LEEDS, Ala — Last year’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race winner Alex Palou said on Thursday afternoon that while he felt like his No. 10 Dallara-Honda would be strong in his return trip to the Barber Motorsports Park this weekend. The thing is, he also felt like his organization in Chip Ganassi Racing was a little bit behind their manufacturer rivals in Andretti Autosport too.
If Friday’s 45-minute NTT INDYCAR Series practice session was any indication, it’s that he’s not wrong.
3 of the top 4 times on the speed chart on a sunny Alabama Friday afternoon belonged to the Andretti Autosport camp with Colton Herta leading the charge at 1:06.5149-seconds in his No. 26 Dallara-Honda. His teammates Alexander Rossi (1:06.6657-sec) and Romain Grosjean (1:06.7046-sec) were third and fourth respectively to give Andretti a strong shot at a pole on Saturday.
However, while practice and qualifying are one thing, the race is another. Long Beach last time out is a prime example.
Going into race day, the Long Beach win on paper was theirs. Herta, broke the track record and sat on the pole. He was 6th and 2nd respectively in the two practice sessions that weekend before topping the speed charts in warmup on race morning.
Rossi, was 2nd and 4th in practice and qualified 5th. Grosjean, was quickest in practice on Saturday morning and was second before crashing in the Fast 6. That lost him his top two laps which forced him to start 6th.
Quickest in practice on Saturday morning, quickest on Sunday morning, 3 of 6 in the Fast Six and coming to a race they’ve won 3 straight.
They finished 2-8-23-25.
While they look good now, that could always change come race day which is why Ganassi is right there smiling too. They’re ready to pounce if Andretti’s bad luck strikes again for their four car fleet.
The Ganassi camp put 3 of their 4 cars in the top 9 on the speed charts on Friday led by Palou (1:06.5657-sec) who was in second. He was quickest in the opening practice session to the weekend here last year and ended up winning the race.
Scott Dixon (1:06.9261-sec) and Marcus Ericsson (1:07.1012-sec) were 6th and 9th respectively.
Palou, is 1-for-1 at Barber with Ganassi. Dixon, is 0-for-11 but does have 9 podiums in that span though including 6 of those 9 being runner-ups. He’s also made the Fast 6 in every year that we’ve been coming to Barber, so he’s going to have a shot at the pole for sure on Saturday.
Ericsson, finished 7th and 8th respectively in his 2 years he’s been coming to Barber himself.
The only non Andretti or Ganassi driver in the top 6 was Scott McLaughlin (1:06.8705-sec) who turned in the fifth fastest lap late in the session.
Last year’s pole sitter, Pato O’Ward, was 7th at 1:06.9838-sec in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet. While there were only 2 Chevy’s in the top 7 of the speed charts, they could very well be in the hunt for the win still on Sunday afternoon.
Honda won the 1st couple of years at Barber, but they’ve won just three times over the last nine in general. That’s all due to Honda being the sole engine provider for the series in those opening two years of action on this track. Chevrolet is 6-for-9 on the track but it was a Honda who won the last two times out in return though.
Points leader and the driver who’s won each of the last two races on the season, Josef Newgarden, was 18th overall. He’s a three-time winner here. Fourth in points, Will Power, was only 16th himself.
Right now, this is an Andretti vs. Ganassi battle after the first day. How much of a role did it play that they tested here? I mean throw in Juncos Hollinger Racing as well as Ed Carpenter Racing and you get 8 of the top 10 on the speed chart having tested at Barber recently.
Penske, didn’t test here and were only 5th, 16th and 18th.