers and teams hit the track for the second of two scheduled practice sessions once clouds parted and the sun drenched the picturesque facility. Despite much more favorable weather, drivers still had their hands full trying to navigate the unforgiving course.

Veteran James Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, was the fastest in the afternoon session at one minute, 08.9994 seconds (120.001 mph).

Hinchcliffe’s lap not only topped the board in second practice, but was also the quickest of the weekend thus far.

“Not a bad first day. P3 in session one, P1 in session two,” said Hinchcliffe. “Still a lot of work to do, man. It is incredibly close, but the Arrow car was great right out of the truck and that makes our job so much easier just fine tuning on it and me working on my driving.

“So, big thanks to the boys, but still a long way to go in the weekend. It’s ultra, ultra-competitive. Hopefully we can be at the sharp end in qualifying and try to finish here on Sunday.”

Honda powered machines swept the top-six, with rookie and Circuit of The Americas winner Colton Herta timing in second, followed by Santino Ferrucci, Bourdais, Rossi, and Hunter-Reay. The remainder of the top-10 went to Pigot, O’Ward, Marco Andretti, and Dixon.

The red flag flew once in the session when Ferrucci went off track in Turn 16 and skidded through the grass into the tire barrier. Others that had issues included Zach Veach, who ran off course and took a track marking ski pole with him, as well as Herta, who made a trip through the gravel trap late in the session.

“There’s so much that’s challenging about it,” Herta said of the track. “The whole thing, it’s a bunch of combination corners, so corners left followed by right, so you can give in the left-handers and get in the right-handers or you can get in the left-handers and give the right-handers. You know, there’s always time to find.

“You can never drive a perfect lap here. It’s so different. You could have a great setup and feel like you did a killer lap time and come in and be a half a second off. It’s just that type of place. It’s probably the toughest track that we go to.”

Next up for the drivers and teams of the NTT IndyCar Series is final practice at 10:45 am Central time on Saturday, followed by qualifying at 3:00 pm. The 10th annual race at Barber (90 laps, 207 miles) is scheduled for a 3:15 pm green flag on Sunday.

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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. Learning to love the sport at an early age after attending his first race at Talladega Superspeedway in 1993, he has been hooked ever since. David is a National Motorsports Press Association member, having covered races across the country since 2012 and looks forward to visiting every track on the circuit in the near future.