Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award can be very unpredictable in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. Take Saturday’s session at Barber Motorsports Park, for example.
Andretti Autosport brought three top hot rods to the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst, and one of them crashed hard during pre-qualifying practice. The damaged car of Alexander Rossi (N°27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda) seemed uncertain to participate in the qualifying session.
So which driver made the switch to the Firestone Fast Six? Yes, the car, which took almost three hours to repair, ended a few minutes before qualifying.
The engine, gearbox and rear suspension parts of Rossi’s car were impressively repaired or replaced by crew members from all four of Michael Andretti’s teams, with the help of employees from Honda Performance Development , which feeds the organization.
“Plus the (team) management,” Rossi said with a smile.
Rossi was strapped to the car while still on the team’s setup platform, and the car was rolled out to pit road as final preparations for qualifying were made. Rossi did the rest, earning a spot in the Firestone Fast Six. He will start fifth in pursuit of his first series victory since the 2019 race at Road America.
“It was amazing,” Rossi said of the quick repairs. “It was a big situation of (replacing) an engine and a gearbox. I put (the crews) in a very difficult situation. It was amazing to be there in the first place and to have the opportunity to compete and qualify.
“Obviously we knew the car had been strong all weekend. We had no luck with the red tires (Firestone alternatives) so the first moto was a bit of a guess.
Rossi said members of the organization were “relieved and happy” to have gone through the adventure. Why? Because starting on the back line of a 26-car field on a tricky track with limited overtaking opportunities would have effectively ruined the 27-car weekend.
“If we hadn’t done qualifying,” Rossi said, “you’re super screwed. This gives us a very good chance of having a good day tomorrow.
Rossi thinks his teammates are charging behind him. Romain Grosjean (#28 Enevate Honda) and Colton Herta (#26 Gainbridge Honda) were due to qualify for the Fast Six, but their second motos were ruined by a late session stoppage for DHL Chip’s Marcus Ericsson skid Ganassi Racing. (No. 8 Honda Chocolate Huski).
After being the fastest car in Friday practice, the Herta team had waited until the other cars had completed a lap, and they hadn’t had enough time to complete a first lap.
“That’s the reason we got pole at Long Beach because we did one lap less than everyone else, so we had one less lap on the tires,” Herta said. “It sounds like a lot, but you can feel a tire difference (degradation). It makes a big difference.
Grosjean settled for eighth starting position, Herta 10th.
Given that no Barber winner has started further than ninth place, Herta has their work cut out for them on Sunday.
“The tenth is not terrible; you can win from there,” he said. “Who knows what the weather will bring tomorrow, so we’ll see.”
Rookie Devlin DeFrancesco (#29 PowerTap Honda) is the team’s fourth driver. He will start 20th.
Grosjean: “Ready to win anywhere”
Grosjean had obviously heard that Barber was the perfect track to claim his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES win – the natural terrain road course is similar to what he experienced in Europe – but he dismissed that theory when Marty Snider from NBC asked him about it. after practice on Saturday.
“We were super fast in Long Beach,” Grosjean said of the street circuit where he finished second in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 10. “I know (Barber) looks more European than anything, but I’ve been driving for 20 years, so I know the circuits.
“I understand the idea behind it, but I feel ready to win anywhere.”
The 10-year Formula 1 veteran has an NTT P1 award and four top-three finishes in his 16 races in this series.
Ilott earns career-best starting position
Series rookie Callum Ilott (#77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet) continued to impress with his best qualifying effort of his young NTT INDYCAR SERIES career.
The Englishman will start 11th in Sunday’s 90-lap race, and he thought he could have gone even higher. He, like others, was on his fastest lap when Ericsson left the course.
“The front (round) was okay – I kind of screwed up where Marcus lost it,” he said. “Maybe it was slippery out there.
“But yeah, it’s boring because I was off to a good game. It’s a great result for the team…the car is great this weekend. We got some (speed) back. But it would have been nice to give them a little more Sixth, seventh was on the table.
“It is an element of progress. I’m an optimistic guy – sometimes pessimistic – but it’s been a good weekend so far.
Ilott showed his qualifying pace was no fluke, as he led the final 30-minute practice this afternoon with a best lap of 1 minute, 7.0906 seconds.
Juncos Hollinger’s great day continued with Indy Pro 2000 drivers Reece Gold and Enaam Ahmed finishing first and third respectively in the first race of this weekend series.
Many stars don’t shine
The past was not a predictor of the present in Saturday’s qualifying session. Three riders with outstanding Barber CVs failed to make it out of the first heat.
Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) had an average starting position of 2.9 with four poles and eight first-row spots, but will start a career-low 19th on Sunday.
Scott Dixon (#9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) had reached the Firestone Fast Six in the 11 events held at this track, and he entered this weekend with an average starting position of 4.2. He will start 13th.
Helio Castroneves (Meyer Shank Racing’s #06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) hasn’t raced at Barber since 2017, and his average starting position is 3.75. He will start 16th.
- With post-qualifying practice late Saturday afternoon, the INDYCAR SERIES cars will go straight to the grid for Sunday’s race. NBC’s broadcast is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. ET with the green flag expected around 1:15 p.m. The INDYCAR radio network is also providing live coverage.
- Team Penske is aiming to win the first four races of the season for the first time since 2012, when Helio Castroneves’ season-opening victory in St Petersburg was followed by victories for Will Power at Barber, Long Beach and Sao Paulo, Brazil. This year’s wins are courtesy of Scott McLaughlin (St. Petersburg) and Josef Newgarden (Texas Motor Speedway and Long Beach). McLaughlin’s #3 Sonsio Team Penske Chevrolet is the team’s only car in the Firestone Fast Six. He will start fourth.
- The same team winning the first four races of the season has only happened three other times since 1956. Chip Ganassi Racing did it in 2020 with Scott Dixon winning the first three and Felix Rosenqvist winning the fourth, and in the others case, the same driver won all four: Sébastien Bourdais (four in a row in 2006) and AJ Foyt (seven in a row in 1964).
- HMD Motorsports drivers Linus Lundqvist and Benjamin Pedersen secured the top spots on Saturday for the Indy Lights race presented by Cooper Tires, scheduled for 11 a.m. ET Sunday.
- Myles Rowe won his second straight USF2000 race, this one from pole. The Pabst Racing driver has won three career series and will start second in Sunday’s race at 10 a.m. ET.