LEEDS, Ala — Saturday morning practice has become one of the more treacherous sessions of the entire race weekend in the NTT INDYCAR Series. See, it’s the first one of the weekend that you get to use both the Firestone primary and alternate tires and with everyone searching for a clean track as well as pushing the cars to the limits, you normally get a lot of off track excursions.
Several drivers found that out the hard way on Saturday at the Barber Motorsports Park. Alexander Rossi had the most damage of all when he got his right side tires of his No. 27 Dallara-Honda on the grass at turn exit of the final corner of the 2.3-mile scenic Alabama facility 13 minutes into the session. It caused him to have to overcorrect it but when he did so, he found the wall in the process.
Rossi’s rear end suffered heavy damage as the team will work extensively between now and qualifying (1 p.m. ET, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network) to get not only his engine changed, but his car full repaired too.
Parts of his car scattered with the heavy impact and a large piece nailed the right front of Helio Castroneves’ No. 06 Dallara-Honda causing a flat.
Romain Grosjean, Josef Newgarden, Kyle Kirkwood and others had off track experiences but the only other one who stalled to bring out a red flag was Will Power at 10:47 a.m. ET.
In terms of the speeds, Rinus VeeKay quietly found his way to the top in his No. 21 Dallara-Chevrolet. VeeKay, set a quick time of 1:05.9264-seconds. He started 14th and finished 6th last year and was 10th overall on Friday.
Last year’s pole sitter in Pato O’Ward (1:06.0136-seconds) was P2 in his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet. He was 7th on Friday himself.
Yesterday’s quickest driver, Colton Herta (1:06.0434-seconds) was third in his No. 26 Dallara-Honda while Scott McLaughlin (1:06.1233-seconds) and Grosjean (1:06.2170-seconds) rounded out the top five.
You get 5 different teams making up the top 6 of the speed chart which makes qualifying very interesting later too.
More Balance Between Manufacturers
On Friday, the speed chart was dominated by the Honda camp. They had 5 of the top 6 times including 6 of the top 9 overall. The thing is, while they had won each of the last 2 races here in Barber, they have scored just 3 total wins in the last 9 times overall. Chevy’s have been stout and on Saturday morning, stormed back.
Chevy went 1-2 on the charts including 3 of the top 5 overall.
That creates more balance for qualifying in a few hours.
Fast 6 Front Runners Clear
Alexander Rossi was likely a Fast 6 contender before his crash on Saturday morning. He qualified on the front row last year and has 4 top 8 starts in 5 Barber tries. He was P3 on Friday afternoon. He was also the only one from the top 11 of Friday’s speed chart not in the top 10 on Saturday too.
That sets up some clear favorites to make the Fast 6 later.
Rossi’s teammate of Colton Herta was 1st and 3rd respectively in the two sessions but has only qualified ninth in both races that he’s started in at Barber. He has also qualified 3rd and 1st in the two road course qualifying attempts in 2022 though too. The other Andretti driver in Romain Grosjean qualified 7th last year and was 4th and 5th so far this year in practice. Grosjean, has qualified in the Fast 6 in both street course races this season. He was 13th in the other other try in 2022 but that was on an oval.
Alex Palou qualified third last year and was 2nd and 6th in the two sessions so far this weekend. He’s been 10th, 11th and 3rd in qualifying this season. His teammate Scott Dixon was 6th and 8th but has qualified in the Fast 6 in all 11 Barber tries. He’s qualified 7th or better in 2 of the 3 races this season. Marcus Ericsson was 9th and 7th in the two practices himself and qualified 6th last year. He’s qualified 8th in 2 of the 3 races this season himself and both were on the 2 street courses.
Scott McLaughlin was 5th and 4th in the two sessions and has qualified 1st, 2nd and 9th this season.
Pato O’Ward was 7th yesterday and 2nd today as well as earning the pole last year. He’s not been better than 10th all season though in qualifying either.
I think you start here for the Fast 6. Herta, Grosjean, Dixon, Palou and Ericsson make sense. McLaughlin does too. O’Ward and VeeKay (4th, 8th, 15th qualifying this season) will be close.
What about Josef Newgarden? He’s not qualified in the Fast 6 in any of his last 2 Barber starts and was only 18th and 11th in practice this weekend. He’s qualified 9th, 7th and 2nd this year. Will Power has 7 Fast 6 starts in his last 8 Barber tries including 6 of those 7 on the front row and 8 front row starts in 11 Barber tries. However, he was only 16th in both sessions too but qualified 2nd, 4th and 7th in 2022.
The sleepers are Callum Ilot (8th, 9th this weekend) and Jack Harvey (11th, 10th). Ilott, is a rookie while Harvey was 12th and 11th in qualifying the last two years here.
Penske Playing 2nd Fiddle This Weekend
Team Penske is off to a perfect 3-for-3 start for the 2022 season with 3 wins in 3 races. They’ve also won 5 times in the 11 year history of this event too. However, they’ve not looked their best this weekend. They were only 5-16-18 on Friday’s practice and 4-11-16 on Saturday. That’s not going to get it done for the win on Sunday.
9 of the 11 INDYCAR races at Barber has been won by a top five starter. All 11 races have been won from a driver coming from a top 10 starting spot.
By the way things stand, they may only get 1 car in the top 10 for Sunday’s starting lineup.
How much did not testing here hurt them?
Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, Meyer Shank Racing, Juncos Hollinger Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing did. They combined to take 8 of the top 10 speeds in Friday’s practice session and 7 of 10 on Saturday.
Penske elected to focus on the street course and oval package for 2022 and will use their test days on them. They chose to test at Texas in favor of Barber. It paid off in a 1-2 finish but Will Power said that while the test was nice, it didn’t help much because they used a similar setup on his car this year as last at Texas.
The lack of testing at Barber is hurting them.