Josef Newgarden beat out teammate — and routinely fast qualifier — Will Power to earn his best starting position yet at Barber Motorsports Park, a track where two of his eight Verizon IndyCar Series wins have occurred.
Round 1 began with a group of 11 cars vying for advancement to Round 2. After one lap for all cars in the 10-minute session, rookie Robert Wickens was quickest with a 1:08.5634, set on primary Firestone tires.
Max Chilton, Matheus Leist and Ed Jones all went out on alternate tires but only Jones found success. The remainder of the group started on black-sidewalled tires and switched just after the halfway point.
Following the checkered flag, Newgarden was fastest with a 1:07.5643. Ryan Hunter-Reay was a mere 0.0022 seconds slower and advanced with Newgarden to Round 2 along with James Hinchcliffe, Wickens, Marco Andretti and Jones.
Chilton, Graham Rahal, Spencer Pigot, Jordan King and Leist failed to move out of Group 1.
Featuring one more driver than Group 1, Group 2 followed a similar pattern with most cars beginning on primary tires. Zach Veach, Tony Kanaan, Gabby Chaves and Rene Binder chose to begin the session on alternates.
The tire strategy initially worked in Veach’s favor as the rookie topped the timesheet after one lap with a 1:08.2785. The time was soon surpassed by Power.
Five minutes into the 10-minute session, Kanaan made rear contact with the tire barrier in Turn 2 after spinning on cold tires. The incident brought out a red flag that ended the session and prevented Kanaan from moving on to Round 2.
At the time of the red flag, Power was fastest with a 1:08.1087 allowing him to advance to Round 2. Sebastien Bourdais, Veach, Alexander Rossi, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon also moved out of Group 2.
Charlie Kimball, Zachary Claman De Melo, Takuma Sato, Chaves and Binder joined Kanaan in failing to advance.
Tire strategy continued to play a role in Round 2 with Andretti Autosport drivers Rossi, Andretti and Veach looking strong at the midpoint of the 10-minute session.
Once on alternate tires, two of Team Penske’s three-driver squad showed speed with Newgarden turning a 1:07.0583 to top the round. Power and the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet were two-tenths off Newgarden’s time but good enough for second.
Advancing with the Penske duo to the Firestone Fast 6 were Hinchcliffe, Dixon, Hunter-Reay and Bourdais. Less than a half second separated all six.
Andretti, Rossi, Pagenaud, Wickens, Veach and Jones did not advance out of Round 2 and will take the green flag from the seventh through 12th positions, respectively.
Firestone Fast 6
The brief, veteran-filled Firestone Fast 6, which guarantees only six minutes of green-flag time, ran clean from start to finish. At the halfway point, Power was quickest ahead of teammate Newgarden with Hunter-Reay sitting third as the fastest Honda driver.
Before the checkered flag, Bourdais shot to the top in his Dale Coyne Racing machine with a 1:07.5337. While it looked as if Bourdais might have a chance at the pole, both Newgarden and Power had time to complete final laps.
Power’s 1:07.4541 came in first and briefly put the four-time Barber pole winner on top. Newgarden’s 1:07.4413 came in next and secured the reigning series champion’s third career pole. His most recent pole came last year at the Sonoma Raceway finale.
Behind the all-Penske front row, Bourdais and Hunter-Reay will share Row 2 while Hinchcliffe and Dixon will roll off from the third row.
The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is scheduled for a 2:42 p.m. CDT start on Sunday, but expected wet weather in the Birmingham area may prompt INDYCAR to alter the day’s schedule. The race will air live on NBCSN with coverage beginning at 3 p.m. EDT.