INDYCAR - Andretti zips to top of speed chart in Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama practice

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Friday, April 21, 2017) - Marco Andretti got off to a fast start today, recording the best practice lap in preparation for Sunday's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by America's First.

Andretti, in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport Honda, toured Barber Motorsports Park's 2.3-mile, 17-turn permanent road course in 1 minute, 7.7134 seconds (122.280 mph) to top the combined speed chart from a pair of Verizon IndyCar Series practice sessions. Two-time Barber race winner Will Power was second at 1:07.7454 (122.222 mph).

Andretti's last win and second of his career came 95 races ago at Iowa Speedway in June 2011. The 30-year-old third-generation Indy car driver knows today's results mean little, but likes where he stands heading into Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying Saturday.

"It's very important to qualify well here, so I'm pleased that we have the pace to hopefully be able to do that," Andretti said. "But yeah, so far, so good. We just need to replicate it tomorrow."

Andretti has collected four pole positions to date, but the most recent was 60 starts ago at Pocono Raceway in July 2013. He said attaining the best car balance through both the high- and low-speed turns around Barber will be key.

"I think it's just going to be about maximizing when it counts, you know?" Andretti said. "It's going to be doing it on that lap and putting all my sectors together, and (I've) got to do it three times, three rounds (in qualifying). That's going to be the plan. It just seems we have a pretty good car. It's just going to come down to whether I can put it together."

Power, in the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet, led a trio of Team Penske drivers who finished the day second through fourth fastest. The 2011 and '12 Barber winner was followed by reigning race and series champion Simon Pagenaud in the No. 1 Menards Chevrolet (1:07.8305) and 2010 Barber winner Helio Castroneves in the No. 3 AAA Insurance Chevrolet (1:07.9044).

"It's just a track that I like," said Power, who also won the pole position at the track in 2010, '11 and '14. "You want to be competitive everywhere; I think with Penske we are. You have a chance to win everywhere, but yeah, I enjoy this place."

A third 45-minute practice awaits at noon ET Saturday, ahead of knockout qualifying starting at 4:15 p.m. (NBCSN coverage starts at 4:30). Live coverage of the 90-lap race begins at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network. Sunday's race will be the eighth Verizon IndyCar Series event conducted at Barber Motorsports Park and the third of 17 races on this year's schedule.

Alonso to turn first laps on Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval on May 3

Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso will begin on-track preparation for his Indianapolis 500 debut with a test session May 3 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The test will take place from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. ET on the 2.5-mile oval. This will be the first career laps on an oval for the 2005 and 2006 world champion, who drives in Formula One for McLaren Honda. Fans can watch the test from the track's Turn 2 infield mound, the IMS Museum parking lot and the South Terrace Grandstands.

Alonso, 35, from Spain, is skipping the Monaco Grand Prix this year to compete in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28. He will make his Verizon IndyCar Series debut in a Honda car entered by McLaren and prepared by reigning race champion Andretti Autosport.

Alonso is aiming to win the second leg of auto racing's career triple crown of victories in the Monaco Grand Prix, Indianapolis 500 and 24 Hours of Le Mans. Alonso triumphed in 2006 and 2007 at Monaco.

Hunter-Reay goes fishing with Sasquatch

Ryan Hunter-Reay has enjoyed success at Barber Motorsports Park, with two race wins and a pole position. But that's not the only reason the Andretti Autosport driver enjoys coming to the picturesque and quirky road course.

"There is always something new and surprising to see on and off the track, thanks to the imagination and inspiration of George Barber," Hunter-Reay said Wednesday as he stood next to one of the track's latest unusual statues - this one of Sasquatch, the folklore ape-man creature also known as Bigfoot. Sasquatch stands beside a secret fishing hole within a few feet of the track, complete with fishing pole cast into the water in the hopes of catching his next meal.

Track owner George Barber invited Hunter-Reay, an avid fisherman who enjoys deep-sea fishing off the coast of his Florida home, to meet and do some fishing with one of the park's more elusive residents.

"(Sasquatch) moved to the area some years ago and we found him wandering aimlessly in the woods," Barber explained. "We felt a little sorry for him, so we gave him some cover, a pond to fish and bathe in, and he's been with us since."

Hunter-Reay grabbed a rod and spent time fishing for bass with his new "friend" in a small pond atop an impressive new waterfall feature that sits between the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum and Turn 9 of the 2.3-mile racetrack that has hosted Verizon IndyCar Series races since 2010. They discussed the 13-acre lake on Barber's property that is home to 1,700 largemouth bass and 17,000 bream and redear sunfish, smaller fish upon which the bass feed.

While waiting for a bite on his line, Hunter-Reay recounted another surprise he encountered on track at last month's open test.

"As I came around the turn and under the bridge by the museum, I was surprised to see a woman in a skirt with her shoes still on, hanging from the rafters of the bridge," said Hunter-Reay, who won the Barber race from the pole in 2013 and repeated as race winner the following year. "I was about to radio it in, when I remembered where I was. I took another lap just to be sure and there she was. It was a bit distracting at first but all in good fun."

"That's Georgina," George Barber said matter-of-factly of the mannequin hanging over the track from the bridge. "She is a big INDYCAR fan. We have quite a few crazy fans, but there's always one that does something a little looney and that's Georgina.

"She likes the view from bridge and she's decided that she's going to stay there until one of these drivers slows down enough for her to drop right down into the cockpit with him. She's a real attractive southern lady."

Askew makes it two in a row with Barber USF2000 win

Oliver Askew led from flag to flag today to claim his second straight Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda win of the season, this one in the first of two weekend races at Barber Motorsports Park.

The 20-year-old from Jupiter, Florida, driving the No. 3 Mazda Motorsports/MC RacingTatuus USF-17 for Cape Motorsports, built a safe lead on 14-year-old Kaylen Frederick (No. 81 Team Pelfrey Pilot ONE Racing USF-17) after starting from the pole position. A late full-course caution allowed Frederick to pressure Askew on the restart, but Askew held strong and crossed the line 0.2273 of a second ahead at the checkered flag.

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Volume 2017, Issue 4, Posted 10:39 AM, 04.22.2017