Barber Preview- Milestones on the Line

Photo: Alex Palou on his way to winning the 2021 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Greetings from Birmingham. It was a long drive down with awful traffic and lots of road work, but I made it. It’s hard to believe that this weekend’s race is just the 12th Hoinda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.It seems as if this race has been on the schedule a long time. The track announced this afternoon that Saturday is now sold out. Previously Barber ahd declared Sunday a sellout as well. There are still tickets available for today.

Today’s Schedule:

Friday, April 29– All times Central

  • Gates open 7:30AM
  • Radical Cup (P2) 8:00 – 8:30AM
  • Indy Pro 2000 (P1) 8:45 – 9:15AM
  • USF Juniors Race #2 9:30 – 10:15AM
  • Radical Cup (Q) 10:30 – 11:00AM
  • Indy Pro 2000 (Q1) 11:15 – 11:45AM
  • USF 2000 (P1) 12:00 – 12:30PM
  • Radical Cup Race #1 12:45 – 1:30PM
  • INDY LIGHTS (P1) 1:45 – 2:30PM
  • NTT INDYCAR SERIES Practice 1 3:00 – 4:00 PM Peacock
  • USF 2000 (Q1) 4:15 – 4:45PM
  • INDY5K Presented by BlueCross BlueShield of Alabama 5:30 PM
  • Racing For Children’s Dinner at Barber Museum 6:00 PM

Barber returns to a spot on the calendar closer to its regular slot. The past two years the race was in early April and the normally beautiful landscaping still wore much of its brown winter coat. Everything should be blooming quite nicely this weekend.

There are three milestones on the line this weekend.

Scott Dixon is still seeking his first win at Barber. Dixon has finished on the podium here more than any other driver- nine times, including second place six times. A win will also tie him with Mario Andretti with 52 career races won. Chip Ganassi Racing was strong at Barber in 2021. Dixon will have to battle teammate Alex Palou, last year’s winner.

Josef Newgarden has won the last two races. A third straight win would give Team Penske four straight wins for the year. A $1 million bonus is Newgarden’s if he takes the checkered flag Sunday. The PeopleReady Force for Good Challenge goes to the first driver to win on each of the three types of tracks Indycar races on. Barber is the first natural road course of the year. Newgarden has an oval and a street course victory to date. Newgarden has won at Barber three times, twice for Penske. Team Penske has won six of the 11 races at Barber.

Will Power will seek his fifth pole at Barber, which will extend his record here. No other driver has more than two poles on this track. Power has not won the pole at Barber since 2017. He remains four poles behind Mario Andretti, the career leader with 67. Power has just one pole in his last 19 races.

Rookies on the Road

Indycar needs to get a natural road course on the schedule earlier than race number 4. The road courses are where the five rookies spent the majority of their time in junior series. Many of the freshman class should do well throughout the weekend.

Three rookies, Kyle Kirkwood, David Malukas, and Devlin DeFrancesco, drove at Barber in Indy Lights in 2021. How well will that experience help them this weekend? I think Kirkwood will adapt the best of this trio. Kirkwood will have his best result of the year Sunday. Malukas and DeFrancesco have struggled in their first three races. I think they will have another tough weekend.

Tatiana Calderon showed improved pace at Long Beach. I am looking forward to seeing if her progress continues on a natural road course. I think this track will suit her style better than the street courses did.

The rookie to watch is Callum Ilott. He has really taken to Indycar. I am impressed with his calm demeanor. Ilott could have a very good race Sunday.

One Strong Favorite, Many Contenders

Newgarden has to be the early pick to win. He has won here three times with two different teams. He has won the previous two races this season. His team has half a dozen wins at this track.

We do have to look at Alex Palou, last year’s winner. Palou has finished every race this year in the top 5. He had a chance to win at Long Beach. The defending series champion will be in contention Sunday.

Is this Scott Dixon’s year? A virtual perennial podium finisher in Alabama, Dixon seeks not only his first Honda Indy 200 win, but his first win of the year. Dixon has won just once in his past 19 races.

Pato O’Ward, the 2021 pole winner, can think of no better way to celebrate his new AMSP contract than by sweeping the pole and the victory. His fifth place finish at Long Beach was the his best result of the season, and the new contract signing might give him and the team more momentum.

Will Power seems more relaxed and is racing better than he has the past two seasons. Power could win the pole and get his third Barber victory.

Andretti Rebound

Andretti Autosport’s struggles this season got a boost at Long Beach with Colton Herta’s pole and Alexander Rossi’s top ten finish. The team has won twice at Barber with Ryan Hunter-Reay. They need a good weekend before heading to Indianapolis for the next two races.

Romain Grosjean is on the verge of his first Indycar win. I think it will come in one of the next two races.

My pick- Will Power. He is motivated and riving very well. Power seems more focused on race results than poles lately, and I think it has helped his driving.

I will be on site with several reports all three days.

Quick Thoughts- Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Photo: A very happy Alex Palou. Joe Skibinski, Indycar

Maybe this is the year for the kids after all. Pato O’Ward won the pole and Alex Palou won the race after being in his first Fast Six yesterday.

I was not shocked by Palou’s victory. He was fast all weekend. Watching him yesterday just gave me a feeling that he was in for a big day.

Josef Newgarden didn’t kill his chances for another title, but he certainly made it more difficult. Barber is ne of his better tracks, so seeing him cause an accident was a surprise.

Nice Top Tens:

Sebastien Bourdais 5th , Rinus VeeKay 6th, and romain Grosjean 10th.

Bourdais led four laps as well. A good start for his time at A. J. Foyt Racing. The team improved every session.

VeeKay recovered from spinning in the first lap melee and a penalty for service in a closed pit.

Grosjean has impressed all weekend with his seventh place qualifying and a top ten finish. A very nice Indycar debut. Maybe the driver wasn’t the problem in F1 his last few years.

Chip Ganassi Racing had three drivers in the Fast Six Saturday and three drivers in the top 10 today. Along with Palou’s win, Scott Dixon finished third and Marcus Ericsson ended the day in eighth. This team could be the power this season.

Simon Pagenaud is starting 2021 the same 2020 went for him- poor qualifying result and a climb through the field. He didn’t get very far today, ending 12th after starting 15th.

Ryan Hunter-Reay begins the season with a DNF again. He has had awful luck in season openers the last few seasons.

Graham Rahal’s seventh place finish from an 18th starting spot must seem like a win for the team. Takuma Sato came home 13th from staring 19th. Both Rahal drivers struggled all weekend.

It felt great to get the season underway and to return to a track whose race was cancelled in 2020; The crowd was as large as it could be. The fans in Birmingham still love this race. They were happy to see it return.

I will have another story about Barber up tomorrow or Tuesday. Then it’s on to St. Pete. Thanks for reading this weekend.

It’s Race Day!

Photo: Pato O’Ward goes for his first career victory today. Joe Skibinski, Indycar

Today’s schedule All Times Central

7:00am – 3:00pm: Will Call (Hampton Inn | 310 Rex Lake Rd, Leeds, AL 35094)

7:30am: Gates Open

8:00am – 5:00pm: Surgere Fan Zone / Hagerty Car Corral

9:15am – 10:05am: Indy Pro 2000 Race #2

10:30am – 11:00am: NTT INDYCAR SERIES Warm-up

11:25am – 12:05pm: Porsche Sprint Challenge Race #2

12:20pm – 1:20pm: Indy Lights Race #2

2:42pm: NTT INDYCAR SERIES Race (90 laps)

NBC coverage begins at 3pm EDT.

The Indycar season finally gets underway this afternoon when the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama takes the green flag. I am assuming the power issues have been resolved and that things will run on time. It should be an interesting race. Two ittle contenders, Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi, start on the front row. Two other favorites for the series championship, Josef Newgarden and Colton Herta, line up eighth and ninth respectively.

Tire strategy will be key today. How long will the red tires last? I expect a couple of caution periods today. The timing of those will also figure into the tire choices.

Rossi has had success starting in front. He usually wins when he is on pole or starts second. Turn one is going to be interesting. Enjoy the race. I think it will be a good one.

Notes

Saturday’s crowd was significantly larger than Friday’s, but still smaller than a normal qualifying day crowd.

The Fan Zone had more vendors and interactive booths yesterday.

Today is expected to be at capacity. All 20,000 available tickets are spoken for.

Another really good qualifying effort yesterday- Conor Daly in the Ed Carpenter Racing number 20 will start 10th.

O’Ward Powers Through to Pole at Barber

Photo: Pato O’Ward by Joe Skibinski, Indycar

Pato O’Ward began his title quest by winning the pole for the season opener at Barber Motorsports Park. The Mexican driver in his second full time Indycar season set a track record in round 2 on the way to the first starting spot for tomorrow’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. O’Ward led the round of 12 with record lap of 1:05.5019.

Qualifying began five minutes late after a power outage postponed the USF2000 series second race. The race ran after Indycar qualifying.

O’Ward earlier this year declared his intention to have his Arrow Mclaren SP Chevy contend for the series title, and today gave credence to his goal. In two practice sessions and two qualifying rounds where some top drivers had issues, O’Ward stayed focused on the task at hand. He also had to survive the more difficult qualifying group.

Alexander Rossi will start on the outside of row 1. Rossi led the second practice session earlier in the day. He abandoned his usual qualifying strategy when he is a pole contender. Instead of waiting to get in one hot lap as time runs out, Rossi was one of the first two cars out at the start of the Fast Six. He stayed out the entire time. Will Power was the first car out for the final round. Power’s tires seemed to fade as could not improve his times from early in the session.

James Hinchcliffe slid into the tire barrier in turn 5 causing a red flag in the second group. The round restarted with just a bit more than 4 minutes left. As time ran out, Felix Rosenqvist went off track in the final turn. He lost a spot in the final round for affecting another driver’s lap.

Notes

Rookies Scott McLaughlin and Romain Grosjean advanced to the second round. Grosjean finished second in his group, and McLaughlin was fourth. Grosjean starts seventh tomorrow and McLaughlin will roll off twelfth.

I can’t remember the last time Chip Ganassi Racing had three cars in the Fast Six. Alex Palou led the first practice session, and Marcus Ericsson had an impressive qualifying. Scott Dixon begins his title defense from fifth place.

The biggest surprise in qualifying was Josef Newgarden finishing eighth. He usually does very well here. Starting position is generally a big factor in the race results at Barber.

I think we will see a first career win tomorrow, but it may not necessarily be Pato O’Ward. Alex Palou looked very strong all day.

Results

Barber Weekend Begins with Road to Indy

Today’s schedule: All Times Central

Good morning from the Irondale media annex. The first Indycar race weekend of the year begins with a day dedicated to Road to Indy qualifying. Each series has a separate qualifying session for each of its two races this weekend. There are also two races for Radical Cup and aPorsche Sprint race.

I will post updates during the day on Facebook on The Pit Window page and on Twitter @PitWindowToo. I will post a review of the day’s activities later tonight.

Tomorrow looks like it could be a wet first practice session and qualifying could also be somewhat damp. Race day looks dry and sunny, however.

Notes

R C Enerson said on Twitter last night that he has a deal for the Indianapolis 500 and that the announcement is coming “soon.” The only question now is if Top Gun Racing will get a Chevy engine lease. Marshall Pruewtt is reporting that there will be a minimum of 35 cars attempting to make the 33 car field.

Chip Ganassi Racing has scheduled a livery reveal for the 9 car this afternoon around 2:30 local time. No idea what this is.

I’ll be heading out to the” beautiful facility” in a little bit and keep you posted on pandemic related changes.

Let the Season Begin-A Welcome Return to Barber

Photo: Takuma Sato heads to Barber as defending pole and race winner. Joe Skibinski, Indycar

It is Race Week at Last. The NTT Indycar Series is set to begin the 2021 season Sunday at barber motorsports Park near Birmingham. 24 cars will take the green flag at 3:42 pm EDT. The race is on NBC.

The track has set a limit of 20,000 spectators a day. In addition to each fan having a ticket, each vehicle must have a parking pass. As will be the norm at nearly all events this year, fans will not have paddock or pit access. The trams will still be running, but with a smaller capacity.

I am excited to get back to Barber. This year’s race is later in April than the 2018 and 2019 events, which means the extensive plant life will be blooming.

In 2020 this race fell victim to the pandemic. It was scheduled to be the second race of the year. For the first time in its history, Barber opens the season. Several teams have tested here this winter. It will be the first race at this track for last year’s rookies Rinus Veekay and Alex Palou.

I don’t expect the year’s hiatus to affect team performances much. Indycar has raced at barber since 20210, and the teams have extensive information about setups for this track. What will we see this weekend?

Josef Newgarden testing at Barber. Indycar photo by Joe Skibinski

Is This Still Newgarden’s Track?

Josef Newgarden is the only three time winner at barber, his last win coming in 2018. Team pensk has won six times, winning three races in a row on two different occasions. A seventh win is not out of the question. Will Power has won the pole four times here, adding to Team penske’s mastery of the track. However, in 2019 Rahal Letterman Lanigan racing dominated with a front row sweep in qualifying and a convincing victory by pole winner Takuma Sato. early mechanical trouble by Graham Rahal prevented what might have been 1-2 sweep.

Scott Dixon has never won at Barber. he has been on the podium eight times, six of those as runner-up. Could this be his breakthrough year and his 51st career win?

Andretti Autosport has won twice with Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has a consistent record of top 10 finishes.

Arrow McLaren SP and Pato O’Ward are looking to contend for the championship in 2021 and want to make a strong opening statement. I think O’Ward will be a factor this weekend. Somewhat overlooked in all the buzz about O’Ward has been his teammate Felix Rosenqvist. Rosenqvist edged O’Ward in a stirring duel for the win at road america Race 2 last season.

Rookies

Eyes will be on how the veteran “rookies” do. Television eyes might focus on just one, but keep an eye on Scott McLaughlin. The Australian Supercars champion is going to surprise some folks with how ell he does.

How will Romain Grosjean’s Formula 1 experience translate to Indycar? Barber should be one of his better tracks this season. If he can get through the flying start, I think he will have a good race.

Jimmie Johnson will get the bulk of the attention. The seven time NASCAR champion says he plans to take things slowly, but we will see. Johnson has worked jard to prepare for his Indycar debut. I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in his results this weekend, but we’ll see how he’s doing after Road America, which will be his sixth race.

Notes

Mark Miles talked yesterday about the situation in Toronto. Canada is still having a difficult time with COVID-19. He is waiting as long as he can to make a decision. Miles thoughts about moving or replacing the race::

“If not, I don’t think there will be much opportunity to move it. The rest of the schedule is pretty full and there’s so much going on in Toronto, and that street race requires a lot of planning.

If we needed to, I think the most likely step would be a double-header on a weekend we’re already scheduled. I won’t speculate at this point as to which one it would be, but I don’t think — we wouldn’t be looking at putting a different race in that date. We’d be looking at adding one on a weekend we’re already scheduled and planning to execute.”

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Fast Facts

Race weekend: Saturday, April 17 – Sunday, April 18

Track: Barber Motorsports Park, a 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course (clockwise) in Birmingham, Alabama

Media links: Entry List (PDF) | Trackside Media Guide (Interactive PDF)

Race distance: 90 laps / 207 miles

Push-to-pass parameters: 200 seconds of total time with a maximum time of 20 seconds per activation.

Firestone tire allotment: Six sets primary, four sets alternate, one additional set available for rookies for use in first practice.

Twitter: @BarberMotorPark @IndyCar, #HIGPA, #IndyCar

Event website: www.barberracingevents.com

INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com

2019 race winner: Takuma Sato, 1:55:46.8076, 107.272 mph. No race in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic.

2019 NTT P1 Award winner: Takuma Sato, 1:08.5934, 120.711 mph. No race in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Qualifying lap record: Sebastien Bourdais, 1:06.6001, 124.324 mph, April 23, 2016

NBC Sports race telecasts: Qualifying, 10 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSN


2:42 p.m.: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (90 laps/207 miles), NBC (live)

Race Notes:

  • The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will be the 11th NTT INDYCAR SERIES event conducted at Barber Motorsports Park. Helio Castroneves won the inaugural race in 2010.
  • Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Takuma Sato are the only entered drivers to have won at Barber Motorsports Park. Power won the race in 2011 and 2012, Hunter-Reay in 2013 and 2014, Newgarden in 2015, 2017 and 2018, Pagenaud in 2016 and Sato in 2019.
  • Power, Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud, Newgarden and Sato are the only entered drivers to have won the pole position at Barber Motorsports Park. Power claimed the pole position in 2010, 2011, 2014 and 2017, Pagenaud won the pole in 2016, Hunter-Reay won the pole in 2013, Newgarden won the pole in 2018, and Sato won the pole in 2019.
  • Five drivers have won the race from the pole – Power in 2011, Hunter-Reay in 2013, Pagenaud in 2016, Newgarden in 2018 and Sato in 2019.
  • Scott Dixon has finished on the podium in eight of his 10 previous starts at Barber Motorsports Park – including six runner-up finishes – but he has yet to finish on the top step of the podium at the picturesque road circuit.
  • Seven drivers have competed in every NTT INDYCAR SERIES race at Barber Motorsports Park – Marco Andretti, Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Power, Graham Rahal and Sato. All but Andretti and Kanaan are entered this weekend.
  • Team Penske has six wins at Barber Motorsports Park (2010, 2011, 2012, 2016, 2017 and 2018). Andretti Autosport, Ed Carpenter Racing and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing are the only other teams to win at the track. Andretti Autosport won in 2013 and 2014 with Hunter-Reay. Ed Carpenter Racing won with Newgarden in 2015, and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing won in 2019 with Sato.
  • Three NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year contenders – Romain Grosjean, Jimmie Johnson and Scott McLaughlin – are entered. Those three, plus 2020 rookies Dalton Kellett, Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay, will race an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car at Barber Motorsports Park for the first time.
  • Eighteen of the 24 drivers entered in the event have competed in NTT INDYCAR SERIES races at Barber Motorsports Park. Ten entered drivers have led laps: Power 208, Newgarden 133, Hunter-Reay 93, Pagenaud 87, Sato 74, Dixon 46, Rahal 25, Sebastien Bourdais 19, James Hinchcliffe 4 and Alexander Rossi 3.
  • Dixon has made 272 consecutive starts heading into the weekend, which is the second-longest streak in INDYCAR SERIES history. Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti is not entered in an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race for the first time since he debuted in 2006. Andretti has made 248 consecutive starts,