Three Chevrolet 2.2 liter twin turbocharged V6 drivers topped the time and speed charts after two round of practice for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.
Defending Verizon IndyCar Series (VICS) champion and Barber defending race winner Josef Newgarden posted the best time of the combined results for the morning and afternoon sessions. His best lap behind the wheel of the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet was one minute, 07.4345 seconds/122.786 mph.
Ed Carpenter Racing’s Spencer Pigot followed closely behind Newgarden in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka with Will Power, No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, in third.
Final practice is scheduled for 10:50 a.m. CDT with Firestone Fast Six qualifying set for a 3:05 p.m. CDT start on Saturday afternoon.
The 90-lap race on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn permanent road course will be telecast live on NBCSN at 3 p.m. EDT Sunday.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN, NO. 1 HITACHI TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET: “It’s a great — home track for me. It wins the war between this place and Indianapolis because it’s an hour closer, so I think
that’s why I call it the home track. Unfortunately we don’t race in Nashville anymore. But I’ve always loved Barber. It is a special place for me. It’s the place I got my first win with CFH back in the day, and it’s a place I won my first race for Team Penske. It’s had a couple firsts for me, so it’s been good for that. Good memories. I love this racetrack. I think it’s one of the best that we get to drive at from sort of a style standpoint. 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.”
MATTEUS LEIST, NO. 4 ABC SUPPLY AJ FOYT RACING CHEVROLET: “We’re struggling with understeer in mid-corner so we need more rotation in the car. If we can fix the mid-corner understeer, we’re going to have a fast car tomorrow. We’ll keep working on it and hopefully we’ll have a great weekend.”
WILL POWER, NO. 12 VERIZON TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET: “I think once again the temperature of the track really makes it tough in these cars. It was very nice this morning and was easy to get lap times. And then all of a sudden this afternoon, even on reds, it’s very difficult to get the car right. We’re going to have to go back and have a good think about it.”
TONY KANAAN, NO. 14 ABC SUPPLY TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET: “It’s a difficult day. We’re struggling a lot. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
JORDAN KING, NO. 20 FUZZY’S VODKA ED CARPENTER RACING CHEVROLET: “This morning was really good and we made some good progress. For this afternoon’s session, we changed a couple of things to see if they helped. We’re keeping the tradition though of not getting a lap time on reds, between traffic and red flags and yellows! We are farther down than I think we should be. We should be quite a bit quicker, probably seven or eight tenths faster than what we were. We’re not a million miles away. We just need a few more small improvements to get me a bit more comfortable with the car.”
SPENCER PIGOT, NO. 21 FUZZY’S VODKA ED CARPENTER RACING CHEVROLET: “That was a really good session! It’s nice to end up at the front here at Barber. It’s one of my favorite tracks, I really enjoy it. The session was good right from the get-go on black tires. We were quite fast, then when we put the reds on the car just gained more grip. Sometimes when you put them on, it can really change the balance, but this time it felt really good. We were able to get a little more out of the car in pretty much every corner. I’m very happy with the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy so far, hopefully we can keep it up there!”
SIMON PAGENAUD, NO. 22 MENARDS TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET: “The car is really fast. It was a really good session to start. But unfortunately we had a bit of a spin on the reds trying a little too hard I guess. That’s what you have to do before qualifying. You have to find the limits but I’m very happy with Menards car. I think we’ll be in great shape tomorrow.”
CHARLIE KIMBALL, NO. 23 TRESIBA CARLIN CHEVROLET: “We made a setup change to the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet that didn’t work out the way we had hoped. When those red flags came out, we were just trying to make sure that we had worked through our race program and that we were ready for Sunday. With no warm-up on race day that last practice was really our last chance for a race running opportunity, so we needed to make sure that we worked on the race setup and also made sure that we were maximizing what we were getting out of the new reds for qualifying. Obviously Max and the 59 car looked really good for a lot of the session, so we’ll be able to look at his data tonight and make sure the car is back where it needs to be.”
RENE BINDER, NO. 32 BINDERHOLZ JUNCOS RACING CHEVROLET: “I think that the practice went well in the beginning. We did find some improvement so it went better and better. Then we put the red tires on and I tried to push hard and maybe a little too much. I then lost the car, it went straight into the wall. It was a little bit too late with my hands, taking them off the steering wheel, so my left hand hurts a little bit.”
MAX CHILTON, NO. 59 GALLAGHER CARLIN CHEVROLET: “We’re starting to figure out exactly where we need to be get the results we want. We made a lot of progress as a team in Long Beach with qualifying and we’re keeping that momentum going here finishing in the top 12 of both practice sessions today. The racing is so incredibly close here at Barber, so we’re going to have to really up our game for qualifying and the race if we want a good result for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet. I think we definitely have potential to get into the top 12 for qualifying tomorrow, especially if we keep moving in in the direction we are today.”
GABBY CHAVES, NO. 88 HARDING GROUP HARDING RACING CHEVROLET:
“Tough day for us today. We had a mechanical issue towards the end of practice 2, so it cut our time on track short. I know the Harding Racing guys are working hard to make sure everything will be good to go tomorrow for practice 3 and Qualifying. We’ll keep at it tonight to be ready to push tomorrow.”
DRIVER PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT:
JOSEF NEWGARDEN:” THE MODERATOR: We will proceed with our Verizon IndyCar Series post-practice press conference. Joined now by Josef Newgarden, driving the No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet for Team Penske here at Barber Motorsports Park. Josef is a two-time winner here at the track, winning in 2015, his first career win, and also in 2017 this past year. Josef, I know that Barber is a special track for you; not only did you get your first career win here, it’s also the closest track to your hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. You did some media there earlier this week before coming over hoping to get a home crowd over here.
But first of all, take us through your practice run today but also just what makes this track so special to you.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, it’s a great — like you said, home track for me. It wins the war between this place and Indianapolis because it’s an hour closer, so I think that’s why I call it the home track. Unfortunately we don’t race in Nashville anymore. But I’ve always loved Barber. It is a special place for me. It’s the place I got my first win with CFH back in the day, and it’s a place I won my first race for Team Penske. It’s had a couple firsts for me, so it’s been good for that. Good memories. I love this racetrack. I think it’s one of the best that we get to drive at from sort of a style standpoint. 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’re going to try and have a good weekend. We had a pretty good start for the most part. We had some issues in the first session. 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. I think our other cars got some speed, as well. Simon looked like he suffered from maybe a similar problem, and I don’t think Will had a very good lap, so I think those guys will be right there with us. Team Penske I think is going to be strong tomorrow, I’m sure.
THE MODERATOR: We saw a few red flags in practice, and obviously when it comes to qualifying at a place like that, it can take a lot of time away from sessions. Is that something you will think about heading into qualifying tomorrow knowing that could be a possibility?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, we always do. We prepare for that. We always start with a primary set of tires to try and shield ourselves. You want to have a good run on those primary set before you go to the alternates just because in case reds come out, it can cause issues, obviously, like what you saw today. You don’t want to get caught out by that.
We’ll for sure, I think, try and take care of that tomorrow, but I think today was very difficult with the wind conditions. 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, and I think it’s going to flip 180 tomorrow.
I think everyone will actually have a little easier time driving tomorrow. Hopefully that means less reds and yellow flags, but like you said, you’ve just got to prepare for that, so we’ll try and stay on top of it.
Q. Josef, how different was the downforce reduction through Turn 5 since there were several issues there throughout the day, or did you think that was more down to the wind?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I think it was more a wind issue. The downforce has definitely changed. As you know, there’s a big reduction, and we notice it in the high-speed stuff. Like 12, 13 is a lot slower, but the lap time is still very strong. You look at that, it’s been strong everywhere. We’ve not lost a lot of lap time. So the car is pretty efficient.
But yeah, today the T5 thing was — I think we had some other issues going on that we sorted out on the 1 car, but with the wind added in, it just contributed to the problem, and it made it tough for everybody. It wasn’t easy regardless because of the wind, but then you have some other issues that contribute to it, it can make it really nasty. So I think T5 was tough today. Anywhere the wind was behind you, it was just tough.
Q. Josef, you were a little despondent last week just the way the whole race played out that you weren’t able to get up there and fight for it by splitting the pit strategy a little bit with the other Penskes. How frustrating is it to see the way the played out with the pits being closed during cautions?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: It’s tough. It’s a lot of work. It’s funny, the more you do this, the more a day like that, finishing seventh, it’s a lot of work for seventh place, and that’s kind of what we said; we were like, man, that was a lot of work this weekend for a seventh-place finish. Not a disaster by any means. Still a good result, but I think we were for sure a podium car that could have challenged a little bit more, just the race didn’t go the way we needed it to.
We took risks with our strategy. It was risky. We knew that going into the race that it was a risky decision, and it didn’t play in our favor. That’s going to happen. This year we’re going to take some risks, and sometimes it will help us, sometimes it won’t. Long Beach was not one of those times. That makes it okay. I think it’s going to go back and forth a lot this year, and we’ve just got to try and stay as steady as we can.
Q. Given that it may rain on Sunday, how important is it to start up front, and what will you do to make the car better in the rain versus the dry setup?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I think we’ll need more changes with this car for the rain because it’s got a lot less downforce. You’ve got a lot less blanket on top of you pushing you to the ground. I think traction will be a problem with the rain, just less downforce, traction is going to be an issue. So just general longitudinal stuff. You’ve really got to prioritize braking and acceleration. I think those are the types of things we’ll be looking for for the rain, and yeah, yeah, starting up front is critical, so we’ve got to try and be as close to the pole position if not right on it. That’ll be our priority. That’s what we were doing today is just trying to work on the qualifying car because it looks like rain on Sunday.
SPENCER PIGOT: THE MODERATOR: We’ll get started with our Verizon IndyCar Series post-practice press conference. Pleased to be joined by Spencer Pigot, driver of the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka car for the team. Spencer finished second faster in today’s session, certainly no stranger to Barber Motorsports Park here. Obviously some experience here on the track to say the least. Take us through your day and ultimately what got you to second place.
SPENCER PIGOT: Yeah, it’s great to be back here at Barber. It’s one of my favorites tracks, and I really enjoy it. It’s very fast, very flowing, and I’ve always — most of the time I’ve had success here. Happy to be here, and yeah, 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. On blacks I think we were right up there, and when we put the reds on, was just able to get a little bit more out of the car.
Sometimes putting reds on can cause some balance issues or differences, and this time we really nailed it and was just able to kind of push harder and get more grip out of the car. Very happy with the changes we made on the Fuzzy’s Vodka car, and yeah, excited for the weekend, and hopefully we can keep it up there.
THE MODERATOR: We haven’t talked to you a lot since the beginning of the season. We’re three races in; how would you rate or describe the start to the season for you so far?
SPENCER PIGOT: Yeah, it’s not been ideal, not been what we had hoped for. We’ve definitely, I think had some potential to have good results at a few places so far, and just things haven’t gone our way, or we’ve had issues that have really hampered our races. Hopefully this is the weekend where it can all turn around a little bit, and we can just have a nice, problem-free weekend and finish where we feel that we should.
Q. We saw like 10 or 12 spins today. What would you attribute that to?
SPENCER PIGOT: Yeah, I was kind of surprised by that, as well. You don’t often see that many spins or people going off, so I think the wind changed a little bit throughout the day. I think we had a tailwind going into Turn 5. In that last session you saw a lot of guys locking up, and also, it doesn’t feel like we have a huge amount of grip from the track, especially in the braking zones, like Turn 5 it feels like we’re just braking a little bit sooner than I would have expected. Just the track doesn’t feel like it’s really rubbered up yet.
Maybe that’ll change a little bit over the weekend, but for now, to go fast, it’s definitely on edge, and you’re slipping and sliding around, so the margin for error is very small, and if you just push a little bit too hard, you can have a moment.
Q. Given the lower downforce this year, if it does rain or Sunday like they’re expecting, is that going to be a problem?
SPENCER PIGOT: No, I don’t think so. I think if you see spins, it won’t be solely related to the lower downforce. I think it’ll be a combination of different things. You know, in the rain, it’s more about mechanical grip and feel from the car rather than downforce, I think, so I think it’ll be an exciting race, an unpredictable race, and if it rains, I think some of us will be happy with that. Either way, I love the rain, so whatever it does, I’ll be happy.
Q. How has your success here in the past helped your confidence now and over this weekend?
SPENCER PIGOT: Yeah, like I said, it’s been a good track for me. I love coming here. I love the high-speed corners and just the flow that you can get into around here. So I don’t know if it suits my driving style or what, but it definitely gives me the confidence I know I can be fast here, and obviously IndyCar is a whole new ballgame, and to be fast here is something different than in Indy Lights and pro Mazda, but now we’ve shown that we can be quick in practice, and we just have to keep it up there.
Q. With all the different championships that are running this weekend, all the different tire compounds rubbering in, how does that play a variable?
SPENCER PIGOT: Yeah, that’s something that we encounter every single weekend because there’s always different series, different types of tire on the track, no matter if it’s a road course, street course. But I think it doesn’t play as big of a role at a track like this on a road course. I think when you’re at a street course, I think the rubber gets laid down a little bit quicker, and it just kind of builds on top of each other. It doesn’t have as long to kind of set into the ground. I think on street courses it’s a bigger issue, but here I don’t think we’ll have — at least we haven’t seen it so far to be an issue.
Q. Does this car with the less downforce, does the Indy Lights IL-15 match up a little bit better to the driving style and how it feels here?
SPENCER PIGOT: Yeah, I think it does. You know, I wouldn’t say that the two are now identical by any means, but it definitely, I think, brings it a little bit closer in terms of just the overall grip, power-to-grip ratio and downforce as the Lights car. So I think that’s one thing that’s nice to kind of be able to draw back on that experience, so yeah, it’s definitely a little bit closer than it was last year, but still, there’s a lot of differences and a lot of things that you have to do differently to get everything out of an IndyCar.
TSRN PR/FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports