Rinus VeeKay jumped to the top of the speed charts during pre-qualifying practice for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst on Saturday morning at Barber Motorsports Park.
VeeKay’s best lap was 1 minute, 5.9264 seconds in the No. 21 SONAX Chevrolet fielded by Ed Carpenter Racing, the quickest lap of the weekend so far after two practice sessions. It was a significant improvement from his best practice lap Friday, 1:07.1155, good for 10th overall.
“I knew we had potential yesterday; but we didn’t know we had potential to be fastest,” VeeKay said. “The reds (Firestone alternate tires) really give us what we need right now. There’s a little bit of time to be found on the blacks (Firestone primary tires), but I’m happy. Being fast is enjoyable.”
Pato O’Ward was second quickest after a best lap of 1:06:0136 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. Colton Herta, quickest Friday, again was the top Honda with a quick lap of 1:06.0434 in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda, good for third overall.
St. Petersburg race winner Scott McLaughlin continued his steady weekend, fourth at 1:06.1233 in the No. 3 Sonsio Team Penske Chevrolet. Romain Grosjean joined Andretti Autosport teammate Herta in the top five with his best lap of 1:06.2170 in the No. 28 Enevate/DHL Honda.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship leader Josef Newgarden was 11th in the session at 1:06.6092 in the No. 3 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet.
NTT P1 Award qualifying is scheduled for 1 p.m. (ET) this afternoon on the 17-turn, 2.3-mile road course, with live coverage on Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network. The 90-lap race starts at 1:15 p.m. Sunday, with live coverage on NBC, Peacock Premium and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Grosjean was one of three drivers to go off track, spinning into the gravel adjacent to Turn 7 about 25 minutes into the session. He was able to continue without assistance.
His teammate, 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi, wasn’t as lucky during his incident. Rossi ran wide and spun in Turn 17 about 13 minutes into the session, making heavy contact with the Armco barrier. The right-side and rear of Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda suffered heavy damage, with crew members from all four Andretti Autosport teams joining forces in the paddock to replace his engine and rebuild the car before qualifying.
“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. We’ll see what qualifying brings.”
2014 series champion Will Power spun into the gravel trap in Turn 7 after hopping a curb in his No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. Power needed a tow from the gravel, but Team Penske was able to check and service the car in time for Power to return to the track in the last two minutes of the session.