A full day of testing at Barber Motorsports Park pointed to the conclusion that the intense competition that the Verizon IndyCar Series has witnessed in recent seasons is going to be even closer and more unpredictable for the remainder of the 2017 season.
Twenty-two cars turned a total of 1,147 laps on the 2.3-mile, 17-turn scenic permanent road course today, in advance of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama - the third of 17 races on this year's schedule, set for the weekend of April 21-23.
And while two-time Barber race winner and three-time pole sitter Will Power wound up fastest after six hours of on-track action, it was by no means decisive. The top 14 drivers on the combined speed chart were separated by less than a half-second.
Power set the best lap of the day moments before the checkered flag waved, at 1 minute, 7.7518 seconds (122.211 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. The Aussie nudged out second-year Verizon IndyCar Series driver Max Chilton (No. 8 Gallagher Honda) for top honors by less than a hundredth of a second.
"It just shows how tight it is between Honda and Chevy now," Power said. "It's tough, man. We just went through a bunch of stuff (during the test day) to see what it does and I think we got some good answers here. I think we've got a good car for here, I feel good about my setup."
Chilton, driving for the Chip Ganassi Racing team that switched to Honda from Chevrolet in the offseason, put down a lap of 1:07.7591 (122.198 mph) to finish second on the leaderboard.
"Good day apart from Power spoiling the fun at the end of the day, but it's all good fun," Chilton said. "It was a good test day. ... We got a lot done.
"We actually were struggling a lot with the car all day, that's why we took a long, long lunch break to sort of change the car," Chilton added. "Then we definitely made steps forward, did a few fine-tunes. It's amazing, you make a few changes and you jump yourself up the board."
Two of Power's teammates at Team Penske, Josef Newgarden and Juan Pablo Montoya, finished third and fourth on the speed chart. Newgarden is in his first full season with the renowned team, replacing Montoya, who will drive for Team Penske at the two Indianapolis Motor Speedway races in May.
Newgarden, whose fast lap was 1:07.8402 (122.052 mph) in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevy, said it took him time to adapt to the new tire supplied by Firestone for the Barber circuit.
"Very different feeling form the car today than I've ever had at Barber and that requires a lot of work," said the 2015 Barber race winner. "But we had a good day and the Verizon No. 2 car was fast. I think it has a lot of speed in it, it's just a matter of how we get that out of the car and how to make it consistent so that I can put the lap together for qualifying."
Montoya was fourth quick in the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet (1:07.8406, 122.051 mph) despite it being his first time in an Indy car since the 2016 season finale six months ago. For the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner, it was like riding a bike.
"I feel like I drove the car yesterday," Montoya said. "It's kind of fun. I've been out of the car since September, but I feel fine. I have a new crew, new guys, new engineer. It's working really well."
Andretti Autosport drivers Marco Andretti, Takuma Sato and Ryan Hunter-Reay finished fifth, sixth and eighth, respectively, on the day. Sato was fastest in the three-hour first session, but was among the 19 drivers who improved their times in the second practice as teams honed in on setups. Push-to-pass was also activated on all cars for the final hour of the second practice, giving a 60-horsepower boost whenever it was used.
Sebastien Bourdais, winner of the March 12 season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, was 13th fastest overall today. Defending Barber winner and series champion Simon Pagenaud ran 10th.
The next race on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule is the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The famous street-course race airs live at 4 p.m. ET April 9 on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama follows two weeks later at Barber Motorsports Park, airing at 3 p.m. ET on the same networks.
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