The annual visit to Barber Motorsports Park is one of the most anticipated events on the IndyCar schedule each year. The beautiful 2.3-mile permanent road course has 17 flowing turns and features 80 feet of elevation change that challenge drivers and engineers. So far this weekend, some teams have had more challenges than others.
While all of the attention was on the biggest names in the sport coming into the weekend, one driver had different plans. Rinus VeeKay finished 6th at St Petersburg and 10th at Texas earlier this season. Those are the only two top-ten finishes for Ed Carpenter Racing through three races. After a disappointing end to the 2021 campaign, he is ready to turn things around.
VeeKay earned his second career pole today with a blistering lap at 66.2507 seconds around the scenic road course. The 21-year old has shown plenty of promise in his young career, and today was just another example of what he is capable of.
“I knew we had potential yesterday but we didn’t know we had potential to be fastest,” VeeKay said. “The reds really give us what we need right now. There’s a little bit of time to be found on the blacks but I’m happy. Being fast is enjoyable.”
Joining VeeKay on the front row tomorrow will be Pato O'Ward, who is making his second consecutive front row start at Barber after earning pole position last year. That race last year was won by Alex Palou, who will start 3rd tomorrow in his No. 10 Chip Ganassi Honda.
Scott McLaughlin has been the lone bright spot for Team Penske this weekend, and qualified in 4th position. Felix Rosenqvist made it a perfect 2-for-2 in Firestone Fast Six qualifying for the Arrow McLaren SP team.
Alexander Rossi will start from the 5th position tomorrow, and was the top qualifying driver from the Andretti stable. That is quite surprising when you consider how his day actually started.
After an incident-free practice on Friday, the morning session was incredibly wild. Nearly 15 minutes into the session, Rossi lost control of his No. 27 Honda in Turn 17 and made heavy contact with the outside barrier, bounced off of the guardrail there, and came back onto the track. The NAPA machine suffered heavy damage but the Andretti Autosport team was able to repair the car in time for qualifying.
Crew members from all four Andretti teams joined forces to repair the car. “It was probably too early on in the life of the tire and took too big of a chunk out of it in Turn 17,” Rossi said. “Unfortunate mistake on my part. There’s a huge amount of guys, a lot of different-colored shirts here. It will be a team effort, and they’ll get it done. I think we’ll be all right.” Their effort was rewarded with a sensational qualifying run by Rossi.
Helio Castroneves was trailing just behind Rossi at the time and was unable to avoid the flying debris. A piece of Rossi's car struck the right-front tire of the Meyer Shank Racing machine, but the damage was easily repaired by the team. It has been a stressful couple of weeks for Helio and the team after his crash at the Indy 500 open test last week at IMS.
Shortly after the track was cleaned up, Rossi’s teammate Romain Grosjean had a moment when he slid off course and into the gravel. His No. 28 Honda did not suffer any damage and was able to continue. Kyle Kirkwood, Josef Newgarden, and Will Power all went off course in this morning’s practice as well.
Josef Newgarden has won at Barber three times, and has won the last two races this season. Aside from his opening-lap crash here last year, his previous five finishes here are 1st, 3rd, 1st, 1st, and 4th. The two-time series champion is clearly one of the favorites to win this race, which would earn him a cool $1 million bonus should he do that tomorrow. Unfortunately, he was caught out by a red flag in qualifying and failed to advance. He starts from the 7th position on Sunday.
Grosjean was also caught out by that Marcus Ericsson red flag and will be starting alongside Newgarden in 8th. Graham Rahal had a solid qualifying effort for once and will lead the RLL Racing group from the 9th starting spot. Colton Herta, who has never finished a race at Barber, got the worst of that incident, and will start 10th tomorrow.
Rookie Callum Ilott has had a fantastic weekend. The Juncos Hollinger Racing driver will roll off in 11th while Ericsson starts 12th. On the opposite end of the spectrum were two legends of the sport - Scott Dixon and Will Power.
Dixon has nine podium finishes in the 11 races at Barber. He is the only driver to finish inside the top ten in every race, and the only driver to complete every lap in every race. Still, the six-time champion has never won here, or even started on the front row. Coming into today, Dixon's average starting position was 4.2 at Barber. He had made the Firestone Fast Six in the previous 11 races but will start 13th tomorrow.
Power has won here twice before, and his 212 laps led at Barber are by far the most among all drivers. The Penske driver has eight top-five finishes in his 11 starts here. He has started on the front row eight times, but he was not able to add to that today. Power struggled in the first group qualifying, and will start 19th tomorrow.
"We were looking at the data on the screens," Power said. "It's power. Down on all the straights to McLaughlin. Have to look at why. Maybe a shifting issue. That's enough to have put us through." Power has has a sensational start to the season, as the only driver in the series to finish inside the top four in all three races.
There will be one final practice session today at 5:20 for teams and drivers to get their cars set up for the race. Some precipitation may be in the forecast at Barber tomorrow, which would be the first real test for the aeroscreen in the rain. It is just another wrinkle that could come into play as the calendar flips to May.
Coverage for tomorrow's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama begins at 1 PM ET on NBC.