The first of two IndyCar practice sessions for the opening weekend took place under cloudy skies from Barber Motorsports park, with Alex Palou topping the charts by completing the 2.38-mile course in 1:06:4721.
Palou joins Chip Ganassi racing for his sophomore season in the series, and is racing a newly-revealed SegiTV livery for this weekend’s race.
The Spaniard wasted no time letting his competitors know that he means business by lapping quicker than the circuit’s current qualifying lap record, a hint at the speeds we will see for this afternoon’s qualifying.
The 45-minute practice session was uninterrupted except for a brief red flag caused by Felix Rosenqvist, who misjudged the tricky entrance to pit road and collided with the pit wall.
His stricken Arrow McLaren SP Chevy brought out the red flag for just five minutes, and he will incur a penalty equal to 5 minutes of reduced practice running for causing the incident.
Colton Herta and Josef Newgarden both set lap times under 1:06.5, ending the session in second and third respectively.
Reigning series champion Scott Dixon showed off a slightly-revised paint scheme for this season by putting in a lap time of 1:06.5524, landing the #9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda in fourth place overall.
Pato O’Ward rounded out the top five, securing a good result for the #5 Arrow McLaren SP to start the year.
Romain Grosjean, in his first official IndyCar session since leaving Formula 1 at the conclusion of 2020, completed 19 laps and ended the session in 21st position out of 24 cars.
Jimmie Johnson also made his IndyCar debut during this morning’s session, and finished last in his Carvana-sponsored ride. He was only a couple tenths of a second off the competition, however, and shouldn’t be worried at this point.
Kiwi Scott McLaughlin found himself just ahead of the two Swedish drivers of Marcus Ericsson and Felix Rosenqvist, who all were able to secure themselves a top-10 time.
The weekend’s second practice session takes place in just under 3 hours’ time at 14:40 Eastern Time (19:40 BST). That is followed by qualifying at 17:55 Eastern Time (22:55 BST).