LEEDS, Ala – As we head into the 10th year for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, one team that’s annually the ones to beat are Team Penske. In the previous nine NTT IndyCar Series races at the Barber Motorsports Park, Penske has won seven of them. If you count Josef Newgarden, a Penske driver now, and his win with CFH in 2015, then Penske or his current stable of drivers have won eight of the nine years.
That’s why it was so surprising to see them this far off on Friday.
Newgarden has won the last two races on the Alabama road course for Penske and three of the last four overall, was only 14th and 18th respectively in practice.
“Not a great day, to be honest,” said Newgarden. “We seem to be missing something at the moment. It seems like all of us are searching for something. That means we really need to put our heads together tonight and really look at things closely as a team and come up with some good solutions for tomorrow. I feel confident we’ll figure something out for the No. 2 Fitzgerald USA Chevy. We’re just off today and we weren’t very quick. I’m always confident with this group and I think we’ll find something. We just need to work really hard tonight.”
Will Power practices his No. 12 Chevrolet at the Barber Motorsports Park on Friday – INDYCAR Media Site
Will Power agreed with Newgarden, saying they have some stuff to work out overnight.
“We definitely have some work to do to make the car better for tomorrow,” Power said. “We have a really strong team and we’re going to go over the data tonight to see what we can come up with. I think we found some good stuff in that session that we will implement for tomorrow for the No. 12 Verizon Chevy and see if we can improve the time sheets.”
Simon Pagenaud won this race in 2016 but was only 10th and 15th himself. The Frenchman though has more optimism than his teammates, saying that they may have more speed than they showed.
“We were trying a few different things on the No. 22 Menards Chevrolet today,” said Pagenaud. “We understand what we need to get ready for qualifying tomorrow and that’s why these practices are so important. I think we do have some good pace in the car. We didn’t show everything we have today, so tomorrow will be very interesting. I think it’s going to be very tight in qualifying, but hopefully that bright Menards Chevy will be at the front of the grid for Sunday’s race here at Barber.”
The drivers spoke last month on how much energy they spent this offseason trying to make gains in the street course program. It paid off with a win in the season opener in St. Pete. They were fearful though that with all the attention they spent to improve in one area, they may lose in another.
Maybe natural road courses was it.
We will see what they do on Saturday.
It wasn’t just them either. Scott Dixon has five runner-up finishes on the 2.38-mile road course to go along with two third place efforts, but his No. 9 Honda was only fourth and 10th respectively in the two sessions.
Like the Penske drivers, he’s struggling to get a handle on his car thus far.
“In second practice, I don’t know what happened.,” said the reigning series champion. “We just couldn’t get the front tires to work for some reason. We had a lot of understeer on the black (Firestone primary) tires, so we made adjustments to correct that for the reds (Firestone alternate tires). For whatever reason, the car just went way out of balance. It felt like something was broken or disconnected on the car. Tenth isn’t terrible given those circumstances, but that’s obviously not where we want to be today.”