Penske Fast At Barber Practice

| , RacinToday.com Friday, March 30 2012

Will Power is off to fast start in Alabama. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)


Following up on a successful season-opening IZOD IndyCar Series weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla., Team Penske led the way as practice began for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on a weather-challenged Friday at Barber Motorsports Park.

After Team Penske topped the charts during the first practice, the afternoon session was cut short when heavy rain drenched the 2.3-mile, 17-turn circuit in Birmingham, Ala. None of the Team Penske cars turned a lap during the abbreviated practice session.

Will Power, 2011 winner of the Grand Prix of Alabama, turned the day’s fastest lap at 1 minute, 11.2886-seconds in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet during the first practice.

“I think we’ve got a good setup for this weekend,” said Power, who has won pole position at Barber the past two seasons. “We know this circuit pretty well and we’ve done a fair amount of testing here. We came here with what we thought we needed and we worked a little more to improve it today. It could be an interesting qualifying (Saturday), because of the rain and this track can have ‘weepers’. It could definitely mix things up tomorrow.”

Power’s teammate was not far behind, as the No. 3 AAA Insurance Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet driven by 2010 Grand Prix of Alabama winner Helio Castroneves posted a second place time of 1:11.5010-seconds. Castroneves, who notched his 26th career IndyCar victory on the Streets of St. Pete last Sunday, is ready for the weekend.

“It went really well today. It looks like the testing we did here is paying off so far,” said Castroneves. “But again, it’s too early. It’s only one session, but right now I feel comfortable. Team Penske is doing a good job, and Chevy is doing even better and we hope to get AAA in Victory Circle on Sunday.”

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Takuma Sato was third (1:11.5608-seconds) in a Honda-powered Dallara followed by Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden (1:11.5884-seconds), also in a Honda.

“We had a rain session in the morning warm-up at St. Pete, but that obviously was much drier than today,” said Sato, driver of the No. 15 RLLR entry. “I don’t mind, really. There is a little bit a team can get out of (running in the rain) with the aero configuration _ how the car is affected by the (alternate Firestone) red tire and so on _ but not a lot.”

Newgarden, last year’s Firestone Indy Lights champion, said he was conscious of not overdriving the circuit during the wet conditions. “I think you need to keep your head clear and not try to take too much from the rain,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 67 Dallara/Honda. “We went out like most people did just to get a feel for what it was like. It looks like we’ll be dry tomorrow but you never know. It’s good to have a little experience if that situation presents itself tomorrow.

“I think we had a good first session. We’re certainly in the ballpark. We’re not quite there, I think we need to make some adjustments and dial it in a bit more. We’re definitely in the hunt. ”

Meanwhile, Former Formula One regular Rubens Barrichello was fifth (1:11.6028-seconds) in a Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by KV Racing Technology.

“Well, what a difference it makes when you know the place,” said Barrichello, driver of the No. 8 BMC/Embrase – KV Racing Technology entry. “I have only done one test here, but it makes a huge difference compared to last weekend at St. Petersburg. Today was a day where I don’t think anybody really had the chance to push the car to its limit. It brings a new challenge to the weekend because we only have 20 minutes tomorrow before qualifying, so we have a lot of work to do with the engineers tonight to make sure the car is good enough for qualifying.”

Sato led a rain-soaked afternoon session with a lap of 1:18.868-seconds that saw only 17 cars record times.

Knockout qualifying and Firestone Fast Six for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is scheduled for 10:40 a.m. (EDT) on Saturday. The session will be telecast by NBC Sports Network at 4 p.m. Live coverage of Sunday’s 90-lap race will begin at 2 p.m. on NBC Sports.

Also on Friday, Sebastian Saavedra led the only session of Firestone Indy Lights practice for the Grand Prix of Alabama. Saavedra turned a lap of 1:17.7126-seconds in the No. 27 Team AFS car for AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport. The Sam Schmidt Motorsports duo of Victor Carbone and Oliver Webb were second and third, respectively.

Sunoco Pole Qualifying for the Grand Prix of Alabama is scheduled for 9:40 a.m. on Saturday. The Firestone Indy Lights will compete in the Grand Prix of Alabama, a 40-lap race, at 12:15 p.m. on Sunday. Also, the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear – part of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system – is racing twice this weekend.

| , RacinToday.com Friday, March 30 2012
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