Quick Thoughts- Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

I love watching a track come alive on race morning. It’s fun seeing the energy build among the fans and teams.

Age and experience beat youth everytime.

Takuma Sato was unstoppable this weekend. He has won two of the last five races going back to Portland in 2018.

There were terrific battles throughout the day.

Josef Newgarden is doing the things needed to be champion. He fought hard from his 17th starting position to finish fourth. Herta’s issues allowed him to increase his point lead to 27 over Scott Dixon. I wouldn’t count Dixon out just yet.

Both Swedish rookies finished in the top 10.  Marcus Ericsson was 7th and Felix Rosenqvist was 10th. It was a good recovery for Rosenqvist who had some off track excurions earlier in the weekend.

Even though Power has won twice here, he seems to have some sort of problem during the race.  It’s odd to see a driver who has had a lot of success at a track run into so much difficulty the last few years.

Jack Harvey had another good run but it looked like pit strategy kept him from a third straight top 10, Still MSR is doing well this young season.

The crowd was still a good size, but seemed a little down from the last two years.

Baby Steps

Dragonspeed and  driver Ben Hanley have shown a gain in speed since St. Pete. After today they have just three races remaining in their short first season. It looks like they are on a good path to a decent pace.

They were not the last car running today.

Look for my full race report tomorrow on Wildfire Sports. Thanks for following along this weekend.

Photo: Sato’s crew celebrates after the checkered flag.

 

 

Race Day at Barber

Above: Takuma Sato begins celebrating the pole before he gets out of the car.

Good morning from Barber Motorsports Park The 10th Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama begins at 4pm Eastern today on NBCSN.

Indycar has a 30 minute warm-up session at 12:10 Eastern. It is available for viewing on NBC Gold.

This should be an interesting race.  No one has won here starting further back than 9th. The pole winner has won seven times.

Once the ( shameless blog plug) Pit Window opens we could see constant traffic down pit road.

In spite of all the off road excursions during practice, this could be a caution free race.

It should be cloudy and dry during the race, which eliminates one tire concern. There is still a question as to whether the reds or the blacks are quickest. Tire degradations will be a big factor today.

Back with updates as needed and Quick Thoughts after the race. Look for a full recap on Wildfire Sports later tonigh.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Quick Thoughts on Barber Qualifying

That was a refreshing qualifying session on many levels. It was green all the way. No Penske cars in the Fast Six for the first time since 2014. Five teams represented in the Fast Six. One team locked out the front row, and it wasn’t one of the Big Three.

Chevys are scattered through the field in groups of twos and threes.

Tomorrow’s race became very interesting as soon as the checkered flag waved on qualifying.

The crowd today looked more like a typical Barber Saturday.  The lack of rain likely helped with that.

Does any driver exhibit the pure joy of success better than Takuma Sato? I mean besides Will Power at Indianapolis last May.

Graham Rahal had his best race in a long time at COTA two weeks ago. Can he improve on that tomorrow?

Conor Daly won the Lamborghini Super Trofeo race today

 

 

Hinchcliffe, Herta Top Practice 3

For the second straight session, James Hinchcliffe and Colton Herta finished 1-2 on the speed chart. Hinchcliffe improved his time from yesterday afternoon to 1:08.7351, about two tenths quicker than his Practice 2 time. Herta was 0.27 seconds behind him. Spencer Pigot was once again the fastest Chevrolet with the seventh fastest time.

The session was interrupted by three red flags.  The first was Zach Veach, who locked up the brakes and slid into the gravel trap in turn 5.  When action resumed, Jack Harvey put his right side wheels into the dirt in turn 2, throwing grass and dirt onto the track. Ryan Hinter-Reay was the next car through and went off track in turn 3 but continued. Marcus Ericsson followed but was not as fortunate. He slid into the ARMCO in turn 2. The car suffered front wing damage. Following a restart, Graham Rahal also locked up and slid into the turn 5 gravel trap.

The session timed out but Indycar allowed the field one flying lap.

 

Qualifying Day at Barber

Good morning. Indycar qualifying is later this afternoon. The morning practice should be dry, but Round 2 and the Fast Six qualifying could see some rain.  Tomorrow looks like a dry race day with just a slight chance of showers.

Tires were a big concern yesterday as the primary black tires seemed to be quicker than the reds. Rain could throw another variable into the equation.  I’m not sure this morning’s practice will answer any questions.

James Hinchcliffe said yesterday that the support series preceding an Indycar session affects tire wear. Porsche GT3 qualifying is right before this morning’s practice. A Lamborghini Super Trofeo race is just before qualifying.The Porsches run on Yokohama tires and the Lamborghini series uses Pirelli rubber. R C Enerson mentioned on the track walk that Pirelli has the most adverse affect on the Firestone tires. The order the support series run should probably be taken into consideration in the future.

Where’s the Green?

Barber Motorsports Park on race weekend is usually resplendent in green with spring flowers in bloom. This year it is very brown with not much blooming. The race is two weeks earlier than usual due to Easter.  A colder than usual winter has also contributed to the look. I hope the race will return to its normal spot on the calendar next year.

Today’s Schedule (Local Time)

Practice #3- 10:45-11:30

Qualifying  -3:00-4:15

Practice is on NBC Gold. Qualifying is live on NBCSN.

Back later with qualifying quick thoughts and a full day’s report on Wildfire Sports.

Quick Thoughts on Barber Day 1

Red flags continue to disrupt Indycar sessions. There were three in morning practice and one in this afternoon’s run. The red flags in the morning session were spaced far enough apart that no one was able to get a decent run.

Felix Rosenqvist led session 1 and James Hinccliffe was fastest this afternoon. The fastest time was on black tires.

It may have been because of the weather, but the crowd seemed less than the usual Friday attendance here.

At a press gathering this morning to introduce Mario Andretti as the Grand Marshall for Sunday”s race, track president Gene Hallman said Barber has sold tickets in 42 states and eight countries for this year’s event.

Hinchcliffe said in the press conference after practice that teams need to figure out why the blacks were faster and what to do if it rains. Hinchcliffe was the only driver faster on reds.

The track seems more slippery than usual this weekend.

From earlier today, a story about last night’s track walk. The link:

https://wordpress.com/post/thepitwindow.blog/9135

Back tomorrow with quick thoughts on qualifyimg. Will the red flag stay furled?

A Walk on the Track

Last night I had the opportunity to walk the Barber track with Indycarnation. TSO’s Steve Wittich led the tour. As a bonus, driver R C Enerson provided insights on how to drive the track. It was quite an educational hour.

Some things I learned:

The different tires used by support series all interact differently with Indycar’s Firestone tires. Pirelli has the most adverse effect on the Indycar tires.

Drivers can feel the cracks and patches on the track surface sometimes.

The car’s air is disturbed less when a competitor is more than 10 car lengths ahead. The drivers still feel a tow, however.

Turn 5 is the best and ususally only passing zone on this track.

Missing the entry to one turn can cause a driver to not get the next few turns wrong as well.

Some photos:

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R C Enerson (L) and Steve Wittich lead the track walk
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Rumble strips in turn 1
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Turn 3 
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Approach to turn 5
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Arachnaphobic drivers may struggle through this part of the track
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Looking for a good spot to see the action
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Start zone

Barber Preview: Newgarden’s Playground

The NTT Indycar Series heads to Birmingham for the 10th Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.  The 17 turn, 2.38 mile course  features beautifully landscaped hills and border areas with whimsical artwork scattered throughout the grounds. It is worth taking a tram ride around the entire facility to see everything.

Two things can always be expected at Barber- decent racing and rain. It seems as if rain falls at some point during the weekend every year. The forecast for this weekend calls for scattered showers and thunderstorms each day, with some breaks in the weather. The latest Sunday forecast as I write this is for late afternoon showers.

Rain is one of the storylines this weekend. Here are four things to look for.

Can Newgarden Win Three in a Row?

Josef Newgarden has turned what he considers his home track into his personal playground. He has won three of the last four races, including the last two. Will Power won two consecutive races in 2011 and 2012, and Ryan Hunter-Reay won back to back in 2013 and 2014. Newgarden is the first driver to win at Barber three times, and he can become to the first to win three in a row. His chances seem even better since Team Penske has won six of the ten races here.

The other championship contenders probably isn’t happy that Newgarden enters this race with an 18 point lead. He has a chance to significantly distance himself from the rest of the field.

Does Rossi Begin His Challenge for the Title?

Alexander Rossi had a difficult time at St. Pete with a car that wasn’t quite on pace, but he still managed a fifth place finish. At COTA he qualified second and was heading for a runner-up finish behind Will Power when they were both caught out by the late caution. Rossi salvaged ninth place.

Rossi is 40 points behind Newgarden, which is really not that far back at this point in the season, but he needs a podium and to finish ahead of Newgarden. Rossi was masterful at Long Beach in 2018, so he will have a chance to make up a lot of ground next weekend.

Will Indy Lights Wins Help Herta and O’Ward?

Colton Herta, winner of the COTA Indycar Classic, and Patricio O’Ward have won at Barber in Indy Lights. O’Ward won bot Lights races last season. How much will their experience help them this weekend? Both had strong showings at COTA. In addition to winning, Herta made the Fast Six and O’Ward advanced to round 2 of qualifying, starting eighth. I think both rookies will have good weekends again.

We can’t forget about the other rookies, Felix Rosenqvist and Marcus Ericsson. The Swedish pair have done a great job to date, although contact and mechanical issues have seen them drop in the standings. They stiil could contend for a top ten this weekend.

The R Word

This was race day at Barber last year:

wp-15543260678727616567479605581005.jpgThe forecast looks as if there might be rain during the race, which would be an improvement. It will make for some interesting strategy. Newgarden won the rain postponed race last year when Tim Cindric called him in for rain tires before the rain began while Sebastien Bourdais tried to finish on the black primary tires.

The former Formula 1 drivers- Bourdais, Rossi, Ericsson, and Takuma Sato- along with Rosenqvist and Ben Hanley-likely have more experience driving in the rain. The weather could help them. At any rate, it should be an interesting Sunday afternoon.

Totally inaccurate predictions:

Pole- Newgarden

Winner-Rosenqvist

Cautions-0 if it doesn’t rain; 3 if it does

I will be on site beginning Thursday. While I will mainly be reporting for Wildfire Sports, I will still post my quick thoughts and possibly a couple other items here. Please check Wildfire Sports beginning Friday for my full Race Weekend reports.