St. Pete Moves to April 25; Barber Inherits Season Opener

From Indycar this morning:

INDYCAR Announces Update
to 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Schedule
Series to return to popular Streets of St. Petersburg in April INDIANAPOLIS (Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021) – INDYCAR officials have announced the 2021 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is being rescheduled for Sunday, April 25 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The move creates a condensed, action-packed early-season schedule for 2021. The NTT INDYCAR SERIES returns to the Streets of St. Petersburg after Josef Newgarden’s thrilling win last October, which culminated with Scott Dixon’s sixth series title. NBC will remain as the television home of this year’s race on the tight, demanding street layout. “It’s not surprising that an event of this magnitude, scheduled for the first week of March, is still subject to the implications of the pandemic,” Penske Entertainment Corp. President and CEO Mark Miles said. “We’re delighted we were able to work with Mayor Rick Kriseman’s administration and Green Savoree Racing Promotions to find a more suitable date, which helps consolidate the beginning of our schedule and allows us to stay on NBC network television.” Due to the move, Barber Motorsports Park becomes the host of the season opener as the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will raise the curtain on the 2021 season. The Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will mark the 18th NTT INDYCAR SERIES event in the Sunshine City. The traditional season opener since 2011 and a fan favorite on the INDYCAR schedule, the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg received a three-year title sponsorship extension from Bridgestone Americas, Inc. last October. “We appreciate the officials at INDYCAR for their support in setting a new date for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and also to Mayor Kriseman and his team at the City of St. Petersburg for identifying a time when it will be conducive for more fans to attend,” said Kim Green, co-owner, chairman and CEO of GSSP, organizers of the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. “We are grateful to keep the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in the springtime window and also maintain the live national broadcast coverage of the race on NBC.” An updated listing of green flag times for the 2021 NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule will be announced at a later date.

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