Palou leads opening Barber IndyCar practice

Michael Levitt/Motorsport Images

Palou leads opening Barber IndyCar practice

IndyCar

Palou leads opening Barber IndyCar practice

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Welcome to Chip Ganassi Racing, Alex Palou. The sophomore NTT IndyCar Series driver from Spain sent a message to his rivals during the first practice session of the new season by placing the No. 10 Honda atop the 24-deep field with a lap of 1m06.4721s around Barber Motorsports Park.

Set amid cool and overcast conditions, Palou led a remarkable top five comprised of Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta in the No. 26 Honda (+0.0176s), Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden in the No. 2 Chevy (+0.0236s), CGR teammate Scott Dixon in the No. 9 Honda (+0.0803s), and Arrow McLaren SP’s Pato O’Ward in the No. 5 Chevy (+0.1560s).

Dixon was on a lap good enough to be P1, but it was voided by the series due to the timing of a red flag that came just as the defending series champion was finishing the lap. And in a nod to the sheer competitiveness of IndyCar in 2021, the top four were separated by less than one-tenth of a second.

“It’s amazing,” Palou said. “It’s amazing to be in Barber — I love this place. It’s still Free Practice 1, but it’s the best way to start, so I’m happy.”

The only drama to come from the 45-minute session was delivered by new Arrow McLaren SP driver Felix Rosenqvist, who caused a red flag with nine minutes remaining when he crashed on entry to pit lane. The No. 7 Chevy suffered a broken front wing and right-front suspension when the Swede charged through the downhill section, lost his grip on the steering while attempting to activate the speed limiter, and clobbered the right-side wall. Rosenqvist was uninjured in the incident and the AMSP team should have no problems getting the car ready for the next session.

The 23 cars returned to the track with four minutes left with many drivers equipped with new Firestone primary tires, and the top five of Palou, Herta, and Newgarden, Dixon, and O’Ward held with no changes.

TAKEAWAYS

Fastest Driver: Alex Palou, 1m06.4721s

Slowest Driver: Jimmie Johnson, 1m07.9509s

Most Laps Turned: 22, Jimmie Johnson and Graham Rahal

Noteworthy Mentions: CGR opened the year with the unfamiliar dynamic of being first and last in the session. Despite his crash, Rosenqvist managed to run P10. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing did not have the start it wanted; Rahal was P18 and Takuma Sato was P20. Romain Grosjean’s debut with Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing resulted in P21. Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin led the rookies with a sharp run to P8, slower than teammates Newgarden and Will Power, but faster than Simon Pagenaud in P16.

UP NEXT: Free Practice 2, 2:40 p.m. ET, on Peacock

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