By: Spencer Neff
April 17, 2021
After a busy Saturday of on-track action at Barber Motorsports Park, the stage is set for the first round of the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Here’s a recap of the first three on-track sessions of the new season.
Finishing off a dominant performance throughout all three sessions of qualifying, Arrow McLaren SP’s Patricio (Pato) O’Ward earned the first NTT P1 Award of 2021.
After a best lap of 1m05.8479 (125.744 mph), the Monterey, Mexico native grabbed his second pole (Road America Race 2-2020).
This is the 9th pole position for Arrow McLaren SP. Previously, their best start at Barber was in 2019 with James Hinchcliffe. In that race, O’Ward’s lone previous appearance at the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course in Birmingham, Alabama, he started 18th and finished 16th with Carlin Racing.
Alongside O’Ward on Row 1 will be Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi, who finished .0698 of a second off of the pole, giving Chevrolet and Honda one front row starter apiece. Alex Palou, Will Power, Scott Dixon and Marcus Ericsson round out the Top Six.
Continuing from a record-shattering pace in Round 1, 11 drivers posted times quicker than the previous best at the track in 2016.
O’Ward (1m05.5019-126.409 mph) was the fastest of those advancing to the Firestone Fast Six. Also making it to the run for the pole would be Power, Palou, Ericsson, Dixon and Rossi.
Among those missing out on a chance at the pole was Romain Grosjean, as the Dale Coyne Racing with RWR driver will start seventh, best among the rookies. Josef Newgarden, Conor Daly, Colton Herta, Jack Harvey and Scott McLaughlin will start eighth through twelfth.
In Group 1, Palou was among eight drivers to topple the previous track record set by Sebastien Bourdais. The sophomore driver turned a best lap of 1m05.9032 (125.639 mph. Ed Jones, Simon Pagenaud, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Takuma Sato, Jimmie Johnson and Dalton Kellett did not advance and will start on the inside of Rows 7-12 on Sunday.
Finishing up his lap with an impressive save, O’Ward logged the best lap of Group 2 (1m06.0696). Nine drivers officially broke the track record in the last 12-minute group. After spinning in Turn 17 late in the going, teammate Felix Rosenqvist was docked his two best laps.
With the penalty, he joined Rinus VeeKay, Sebastien Bourdais, Graham Rahal, Max Chilton and James Hinchcliffe as drivers to not make it out of the group. Hinchcliffe crashed into the Turn 5 barrier and did not record a lap. The drivers wil start on the outside of the last six rows in the 90-lap race.
Rossi leads Practice 2
Following a disappointing 2020, Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi is looking to get back on the top step of the podium.
During the second and final 45-minute practice session on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course, Rossi finished on top with a best lap of 1m06.0797 (125.303 mph).
Following Rossi was the Ganassi trio of Marcus Ericsson, Scott Dixon and Alex Palou to make it a Top Four sweep for Honda engines.
After a crash on pit road during opening practice, Arrow McLaren SP’s Felix Rosenqvist ended the afternoon fifth, fastest of the Chevrolet-powered entries. Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin was the fastest of the three rookies, finishing 12th overall.
In contrast with a relatively clean Practice 1, Practice 2 featured multiple red flags, including Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta making contact with the Turn 2 wall and sustaining front wing damage.
Palou tops Practice 1
In the first practice session with his new team, Alex Palou led the way at Barber Motorsports Park. During first 45-minute practice of 2021, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver timed a best lap of 1m06.4721 (124.564 mph). Colton Herta made it a Honda 1-2 and Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden was fastest among the Chevrolet entries.
Newgarden’s teammate Scott McLaughlin was eighth-quickest, fastest among the three rookies entered. Despite a relatively calm running, Felix Rosenqvist made contact with the outside wall on pit road after losing grip of his steering wheel.
Before Sunday’s race gets started, here’s some info on the 2021 season opener.
Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Fast Facts
Race distance: 90 laps / 207 miles
Push-to-pass parameters: 200 seconds of total time with a maximum time of 20 seconds per activation.
Firestone tire allotment: Six sets primary, four sets alternate, one additional set available for rookies for use in first practice.
Twitter: @BarberMotorPark @IndyCar, #HIGPA, #IndyCar
Event website: http://www.barberracingevents.com
INDYCAR website: http://www.IndyCar.com
2019 race winner: Takuma Sato, 1:55:46.8076, 107.272 mph. No race in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic.
2019 NTT P1 Award winner: Takuma Sato, 1:08.5934, 120.711 mph. No race in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic.
NBC Sports race telecasts: Qualifying, 10 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSN (tape-delayed); Race, 3:30 p.m. ET Sunday, NBC (live). Leigh Diffey is the play-by-play announcer for NBC’s coverage of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy.
Peacock Premium live streaming: All NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice sessions and qualifying will stream live on Peacock Premium, NBC’s direct-to-consumer livestreaming product.
INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton and Nick Yeoman. Jake Query is the turn announcer.
The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race (3 p.m. ET) airs live on network affiliates, Sirius 211, XM 205, indycar.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app powered by NTT DATA. All NTT INDYCAR SERIES practices and qualifying are available on indycar.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app, with qualifying also airing on XM 205.
At-track schedule (All Times Local/Central Time):
Sunday, April 18
10:30-11 a.m.: NTT INDYCAR SERIES warmup, Peacock Premium
2 p.m.: NBC on air
2:35 p.m.: “Drivers, start your engines”
2:42 p.m.: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (90 laps/207 miles), NBC (live)
Author’s Trivia: Jim Guthrie (Gadsden) is the only Alabama-born driver to win an INDYCAR race. Guthrie won at Phoenix in 1997, Dallara’s first win as an INDYCAR chassis manufacturer.
Fast Facts By INDYCAR MEDIA, Header Image By Chris Owens/INDYCAR