BIRMINGHAM – Despite the beautiful weather at the picturesque Barber Motorsport Park, there were few smiles in the AJ Foyt Racing paddock after this afternoon’s qualifying session.
Both drivers struggled in yesterday’s practice sessions around the 2.3-mile road course so the team made some wholesale changes overnight with Tony Kanaan finding the car feeling a bit better in the morning warmup. Matheus “Matt” Leist said he was still having problems with a mid-corner understeer (“push” for oval track fans).
In qualifying, Leist was in the first group of Round 1 qualifying, but he was not able to advance out of that round. His time of 1 minute, 8.5516 seconds (120.785mph) landed him 21st on the 23-car grid.
“Tough qualifying for the team, for me, for Tony,” the 19-year-old said of his first IndyCar qualifying session in the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet on a permanent road course. “We just didn’t have the speed today, this whole weekend. We’ve got a lot to talk about, debrief and see what we can do to improve the car for the road courses.”
Kanaan, in Group 2 of Round 1, had an even tougher time in his No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet about halfway through his session. While exiting the pits on a new set of alternate compound (red) Firestone tires, his car spun and backed into the tire barrier. Kanaan was not injured in the accident but the car sustained damage to the rear wing and right rear suspension. Since he brought out the red flag, he lost his two quickest laps per INDYCAR’s rules, and will start 23rd.
“Difficult weekend,” Kanaan said afterwards. “We’ve been trying a bunch of different things but it’s not working. And obviously it didn’t help with my mistake in qualifying. We’re struggling here but we have a whole night to think about it and hopefully we’ll come back stronger in the race and see what we can do.”
Defending race winner Josef Newgarden won the pole with a time of 1 minute, 7.4413 seconds (122.773mph). His teammate Will Power will start alongside him. Rounding out the Firestone Fast 6 are: Sebastien Bourdais, Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Scott Dixon.
The race is scheduled to be broadcast live tomorrow on NBC Sports Network starting at 3 p.m. ET. However, the weather forecast is calling for rain all day, including thunderstorms and high winds. If the elements prevail and INDYCAR officials determine the conditions are too dangerous for the cars, teams, officials and fans, the race will be re-scheduled.