Hinchcliffe leads Barber practice in day of pushing limits

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IndyCar Series drivers encountered an off-and-on day of practice for the 10th annual Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Pushing the limits of their cars, themselves and Barber Motorsports Park's rolling 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course, nearly half the 24-driver field took excursions into the grass or gravel during one of the two 45-minute practices Friday.

Despite having an adventurous moment himself in the opening session, James Hinchcliffe came back to set the fastest lap of the day in the later practice.

Hinchcliffe, driver of the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda who finished third in last year's Barber race, clocked a top practice lap of 1 minute, 8.9994 seconds (120.001 mph) to take the day's honors. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series race winner was pleased with the effort, despite a disjointed day that saw four red flags for cars stopped on or off track and numerous other slips and slides as drivers extracted every ounce out of their machines.

"Everything on the No. 5 Arrow car has been working well so far," Hinchcliffe said. "It's crazy - we've seen it all year, the amount of red flags we're having in sessions. I think it's just a function of everyone trying to push for those last few hundredths and thousandths (of a second) because it's so competitive right now.

"I don't think we've ever been P1 in a session and been so happy with the (car's) balance, if I'm totally honest."

Rookie sensation Colton Herta, who became the youngest winner in Indy car annals at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas, on March 24, continued his hot streak by logging the second-fastest lap of the day - also coming in the second session. Herta, who turned 19 six days following his historic win, toured the Barber circuit in 1:09.0084 (119.985 mph) in the No. 88 GESS International Honda for Harding Steinbrenner Racing.

"I'm happy with how today went," Herta said. "I think we're all a little puzzled with how the reds (Firestone alternate tires) reacted because almost everyone went slower on the reds, so we're not sure what happened there. But we got a lot of data to look through and we were quick, so I'm looking forward to see how that goes when we add the rain in (Saturday's) forecast."

Neither Hinchcliffe nor Herta, however, avoided the rash of drivers who veered off course during the day. Among the others were Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist, Takuma Sato, Spencer Pigot, Santino Ferrucci, Alexander Rossi and Zach Veach. Only Leist and Ferrucci made contact with a wall, but neither driver was injured. Despite the chaotic sessions, the top 21 drivers on the combined timesheet were within a second.

Ferrucci wound up third on the combined chart with a lap of 1:09.0461 (119.920 mph) in the No. 19 David Yurman Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.

"In Practice 2, we went out on the primary Firestone tire and we were instantly competitive," Ferrucci said. "The David Yurman car felt really good and I was pretty confident. But then we put the red tires on, and we still have a lot to learn. 

"It's nice to end the day near the top of the timesheets, even if it's just the first day of practice."

Honda-powered drivers owned the top six spots in each session. Pigot, in the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, was quickest among the bowtie brigade, seventh in the afternoon practice and overall for the day at 1:09.2055 (119.644 mph).

Absent from the top of the timesheets were Team Penske drivers Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud. None placed better than 10th in either session, with Power the best on the combined-session results at 12th. Newgarden, the current points leader and winner of the March 10 season opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, ranked 18th on the combined listing.

"We seem to be missing something at the moment," Newgarden said. "It seems like all of us are searching for something."

 

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