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Alabama - Qualifying times

31 March 2012

Qualifying consisted of half the field running in the 15 minute Group 1 and the other half in Group 2, with the top six from each group progressing to the ten minute Top 12 session, and the top six then going through to the shoot-out Firestone Fast Six round.

Round 1 - Group 1

With the tyres looking like they were giving their best times very early in their runs, most drivers opted to wait until near the end of the session before coming out with only Alex Tagliani and JR Hildebrand coming out early.

With the clock ticking down, Mike Conway had put the AJ Foyt Racing car at the to by less than three hundredths of a second over Graham Rahal and Helio Castroneves. Simon Pagenaud continued his impressive performance for Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsport ahead of EJ Viso and Hildebrand who pushed out Marco Andretti from the top six that progressed into round 2. That made it a 3-3 draw between the Honda and Chevrolet cars in the top six, with all four Lotus cars eliminated.

Josef Newgarden - who had looked so strong in Friday practice for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing - locked up and ran wide on his final flying lap attempt and had to settle for 15th place on the grid.

1. Mike Conway AJ Foyt-Honda 117.637mph 1:10.386s (6 laps)
2. Graham Rahal Ganassi-Honda 117.588mph 1:10.415s + 0.029s (6 laps)
3. Helio Castroneves Penske-Chevrolet 117.581mph 1:10.420s + 0.034s (6 laps)
4. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt-Hamilton-Honda 117.417mph 1:10.518s + 0.132s (5 laps)
5. EJ Viso KV Racing-Chevrolet 117.372mph 1:10.545s + 0.159s (5 laps)
6. JR Hildebrand Panther-Chevrolet 117.356mph 1:10.555s + 0.169s (6 laps)
7. Marco Andretti Andretti-Chevrolet 117.195mph 1:10.651s + 0.265s (5 laps)
8. Josef Newgarden SFHR-Honda 117.139mph 1:10.685s + 0.299s (5 laps)
9. Sebastien Bourdais Dragon-Lotus 117.072mph 1:10.726s + 0.339s (5 laps)
10. Justin Wilson Dale Coyne-Honda 115.719mph 1:11.552s + 1.166s (6 laps)
11. Simona de Silvestro HVM-Lotus 115.688mph 1:11.572s + 1.186s (4 laps)
12. Alex Tagliani BHA-Lotus 114.084mph 1:12.578s + 2.192s (8 laps)
13. Katherine Legge Dragon-Lotus 112.43mph 1:13.646s + 3.260s (7 laps)

Round 1 - Group 2

A particularly tough field lined up in Group 2, with two Penskes (Ryan Briscoe and Will Power), two Ganassis (Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti), two Andrettis (Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe) and two KV Racing cars (Tony Kanaan and ubens Barrichello) meaning that there were going to be at least a couple of top names left disappointed at the end of the session.

Knowing that he had no chance of making it through (and having a ten-place grid penalty for an engine change in any case), Oriol Servia went out and set his only flying lap early in the session on black-walled (hard compound) tyres meaning he gets to keep all of his set of red-wall (soft tyres) for race day.

Everyone else left it late, with Takuma Sato not setting the first serious time until under six minutes to go. It was almost another three minutes before his time was bested by Ryan Hunter-Reay, and then as the final moments approached there were simulatenous sub-70s laps by Will Power and Scott Dixon to go top.

However the big shock was Dario Franchitti, who was left stuck in eighth place as he stated his final flying lap attempts. He over-cooked it and locked up into turn 5,meaning that his time did not improve and he was eliminated at the first hurdle.

Also failing to progress to round 2 was Rubens Barrichello, who was bumped out of the top six by a late flyer from Kanaan. Barrichello lamented the loss of practice on Friday (due to rain) and the total wipeout of Saturday morning practice (due to fog delaying the arrival on site of the medical helicopter) which meant that he was on the backfoot with regards to track familiarisation.

1. Will Power Penske-Chevrolet 118.535mph 1:09.853s (3 laps)
2. Scott Dixon Ganassi-Honda 118.349mph 1:09.963s + 0.110s (3 laps)
3. James Hinchcliffe Andretti-Chevrolet 118.207mph 1:10.047s + 0.194s (4 laps)
4. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti-Chevrolet 117.645mph 1:10.381s + 0.528s (5 laps)
5. Ryan Briscoe Penske-Chevrolet 117.47mph 1:10.486s + 0.633s (6 laps)
6. Tony Kanaan KV Racing-Chevrolet 117.408mph 1:10.523s + 0.670s (4 laps)
7. Rubens Barrichello KV Racing-Chevrolet 117.336mph 1:10.566s + 0.714s (4 laps)
8. Takuma Sato RLL-Honda 117.262mph 1:10.611s + 0.758s (5 laps)
9. Dario Franchitti Ganassi-Honda 117.156mph 1:10.675s + 0.822s (5 laps)
10. James Jakes Dale Coyne-Honda 117.028mph 1:10.753s + 0.900s (7 laps)
11. Charlie Kimball Ganassi-Honda 116.032mph 1:11.359s + 1.507s (6 laps)
12. Ed Carpenter ECR-Chevrolet 115.213mph 1:11.867s + 2.014s (4 laps)
13. Oriol Servia Dreyer & Reinbold-Lotus 112.907mph 1:13.335s + 3.482s (8 laps)

Round 2 - Top Twelve

Once again, no one was keen to be first out on track and it wasn't until the six minutes-to-go mark that the cars streamed out of pit road en masse.

There was one car that still wasn't coming out to play, however: Ryan Briscoe's car was still stuck in its pit box with its sidepod off as the Penske team grappled to fix a clutch control issue that was preventing the car getting underway in first gear. They ran out of time in the session before they were able to track down the gremlin.

The session was building to a climax, with Will Power looking on his way to set a blistering fastest lap in the final two minutes of the session when Ryan Hunter-Reay overcooked it through turn 9 and spun his Andretti Autosport #28 out of the exit, clouting the arnco barrier with the rear of the car and damaging his rear wing. Although he was eventually able to limp back to the pits, the incident brought out a red flag.

"I got too greedy," he said. "Completely my fault ... Fine line between hero and zero with qualifying."

The red flag had two major repercussions: Hunter-Reay lost his fastest times for causing the stoppage, meaning that he will start alongside Briscoe on the sixth row of the grid for Sunday's race. And the red flag came out while Power was still on that fast lap, so the time he set (1:09.7547s) ultimately didn't count and Power was left in ninth place with no time to get back out on track before the chequered flag ended proceedings.

1. Helio Castroneves Penske-Chevrolet 118.419mph 1:09.921s (3 laps)
2. James Hinchcliffe Andretti-Chevrolet 117.876mph 1:10.243s + 0.322s (3 laps)
3. JR Hildebrand Panther-Chevrolet 117.74mph 1:10.324s + 0.403s (3 laps)
4. Mike Conway AJ Foyt-Honda 117.456mph 1:10.495s + 0.573s (3 laps)
5. Tony Kanaan KV Racing-Chevrolet 117.302mph 1:10.587s + 0.666s (3 laps)
6. Scott Dixon Ganassi-Honda 116.176mph 1:11.271s + 1.350s (2 laps)
7. EJ Viso KV Racing-Chevrolet 115.763mph 1:11.526s + 1.605s (2 laps)
8. Graham Rahal Ganassi-Honda 115.668mph 1:11.584s + 1.663s (3 laps)
9. Will Power Penske-Chevrolet 114.984mph 1:12.010s + 2.089s (2 laps)
10. Simon Pagenaud Schmidt-Hamilton-Honda 111.464mph 1:14.284s + 4.363s (2 laps)
11. Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti-Chevrolet No time (2 laps)
12. Ryan Briscoe Penske-Chevrolet No time (0 laps)

Round 3 - Firestone Fast Six

Despite the warning lessons of round 2, cars still hesitated to come out on track until the final possible moment. Tony Kanaan went top with 1:11.3740s initially but he was playing the tyre strategy cars and saved using his red-wall tyres, consequently soon retiring to pit lane and leaving the big hitters to get to work.

With everyone on red-wall tyres in this session, Helio Castroneves went top with a 1:10.4768 just 0.0454s ahead of James Hinchcliffe and Scott Dixon less than a hundredth of a second slower than the Canadian.

The quick tyre fall-off together with the shortness of available track time meant that no one was able to improve further, although Scott Dixon lost the rear end and spun the #9 Ganassi in turn 5, just stopping it from hitting the wall. He was fortunate tht it happened after the chequered flag and in a spot which did not tribber a red flag or he two could have risked losing his fastest times.

1. Helio Castroneves Penske-Chevrolet 117.485mph 1:10.477s (5 laps)
2. James Hinchcliffe Andretti-Chevrolet 117.41mph 1:10.522s + 0.045s (3 laps)
3. Scott Dixon Ganassi-Honda 117.398mph 1:10.529s + 0.052s (4 laps)
4. Mike Conway AJ Foyt-Honda 116.819mph 1:10.879s + 0.402s (4 laps)
5. JR Hildebrand Panther-Chevrolet 116.495mph 1:11.076s + 0.599s (4 laps)
6. Tony Kanaan KV Racing-Chevrolet 116.009mph 1:11.374s + 0.897s (5 laps)


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