AJ Foyt Racing made a strong statement in practice for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, with drivers Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth clocking the fastest laps of the day to top the speed chart.
Sato, in the No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda, set the pace with a lap of 1 minute, 7.2157 seconds (123.186 mph) at Barber Motorsports Park that’s less than a half-second off the track record set in 2013 by Scott Dixon. Hawksworth, in the No. 41 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda, was second at 1:07.2197 (123.178 mph).
Sato, whose best start at Barber in six previous tries is sixth, credited teamwork between his and Hawksworth’s crews for taking them to the front of the leaderboard.
“Just tiny details, working on the small factors,” the 39-year-old Japanese driver said. “Jack and I divided a few problems and experimented test items, and we got everything back together, and then show the trim and the speed for the team.
“The Honda package seems to be working pretty well, so we were happy to see it, of course, and good competition out there. Extremely close to everyone else.”
Hawksworth is working this weekend with a new lead race engineer, Daniele Cucchiaroni, who served as Sato’s performance engineer in 2015. Cucchiaroni was Hawksworth’s performance engineer his rookie season in 2014 with Bryan Herta Autosport before both joined the Foyt team last year.
“This season he was working on my car as the performance engineer,” said Hawksworth, the 25-year-old Brit. “Very clever guy. We have a very good relationship. I always knew he was going to end up engineering my car at some point or another in the future. I didn’t realize it was going to be quite this soon, but it’s been good.”
The 1-2 showing had team president Larry Foyt, son of team owner and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt, beaming.
“We had a good test here in (March) and we felt like we’d be decent, so it’s nice,” said Larry Foyt, who’s also Sato’s race strategist. “The hard work over the winter seems to be translating. You’ve still got to qualify, but that was a great day. To have both cars up there is what we want.”
With James Hinchcliffe running third in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports entry (1:07.2455, 123.131 mph), it gave Honda the top three cars on the speed chart. All three top laps were set in the afternoon practice on a drying track following a torrential downpour between sessions.
“It was a solid first day for us,” Hinchcliffe said. “Once again, the No. 5 Arrow Electronics car was pretty strong off the truck and we were hoping for that. We had a good test here back in February and we were hoping that was going to transfer over.”
Sebastien Bourdais, in the No. 11 Team Europa – KVSH Racing car, was the fastest Chevrolet in the 21-car field with a lap of 1:07.3399 (122.958 mph) established in the morning practice. Will Power rounded out the combined top five with a lap of 1:07.3434 (122.952 mph) this afternoon in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.
Both practices ran incident-free, though few cars turned laps in the first half of the afternoon session, waiting for the Alabama sun to dry the surface.
A third practice is set for noon-12:45 p.m. ET Saturday (streamed live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com), the final chance for Verizon IndyCar Series entrants to dial in their cars prior to Verizon P1 Award knockout qualifying at 4 p.m. ET (NBCSN). The 90-lap race on the 2.3-mile permanent road course goes off Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is the fourth of 16 races on the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud is the current points leader with a 14-point advantage over Dixon.