April 25, 2014, Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham Alabama
– by Raymond Wintonyk
Through a caution plagued first practice session, and a relatively clean second round, Ryan Hunter-Reay continued his dominance over the rest of the field at Barber Motorsports Park today. The morning session was red-flagged four times with cars off in the gravel, and Dixon stopped early with a mechanical problem.
The extent of the down-time prompted race officials to add an additional timed lap to the practice. RHR posted a best time of 1:08.84 in the morning, and 1:08.78 in the afternoon.
“The track was good – this is quite a bit hotter than we’re used to here at Barber. It takes some getting used to and the track conditions have certainly changed, but we’ve tested here quite a bit – we tested here in the offseason and we definitely can’t get enough of Barber. It’s going to be a little bit hotter (tomorrow) and the track temp is going to go up, so we’ll look at what we did here last year preparing for qualifying. The Andretti Autosport car is great right now, we’re not where we want to be yet, but I expect to see all four of us up front (tomorrow).”
Josef Newgarden managed 2nd spot in the morning round, followed by Hélio Castroneves, Marco Andretti and Juan Pablo Montoya. Canadian James Hinchcliffe rounded out the sixth spot.
Scott Dixon managed only a single timed lap, and ended up at the bottom of the order. Long Beach winner Mike Conway struggled to just an 11th best time.
Barber practice 1 (Right click to download)
In the afternoon of a warm, sunny day in Birmingham, the grip on track seemed better, and the session was interrupted only once, when a car went wide after the horseshoe in 14/15, and returned to the track with a sewer grating. Those things are welded down on street circuits; it just might be an plan . . .
Early in the practice Hélio Castroneves jumped out in front followed by Takuma Sato, who’d had a poor showing in the morning. And at 9 minutes in, Sébastien Bourdais put in best time and traded places for a few laps with Josef Newgarden and Will Power. Bourdais emerges at the top of the three with a time of 108.9 and stays there for the best part of the remainder of the session. He’d spun into the gravel trap at Turn #8 in the morning, but was having better luck this afternoon. He doesn’t seem to agree with the general consensus that the track just keeps getting grippier over the weekend:
“We know how slick this place can be when it gets hot and how much tire degradation can be a factor. We come here (in March) and test for two days and it’s drizzling and it’s British weather in the 50s, no wind, and the track is awesome – and the car feels great and it’s super fast. And then we come back and the track is 125 degrees, and it’s gusty, and you’re like, ‘Is this the same car?’ You’re two seconds slower and you’re P1. And that’s interesting. I think it’s very difficult to anticipate what might happen; the track might not pick up any speed at all and it’s getting very slick out there. We’ll see what happens.”
The 12 minute mark seemed to be tea time in Birmingham. All but a few spent the next while in the pits. The top five at this point were Bourdais, Newgarden, Hinchcliffe, Power and Dixon. Conway was still struggling, and Tony Kanaan was well down in the order. Obviously Dixon had overcome the trouble he’d had in the morning:
“We had a very slow start to the weekend after not even getting to turn a lap in the morning session due to an electrical issue. It was frustrating for the Target guys to say the least, but we made good progress in the second session. We still have a lot of work to do but I like this track, we’ve been strong here in the past and I’m looking forward to qualifying tomorrow.”
Very little changed in the practice for a number of laps. Ryan Hunter-Reay, fastest in the morning, put up a fifth fastest time, but started dropping in the order soon after. Eventually the session was stopped for that sewer grating, and the green flag dropped again with 24 minutes to go.
RHR was out of the pits first, obviously on a mission. But it took him another quarter of an hour to place first with just 5 minutes to go. Conway continued with no luck, placing 15th, and Kanaan, in 21st spot, just doesn’t look like Tony Kanaan at all. So far, this year, he doesn’t seem to be getting connected to that Target Chip Ganassi car. There might be a bit of pressure associated with driving Dario’s car, and having to try to live up to that legacy:
“Well we really didn’t know what we had to start with in the GE Reveal car because of all the problems in the first session with cars going off and causing red flags. It was frustrating to say the least. Every time you thought you were able to get something going, the red flag would come out again and stop the session. We struggled today with the setup and will go back to see what the rest of the team is doing and be ready for tomorrow.”
Rookie Carlos Muñoz, who had a podium in Long Beach, managed only a 10th fastest in the 34 car, but that doesn’t seem to have fazed him at all.
“I think things went pretty good today, the afternoon was better than the morning session. But things feel good, I think we have to work a little bit tonight. In Long Beach I improved a lot over the weekend so I hopefully I will do the same here. In the first session the track had much more grip so it was tougher, but we have a good idea of what to do for tomorrow.”
Graham Rahal, with little luck at all so far this season, fought a poorly handling car to just 19th. Jack Hawksworth, who looked very racy in Long Beach until he encountered “RHR’s Used Car Pile”, has, so far, done poorly. He was at the tail end of the order in the second practice.
But this is, after all, just a practice. There’s a lot more racing to go in Alabama, and a lot of things can change. The weather promises to be fine this weekend in Birmingham, and the racing promises to look about the same.
At the end of the day, the top three were Ryan Hunter-Reay, Sébastien Bourdais, and Josef Newgarden. Will Power’s watching the trio from the fourth spot. Hmmm . . . This seems vaguely familiar somehow.
Barber practice2 (Right click to download)
Barber day 1 combined (Right click to download)