LEEDS, Ala — The track record will surely fall later on in the day in qualifying to set the field for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). Sebastien Bourdais’ lap of 1:06.6001-seconds set back on April 23, 2016 will likely fall rather easily as four drivers eclipsed that lap time in the opening practice of the season on Saturday morning.
They did so with full fuel loads and without the ability to use the Firestone Alternate tires.
Alex Palou topped the speed chart with a lap of 1:06.4721-seconds in his No. 10 Honda. He’s in his second year in the series but this is his first time on the 2.3-mile Alabama facility since we didn’t race here last year and the Spaniard not coming through the Road to Indy ranks prior to his INDYCAR debut in 2020.
Colton Herta (1:06.4897-seconds) was P2 in his No. 26 Honda while Josef Newgarden (1:06.4957-seconds), Scott Dixon (1:06.5524-seconds) and Pato O’Ward (1:06.6281-seconds) rounded out the top five in session 1.
It shouldn’t come to surprising that the top four drivers in the overall points standings at seasons end in 2020 were in the top five out of the gates on Saturday.
One rare thing that happened in the first session was that the speeds got faster as the laps went on. Normally, you see times fall off over the course of a stint, but with the repave of the track, the Black tires held up quite well.
Dixon notes that with the Red tires though, the fall off should be bigger which means your quicker laps would be earlier on them.
Honda put three cars in the top four, two of which being Ganassi cars while Penske put three cars in the top eight. Simon Pagenaud was the slowest among their cars in 16th.
Scott McLaughlin (1:06.7499-seconds) was eighth, Romain Grosjean (1:07.5534-seconds) was 21st and Jimmie Jonson (1:07.9509-seconds) in 24th.
The only incident of the first session came when Felix Rosenqvist got into the pit wall at pit entry at 11:35 a.m. ET. He said he took one hand off the steering wheel to turn on the pit lane limiter and hit a bump and it sent his No. 7 Chevrolet into the wall. The car is repairable and should be fine for the next session.
The series will get back on track a little bit later at 2:40 p.m. ET then qualify at 5:55 p.m. ET. Both sessions will air on Peacock.
Colton Herta crashed, Josef Newgarden spun and Scott Dixon/Alexander Rossi only one one lap on red tires in what was a wild 45 minute practice session on Saturday afternoon in Barber. In all, 10 cars went under the past track record in this session as Dixon and Rossi made their single laps on the Firestone alternate tires count.
Rossi, went to the top of the speed charts at 1:06.0797-seconds in his No. 27 Honda. Dixon, was third at 1:06.3018-seconds in his No. 9 Honda. The meat of that sandwich was Dixon’s teammate Marcus Ericsson who went 1:06.2190-seconds in his No. 8 Honda.
In fact, Ganassi went 2-3-4 up front as quickest this morning in Alex Palou ended up P4 at 1:06.3204-seconds in his No. 10 Honda. Felix Rosenqvist (1:06.3948-seconds) rounded out the top five in his No. 7 Chevrolet.
For Herta, he got off course in Turn 2 and slid hard into the wall. Herta, said that he just made a rare mistake by pushing too hard on the opening lap of his run and with being on cold tires, the brakes locked up and he could do nothing but become a passenger at that point. Herta, was P1 at the time but the problem is, he never got to run a lap on the alternate tire.
Ganassi looks like the best team so far while Andretti, Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing and Team Penske are left searching.
RLL was only 18-20 in session 1 and just 20-23 in session 2. The last time we were here, they swept the front row and got the victory with Takuma Sato. This time around, they’re out to lunch thus far.
Andretti was 2-6-12-14 in session 1 but 1-13-15-16 in session 2.
Penske only had 1 car in the top 10 of the speed charts in session 2 with Simon Pagenaud being P16 and P18 in the two sessions.