Two things can be counted on at Barber Motorsports Park- rain at some time during the weekend and a member of Team Penske on the pole and in Victory Lane. The eighth edition of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama followed the script perfectly. Josef Newgarden joined his three teammates as winners of the race, and Will Power won another pole. Penske drivers have won five of the eight races and seven of the eight poles.
The overnight rain lingered into the morning but was gone by race time. There were a few drops just before the start, but nothing that affected the racing. The cool temperatures didn’t seem to help the Hondas as I though it might. The results were about what were expected.
It was a typical Barber race, with some passing in the back, but the leaders staying mostly single file. The top three stayed within sight of each other most of the way. Power clearly had the best car. Newgarden kept close, but was not able to catch him to challenge for the lead. Dixon had third all to himself with an occasional run on Newgarden.
The race turned on Power’s tire puncture. I haven’t heard how the tire was damaged, but Power stayed out until he absolutely could not drive on it anymore. Newgarden inherited the lead and sailed to the win. Alexander Rossi had the best drive of the day, non-winning division, going from 18th at the start to a fifth place finish. Newgarden’s drive to second was equally stellar.
When he failed to make the Fast Six, The team was thrilled to have two sets of sticker reds to use during the race. The below normal temperatures changed their strategy, and only one stint was on reds. He got to second and stayed there hoping something would happen to Power.
Rossi give Andretti Autosport a glimmer of hope for better days ahead. Marco Andretti had gearbox problems on the pace lap and was three laps down immediately. Ryan Hunter-Reay fought back to 11th after repairing his damaged front wing in contact with James Hinchcliffe.
Sebastien Bourdais clings to the points lead with four drivers within 15 points as the series goes to the year’s first oval next Saturday evening at Phoenix. In preseason testing there, Chevy was fastest during the day and Honda was quicker in the evening. It looks like we have true parity between the two manufacturers now. One is better in high downforce situations, the other succeeds with low downforce. The year offers a mix of both types of tracks.
Mr. 50 500s’ Wild Ride
You may have heard a rumor somewhere that I had a 2-seater ride Sunday morning. I don’t know who started it, but it was not fake news. I will risk life and limb to bring my readers the inside scoop (not really).
Thanks to Indycar Nation, I won the opportunity to take my first road course ride. I have ridden at IMS and Iowa, but was really looking forward to a road course experience. It was different.
The morning weather had me worried that the ride would be cancelled, but conditions improved enough to proceed. The crews put rain tires on the cars as a precaution, but during the ride I didn’t think they were necessary. I thought the tires gave the car a heavier feel than I remembered from my other rides.
My friend @kissthebricks was the official photographer, and her friend Carl actually timed my run. My excitement became even higher after I found out my driver would either be Gabby Chaves or Sara Fisher. I was really hooping for Sara, but I would not have been upset if Gabby drove. When we lined up, I was in Sara’s line.
The speed of the initial push-off always surprises me. we drove down pit road, over the crest to pit out, descended the hill, a very quick drop, and immediately whipped left for turn 1. I hoped we would get another lap so I could come back for my stomach. . The feeling disappeared quickly during the wide sweep through 2 and 3 and the climb up the hill. Things were flying by until turn 5. After a quick hard brake which caused me to lurch forward slightly, we were right back on the gas toward the museum. Turn 8 felt very much like a banked oval turn, then a short tap of the brakes, and we zoomed off again. Turn 12 is a sharp left with another hard speed change, then we roared up the last hill to the pits. As usual, it was over way too soon. The lap time was 1:45:47. In the race, Power’s last lap with the cut tire was 1:10, so my time was pretty good in comparison. If she had listened to me about how to take turn 13, we could have saved a tenth.
I was amazed at how much I was able to notice on this lap. It took two laps on an oval to be able to pick things out. I was fascinated with the way the car hugged the curbing without running over it, and that I could see it. I was surprised that my body wasn’t thrown around more. My head tilted a bit from right to left, but the cockpit was tight enough that movement was minimal. There never can be enough respect afforded the Indycar Series drivers. Now that I have seen two types of ovals and a road course from the cockpit, my admiration for them is even higher than it was before this experience. The versatility of the skills they need is incredible. If an offer for a 2 seater ride is presented to you, don’t turn it down. You will look at Indycar racing, and the track you rode on, in a new light.
Some photos. All taken by @kissthebricks