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James Hinchcliffe Leads Combined Practice Times at Barber

(via AUTOWEEK) – James Hinchcliffe has had a rough couple of seasons in the NTT IndyCar Series. It’s been a virtual roller-coaster in many ways.

That’s why the driver from Oakville, Ontario could take some solace and satisfaction out of returning to the top of the timing and scoring chart in Friday’s combined practice sessions for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

“Everything on the No. 5 Arrow car has been working well so far,” Hinchcliffe said. “It’s crazy – we’ve seen it all year, the amount of red flags we’re having in sessions. I think it’s just a function of everyone trying to push for those last few hundredths and thousandths (of a second) because it’s so competitive right now.

“I don’t think we’ve ever been P1 in a session and been so happy with the (car’s) balance, if I’m totally honest.”

Hinchcliffe’s Honda ran a fast time of 1:08.9994 around the 2.3-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park road course for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. That’s a speed of 120.001 miles per hour.

“That’s why we do it, right?” Hinchcliffe responded afterwards. “For all the challenges that we’ve been facing this weekend — and not just us, the series as a whole. These 45-minute sessions go fast and all it takes is one red flag to sort of throw a wrench into everybody’s plans.

“That’s the biggest thing I’ve been surprised at so far this year is if you go back through all the practice sessions and qualifying sessions, we’ve had a lot of red flags, and I really think it’s a function of everybody is pushing so hard because it’s so much more competitive than it’s ever been. And, it’s just so close, and those extra hundredths and thousandths are hard to find. I think a lot of guys are pushing above and beyond the limit to try and get there.

“It’s making it difficult to manage your time on a weekend session, but it’s the same for everyone, so we just kind of have to figure out how to make the best of it.”

Hinchcliffe was one of the 24 drivers on the race course Friday that was frustrated to have so many red flags stop the practice sessions before they could develop any rhythm. The first session was disjointed at best and the second session also had its share of stoppages.

“This afternoon was very weird,” Hinchcliffe said. “I made a couple of mistakes on my black lap. I don’t think that we were as high up before switching to Reds as we would have liked or where we were capable of being, and then we threw on the Reds, and the balance just fell apart. I’ve never been so unhappy with the balance of my race car. It’s interesting because last year at Barber the balance between the Black and the Red Firestones was actually quite small for us.”

When it was all over, it was Hinchcliffe on top, just ahead of recently-turned, 19-year-old IndyCar Series race winner Colton Herta at 1:09.0084 (119.985 mph) in the Harding Steinbrenner Honda.

“We were P3 in the first practice, so that made us feel good just knowing that rolling off the truck the car was pretty strong,” Hinchcliffe said. “I think that’s big. That’s been maybe not our strength the first two races of the season.

“We kind of had to dig ourselves out of holes the first two weekends, which I think I actually did a pretty decent job at. But if you can start with a good car and just sort of have to fine tune it, it makes it that much easier. But the guys did a great job. The Arrow car rolled off the truck really quick. I think we only did like two actual fast laps in practice this morning, but they were decent.”

The top six cars were all Honda-powered. Rookie Santino Ferrucci was third at 1:09.0461 (119.920 mph) followed by Sebastien Bourdais’s 1:09.0968 (119.832 mph), Alexander Rossi’s 1:09.1140 (119.802 mph) and Ryan Hunter-Reay’s 1:09.1545 (119.732 mph).

The final round of practice is Saturday from 11:45 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time (NBC Sports Gold). Knockout Qualifying is set for 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

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