Leeds, Ala. – Helio Castroneves, Alex Tagliani and rookie Tristan Vautier led the way in two rounds of IZOD IndyCar Series practice at Barber Motorsports Park on Friday. These three along with 23 others were busily making preparations for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the second race of the season for the open-wheel set.
Said Castroneves about his fastest lap of 120.781 miles per hour, “The car felt very good. This morning it was a little bit difficult because it was cool and the track had lots of grip. At the end of the day with A. J. (Allmendinger) and Will (Power), we tried a lot of stuff out there. Also, there were a lot of weepers (water) coming out from the earlier rain. I feel good about qualifying as we have a great car and a great team, so I feel we will go fast tomorrow.”
Tagliani struggled in the opener at St. Petersburg, and he felt vindicated with today’s strong run and is looking forward to being at or near the top in Saturday’s qualification run. “Today we had a good result,” he noted. “Obviously, we were not very happy being at the back of the grid in St. Pete since we had been in the Firestone Fast Six so much of the time a year ago. We had a good test here and did well. This morning, we had problems with the car but this afternoon, the car was much better.”
Vautier, the up-and-coming rookie, led the first practice round but he also slid off the track and his car got buried in the marbles, triggering a red flag. Undaunted, he returned to action and had the third-quickest speed in the late afternoon run. “It was a good day, but a disappointing one in the morning. It was my mistake. And tomorrow, I think I can improve on my time.”
A.J. Allmendinger is making his IndyCar debut with Team Penske and he gave a good accounting of himself by being eighth and ninth on the speed charts, even though he found the schedule of activities much different from the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. “I felt like the first session the track was real slick, but for me, it is about the process of finding out how these weekends go and trying to keep up with the race track.
“In NASCAR, you have a set day to work on qualifying and another to work on race set-up. With IndyCar, you are working on speed the whole time. The first day was good and the car was fast as the Penske organization has fast cars, so it is all about me going out there and figure it out – how to get speed out of it. Tomorrow, the big challenge for me will be that first qualifying lap with the red tires on for the first time without any practice on those tires.
“I am trying to get comfortable in the car after a seven-year absence. After seven years, I hoped it would be like riding a bicycle – get on it and ride it – but I feel like this is a unicycle. I am just hanging on trying to figure out what I am doing. Every time I am in the car, I get more comfortable, but it’s a lot of work and a fun challenge. It is incredible how tough this series is. There are 26 fast race cars here.”
Simon Pagenaud was fourth fastest today with Will Power holding down the fifth spot, one that everyone expects him to improve upon when qualifications get underway.
Qualifications will start at 11:25 a.m. ET on Saturday with the Honda Indy Grand Prix taking the green flag a day later at 3:40 p.m. ET.