Castroneves tops opening day of preparations at Barber

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Helio Castroneves three-time Indianapolis 500 winner posted a best lap as IZOD IndyCar Series teams began preparations at Barber Motorsports Park

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Helio Castroneves continued Team Penske's ownership of Barber Motorsports Park.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner posted a best lap of 1 minute, 8.5540 seconds in the Chevrolet-powered No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske car as IZOD IndyCar Series teams began preparations for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

All 26 drivers in the afternoon session April 5 at Barber Motorsports Park recorded laps that bested Castroneves' 2012 pole time of 1:10.4768 on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn road course. Twenty-three were below Will Power's course record of 1:09.8529 set in the first round of qualifying last April.

Helio Castroneves, Penske Racing
Helio Castroneves, Penske Racing

Photo by: Jay Alley

Alex Tagliani, who scored his 100th career top-10 finish in the season opener March 24 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., was second to lead the Honda brigade with a best lap of 1:08.6288 in the No. 98 Barracuda Racing car for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian.

Tristan Vautier, who in the first practice was the first rookie to pace a session since Simon Pagenaud at Baltimore last September, was third-quick (1:08.6720) in the No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry. Pagenaud, the fifth-place finisher last year at Barber, was just behind (1:08.7627) in the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP entry.

Two-time defending race winner Will Power was fifth overall (1:08.8066) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car, while teammate AJ Allmendinger was eighth (1:08.9119). Allmendinger, who participated in the Open Test at Barber in mid-March, is making his IZOD IndyCar Series debut.

Also on April 5, Carlos Munoz was quickest in both practice sessions for the Legacy Indy Lights 100.

The 21-year-old Colombian recorded a best lap of 1 minute, 14.3433 seconds in the afternoon session in the No. 26 Dialy-Ser car for Andretti Autosport.

Andretti Autosport teammate Zach Veach was third quick (1:14.9433) in the No. 12 K12 car, just behind Sage Karam (1:14.7432) in the No. 8 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian entry.

Juan Pablo Garcia posted the fourth-best lap (1:15.3927) in the No. 2 TMR-International-Euclid Chemical car. Victor Carbone, making his 2012 debut this weekend, was fifth-quick on the day in the No. 22 TMR-Nevoni-Xtreme Drilling & Coil car.

DAY 1 NOTEBOOK:

Victor Carbone has joined Team Moore Racing as driver of the No. 22 TMR for the remainder of the Firestone Indy Lights season. The Brazilian will compete in his third Firestone Indy Lights season after spending two years with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

"I am very happy to be a part of Team Moore and I am looking forward to what this year will bring me," Carbone said. "I am excited to work with all the team and achieve the best results we can together."

Carbone's two previous seasons netted him two sixth-place championship finishes, a race win, two poles and three podium finishes. The Sao Paulo-native resides in Miami, Fla., where he attends classes at Florida International University. Team co-owner Mark Moore feels that adding a race-winning driver to the team will be a good fit for the team that won two races in 2012.

"The team and I are really excited to have Victor step in to drive the 22," Moore said. "He is a fine young man. I have had my eye on him the past few seasons and I believe he has huge potential and lots of talent. I can't wait to see how he does in one our cars.

"I believe he and Juan Pablo will be excellent teammates and work very well together. It's great for our series to get another contender back out on the track."

Pre-practice Quotes from IZOD IndyCar Series drivers:

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 Go Daddy Chevrolet):

James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport Chevrolet
James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport Chevrolet

Photo by: Mike Geng

How did you celebrate your first win:
"I had to be a bit reserved since my wonderful PR booked 8 o'clock phone interviews for Monday morning. There was a bit of a get-together on Sunday night. Sebastien Bourdais had planned a place and a lot drivers showed up and lot of the crews actually got their flights cancelled because of snow in Indy so it was nice. A lot more people than originally planned got to be around Sunday night and got to catch up with some people. It was good. It was low-key, but it was good."

About his outlook for this weekend at Barber:
"We're looking forward to a good weekend. Obviously, the test went well for the Go Daddy car. We were P2 and had a strong car last year as well. The race didn't go the way that we wanted but we had certainly had the pace in qualifying. We can expect more of the same here this weekend. It's going to be a little bit different. We have a new red (alternate) compound tire that we haven't tried before, again, kind of a similar situation to St. Pete. It's a bunch of question marks in some respect with the diamond grinding that they've done to the track as well. From the test and from last year, history would say that we should be competitive, and hopefully, I can put it all together in qualifying because that's going to be key this weekend."

About the added pressure to repeat:
"I think some respects, yes, (there is added pressure). If anything, the external pressure has come down a little bit, but now my internal expectations have gone up because it's easy for people on the outside to say, 'When are you going to win? When are you going to get that first one.' Whereas I know how hard it is to win at this level and how competitive the field is. Now that I've won a race, that question isn't being asked externally anymore and I think to myself, 'I've done it. I still know how hard it is and it's just as hard as it was before, but now I know I can do it, I want to do it again.' Luckily I'm, obviously, with a great team and I think we're going to find ourselves in a position to battle for more wins this season. At the end of the day, it took my 32 tries to get the first one. Hopefully it won't take 32 to get the next one. But you never know. It's a very competitive series."

About team reaction. Are teammates running to you for advice?:
"We're only one race into the season. It's not quite there yet. We've all worked so well together. Marco (Andretti), Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and I last year and adding E.J. (Viso) this year has been a seamless transition this year. Everybody had a competitive car at St. Pete until Ryan had his troubles and E.J. bouncing back from his mishap on Saturday. It's so very much a team effort. Everybody is taking elements from each other's setups and that's why everyone is running so competitively."

Where do you have to be good at Barber?:
"It's a tough thing to nail down. This track requires such a compromise in setup. Obviously, anywhere, you want to secure a rear on entry, but with the long duration corners here, that can bring in a tremendous amount of understeer, which a lot of drivers hate. You have to find this balance in the setup between having a car you're comfortable with at turn in but you're not mowing the walls down on exit with understeer. Some guys can deal with one or the other better than others. Obviously it's a fast, flowing track. You need subtle, smooth inputs guys that are more aggressive in their inputs struggle here more so than a street circuit. I can't say that Ryan likes or dislikes about this place. He's the champion and he'll figure it out and hopefully we'll all be up front."

Where do you feel like you can find time?:
"I'm still looking for time in Turn 2 and 3 and a little bit in Turn 8 as well. That's never been a corner in Lights or anything here that I've loved. I'm trying really hard to fix that. We made some gains in the test, but looking at where Mr. (Will) Power is quick, there's definitely time in (Turns) 2 and 3."

What will it take to unseat Penske here?:
"Well the Penske guys have done a tremendous job in the offseason and got a handle on the new tires very well. If you look at St. Pete, there's no doubt that they were the quickest car and we put together a better Sunday. I think we aren't going to lie to ourselves and say we were the best in every category last race. We know there are still areas where we can improve. If you look at the test, both Penske cars were incredibly quick. We need to buckle down and I think having that win under our belts does give us a little bit more confidence that if we're in that position near the end of the race that we know how to seal the deal and bring it home. Hopefully, we find ourselves in that position and see if that confidence does help."

What will it take to beat Will Power:
"I was asked that question before St. Pete and my answer was, "I think I might have to pee in his gas tank." Luckily, I didn't have to do that and it worked in our favor. It's going to be incredibly difficult. He's been incredibly quick here every year. Even when he had bad luck and started mid-field, he still managed to find his way to the front. We just need to the best job that we can do and at the end of the day, minimize mistakes just because that's where this team has been strong. If you look at last year, some of Ryan's victory didn't come with the quickest car. They came with the best Sunday by running mistake-free races. That's setup. That's driving. That's strategy calls. That's pit stops and that's where this team really excels. If we keep making the car better and closing that gap to Penske, topped off with the way we run on Sundays, we're going to be strong by the end of the year."

What were the emotions of your first win?:
"Tough to describe. When I came off the last corner and was coming to the line, and first the first accepted it was going to happen, I had the same feeling you get where you're winning a race. It's that thrill of the moment adrenaline rush and screaming in the helmet. And then when I crossed the line, I was overwhelmed with emotions and spent a good chunk of the cool-down lap bawling my eyes out. It's tough to admit, but it's the truth. It was culmination of a very long journey that me and my family and the people who supported me have been on for the last 17 years. To do it the way we did it and where we did it. There were a lot of things that added up to being a very emotional and special day."

TRISTAN VAUTIER (No. 55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "It's OK. It's good to be P1, but I didn't want to end causing a red flag and in the gravel. It's OK. It's good, but it's just the first practice. What I'll remember more than anything is the mistake I did at the end and try to not do it again and move forward." (About running off track): "I went off track and we didn't damage the car or anything. But they didn't put me back on track, they parked me behind the barriers. It's my mistake in the end, even if it's frustrating that I couldn't get back in the end. My mistake, but we had good speed before that and the car felt good, so it's tough. We didn't have much time and we were cut short in the end, but it was an OK start. I just wish I had kept it on track."

A.J. ALLMENDINGER (No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet): "The track is definitely a lot slicker than the test. Not as much grip out there, but we'll have to see how it progresses. Overall I thought the session went fairly well. I felt comfortable. We just need to work on the balance of the car and figure out where track is going to go and for me, really, see how that affects what we need to do."

IZOD INDYCAR SERIES POST-PRACTICE QUOTES:

ORIOL SERVIA (No 22. Panther DRR Chevrolet): "I'm actually very pleased. We woke up the car - it's a lot more alive. I'm much happier than after the first session. We did our best lap on old tires. When we put on the sticker tires, the red flag came out so we didn't get a lap in. It's always a question mark how much we would improve on new tires, but everyone improved quite a bit. The pace we had on old tires was encouraging. I think we're on a good path, we just need to fine-tune it a little bit and the Charter car should be in good shape."

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda): ""It was a good day, we had some interesting changes and I think the guys are very competitive which is very interesting and very exciting for tomorrow qualifying. Still have quite a bit to do we are losing a lot in very important sectors otherwise the car would be golden so still a little bit of work to do but overall whether it's Honda whether it's the team and working with Tristan this weekend has all been quite enjoyable."

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): "Overall not a bad day for the No. 9 team and the Target car. We worked on the overall balance of the car and we still have some work to do. I feel pretty good about qualifying because we didn't even use new tires and we left a lot of speed out on the table. We should be in good shape for tomorrow."

DARIO FRANCHITTI (No. 10 Banana Boat Honda): "We made a massive amount of changes throughout the day to the Banana Boat car. We have a very clear direction on where we want to go. Hope fully we can make good use of that tomorrow."

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 83 NovoLog FlexPen Honda): "We had a really good day. It was awesome to talk about the Race With Insulin Unites program with my teammates and show off the inverted color-scheme for this weekend as well as the blue wheels across the Ganassi cars. I think, overall, we were pretty good. We had the fourth-quickest time in practice one this morning and then in practice two we got caught up with some yellows and some traffic. We have a couple different directions, with the car set-up, to go over tonight. I'll think we'll be in good shape when it comes time to qualify tomorrow morning."

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet): "I think it's better to be lucky than good. Obviously with the yellow in the end a lot of guys probably put tires, but the car felt pretty good. The AAA team felt really strong, the morning unfortunately it was a little bit difficult because seeing that the track has lots of grip and when you have an extra set of tires certainly it helps a little bit. In the end of the day, with AJ and Will we've been actually doing a lot of different stuff out there and it seems to be working."

ALEX TAGLIANI (No. 98 Barracuda Racing Honda): "I am really proud of what the team accomplished here this weekend. Obviously we are accustomed to being in the Firestone Fast 6 last year. I really didn't like using the Port-a-Potty in the back of the grid. We struggled on the new tires. These tires are different. These are road course tires. We also had a chance to test here and the team came prepared. We had a little issue this morning but they fixed it in between and we are back where I think we belong. Also, I know that Honda did a fantastic job and everybody was putting a lot of pressure on them in St. Pete but with a company like them, when they feel they need to step it up, they can always do it in a very short time. So I am very happy about that and as you can see there are a lot of Hondas up front. Its good, it feels good and hopefully we can have a good qualifying and it's a tough race to pace here so qualifying will be key."

E.J. VISO (No. 5 Team Venezuela/Andretti Autosport/HVM Chevrolet): "Well it's been a pretty good day. We've gone through different car setups, and at the end we believe we found a good scenario to keep working with the car for tomorrow morning's practice before qualifying. The team has done a good job here. I believe we have a good baseline and fundamental setup shared between the four cars. Tomorrow is going to be very interesting, and we can already tell that this race, and this weekend, is going to be based all around tires. Tires is the key word - for good or for bad. We will need to be working very closely with them (tires)."

TRISTAN VAUTIER (No. 55 Florida Lottery c/w Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): "It was good. It was disappointing at the end of the first practice to cause a red because of a mistake, but no, I'm very happy with the car that the team has given me today. I think that I still have some room to keep improving, and we need to carry the momentum from today into tomorrow. It's a lot of fun out here, there's a lot of grip and the track was very fast. You can really enjoy the grip that those tires produce, especially on fast corners you can really feel what the cars are capable of."

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Fuzzy's Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet): "Both sessions were a little weird today. The track had some weepers and, actually, the weepers were worse in the second practice. That is a little strange. The track has changed from the test last week. We did learn some good things this afternoon. We closed the gap a little on the leaders. We need to get more. We had a mistake on the new tire run, so I think we'll be faster with the new setup. I think we can do better on Saturday. We were moving in a better direction with the car now. This place is a hard track, and you tell it with everybody. Someone will get a good lap and then fall off the next one."

AJ ALLMENDIGER (No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet): "I think for me, when we got here for the test trying to run the race track when it was still cold and there was just a ton of grip out there. I felt like the first session was real slick compared to during the test, with the GRAND-AM cars here and the Continental cars here, and obviously with the rain and no rubber really being down on the race track. For me, it's just a process. Just trying to learn how these weekends go and try to keep up with the race track as it changes. It's so funny because on the Cup side of it you have a set day. Friday you work on qualifying, Saturday you work on race set-up and you go race on Sunday. And here obviously the whole time you're working on speed, but there's not a lot of time to work on race set up. So I think it's just the process of going through this weekend and figuring out how the weekend goes, how we use out tires and what we're working on. So far it felt like the first day was good, I think we were ninth and eighth, so there's still a lot of to beat. The cars are going to be fast, that's the good thing about the Penske organization and especially around this place. I know the car is going to be fast and the setup is going to be very close and it's just going to be me going out there and figuring it out, what I need in a race car, how I get the speed out of it. I still left a lot out there on that lap that I did, so I think tomorrow the biggest and toughest thing for me is that qualifying lap. Going out there for the first time and not having any practice and you just gotta go get that lap. So it was a solid day so far."

TONY KANAAN (No. 11 Mouser KV Racing Technology-SH Racing Chevrolet): "The track is much slicker now than it was during our open test about a month ago, which made our work cut out during these two sessions. We did some changes to car and got it going our way by the second session, but there is still a lot of work to do for tomorrow before we get to qualifying."

SIMONA DE SILVESTRO (No. 78 Nuclear Entergy Areva KVRT Chevrolet): "The day was all right. I think we need to tweak a couple of things a bit. It's definitely a little different from the Open Test, but I think we should be all right. We haven't gotten a lap in this afternoon so we have to work on that to get the gap tomorrow and get it in. I really think we should be all right. Hopefully we'll qualify up front and have a good race from there."

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): "We definitely have a bit of work to do with the Verizon car because we're just off the pace a bit. We were running top five all day, but we really had to push to get there. We'll get together tonight and work to figure out how to improve for qualifying tomorrow."

JR HILDEBRAND (No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet): "The fact we didn't throw a new set of tires on the National Guard Chevy at the end of the session today obviously has a significant effect on where we were at (on the speed chart). Another piece of that is that the track gets better as it cools off here and we were one of the first cars to go out when we did our fastest lap. That all aside, the track is significantly different from when we tested here, and we're still trying to get everything dialed in. Between myself and Oriol (Servia) we both made some changes that we'll all end up going to when we roll out in the morning."

TAKUMA SATO (No. 14 ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Honda): "It was not an easy day for us, we worked on the ABC Supply car after the Open Test because we weren't particularly happy with the balance—the car has reasonable speed but balance-wise it just wasn't there. We tried a few things today and we did get some good data but we have to work hard to get things together." (About conditions): "The conditions made it difficult today because we had weepers all over the track so in the optimum race line you had to go around them which made it a little inconsistent too, but it was the same for everybody. The warmer conditions made for less grip so we have to adapt for it and hopefully we find the better balance for tomorrow."

Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda
Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

Photo by: Jay Alley

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Midas/Big O Tires Honda): "We tried to come back here with a setup more like what Mike (Conway) and James (Jakes) ran at the test. There are a few minor differences but I can't think that those would tip the car over but we're struggling with the same things that we did at the test. I just can't turn the car; the car is steering me, not me steering it. At the same time, without a doubt we didn't get a new tire run at the end and I will say that on the one lap that I did, up until the point that I went into Viso's (who went off course) gravel, I was up about a half of a second. Clearly there is a lot of time there in the tires, A half of a second would move us halfway up the grid at least right now. We haven't made the gains that I am hoping for but we're going to keep working on it. Last year I started up front and had a great race here and I expect to do the same this year in the Midas / Big O Tires car. We just have a bit of work to do."

JAMES JAKES (No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts Honda): "It was a pretty good session considering we ran one set of tires for the session. You look at the guys that ran one set in that session -- although you can't know for sure who did but you think you know - we're pretty happy. We are pretty happy with our progress and will just keep making improvements and concentrate on making sure we improve the car in every session like everybody else. We're always right there, or in the ballpark with everyone else in the first session but we just need to make sure that we improve like everybody else. The Acorn Stairlifts car was actually very good. I made a mistake on my fastest lap and did a little bit of grass tracking so I was quite shocked when we came up with the lap time still. We will work overnight to keep improving but we are hoping to get the Acorn Stairlifts car up there this weekend."

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 1 DHL Chevrolet): "I think it was a good solid day for the No. 1 DHL Chevy. I think that we made some good progress this morning. We were very disciplined with the tires this afternoon, not taking a second set, which is why we're down in the charts right now - we never took the second set like most of the rest of the field. I'm feeling pretty good about tomorrow; we need to make a few changes to stay ahead of the track development but other than that… we'll see in the morning. I think we're a top five car right now so I'm happy about that."

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 27 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet): "Today did not go as planned, but you get these days in racing. We had a couple of things go wrong in the first session, and the way the yellow fell in the second (session) we didn't really get a proper run all day. I think we can get the Go Daddy car up there tomorrow when it counts. I think it'll be a challenge, but that's what they pay us the big bucks for."

INDYCAR

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Series INDYCAR
Article type Practice report
Tags barber, helio castroneves, indycar, penske