Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud, Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Helio Castroneves produced a team 1-2-3-4 in opening practice for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
In 84deg F ambient temperatures, reigning IndyCar champion and defending Barber Motorsports Park winner Simon Pagenaud clocked a 1min08.1104sec lap, on only his fourth lap, an average speed of 121.567mph around the 2.38-mile course.
Newgarden, who scored his first ever IndyCar win at this venue two years ago, came closest to deposing his teammate, just 0.07sec away. Power was half a second behind for most of the session, but following a red flag for an advertising hoarding that had landed on the front of Sebastien Borudais’s Dale Coyne Racing-Honda, Power emerged from the pits to lay down a time just 0.11sec shy of Pagenaud.
Castroneves was a further 0.2sec behind, with Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay fifth and sixth for Andretti Autosport, respectively 0.35 and 0.45 off Pagenaud’s best.
Rossi and Hunter-Reay led the Honda armada, in fact, since the fastest non-Penske Chevrolet was Carlos Munoz’s AJ Foyt Racing entry in 13th.
Graham Rahal, who fought a great duel with Pagenaud for the win here last year, was seventh for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe was eighth in the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry, while Bourdais’ fastest time before acquiring excess and unwanted front-end downforce was good enough for ninth.
Scott Dixon, who has finished runner-up at Barber four times but never won it, was 10th in the fastest of the Chip Ganassi Racing cars.
Besides the Bourdais farce, the only other incident of note was a harmless spin into the sand at Turns 2/3 for the second Schmidt Peterson car of Mikhail Aleshin. He was able to retrieve himself without outside aid, and went on to finish the session in 11th.
Zach Veach, substituting for the injured JR Hildebrand at Ed Carpenter Racing, 2.5sec off the ultimate pace but only 1.4 behind teammate Spencer Pigot.