Two-time Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner Will Power topped practice 1 at Barber Motorsports Park this morning with a 1:07.5987 lap in the No. 12 Team Penske Verizon Chevy. Teammate Josef Newgarden, who coincidentally has also come out victorious at this track twice, was just a sliver over three-tenths of a second slower, coming in P2.
Scott Dixon was the fastest Honda, with his No. 9 PNC machine clocking a best lap of 1:08.2627. The Chip Ganassi Racing Teams driver has landed on the podium in 7 of the 8 races that the series has run at Barber. That role of ‘Barber bridesmaid’ is a title he is more than prepared to shed. Will this be the year he does it? Not sure, but a title he’s actually trying to earn is that of ‘American Ninja Warrior’.
It was announced yesterday that Dixon would try his hand, and feet for that matter, at the obstacle course game show this year. Fellow IndyCar drivers Conor Daly, Tony Kanaan, and Josef Newgarden fell short in the qualification rounds a couple years ago, as did former series driver, Helio Castroneves. Dixon admitted today that watching and gaging your ability to complete the course is much different than training to do so. He quickly realized how difficult the challenge will be, even for someone in elite athletic condition.
Alexander Rossi has not tried out for American Ninja Warrior (yet), but he did represent IndyCar with Daly on this past season of the Amazing Race. (The two are still having a grand old time together at the track, as seen here in a clip from that time someone gave Conor a mic in Long Beach!) #TeamIndyCar didn’t win The Amazing Race on CBS, but the show’s title certainly seems to have foreshadowed Rossi’s season.
While the driver of the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Kerauno Honda didn’t have a great first practice today – going off course in Turn 15 and needing a restart by the AMR Rescue Team to get back to the pits – that’s a small smudge on his year so far. The first three contests were nearly flawless, with podiums in both St. Pete and Phoenix, plus a pole and win at Long Beach last weekend. Rossi leads the championship points run by 22 points, over the defending race winner and aforementioned Newgarden.
Newgarden went off track today as well, in slightly more fanciful fashion as he kicked up gravel outside Turn 5 and even caught some air. That mistake could just be a blip on the radar though, because he’s focused on winning back-to-back at Barber. The win last year jump-started his championship run. Both he and Simon Pagenaud had wins at Barber the same year as their series titles and Newgarden is looking to ‘Defend the 1’.
The American phenom is going for his third win in Alabama while Pagenaud is looking for his second. If Pagenaud achieves that, then all 4 Barber winners in the current field will have two victories to their name. Power won in 2011 and 2012, Hunter-Reay in 2013 and 2014, while Newgarden did it in non-consecutive years and with different teams – 2015 with CFH Racing and 2017 with Team Penske.
There’s no telling quite yet, how this race is going to pan out with these new universal kits – but I guarantee it’s going to be exciting. The lessened downforce creating sooner braking points and a longer distance to full throttle after turns, is really gonna create some amazing racing and passing opportunities on track this Sunday. And this is a track that’s produced nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat watching over the past few years in particular, so I can’t wait to see what kind of show we get when we throw these new cars on it.
IndyCar will be back on track at 2:50pm this afternoon for practice #2. You can watch via livestream and/or listen to IndyCar Radio. Links for all of those methods can be found here.