Friday, March 30, 2012

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Preview

This weekend, the IZOD IndyCar Series again travels to the Deep South, to the beautiful grounds of Barber Motorsports Park. for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. There’s plenty to cover, so let’s jump right into it:

What To Expect: Barber is a relatively narrow course, with sweeping elevation changes and really only one optimum passing zone (Turn 5). However, that’s not to say there’s no movement through the field. There will be some passing, and we can again expect to see various fuel strategies come into play. One of INDYCAR’s most aesthetically pleasing stops can be really entertaining if you take the time to follow the various strategies at play, but if you’re expecting some pack-racing wreck-fest, this probably isn’t your cup of tea. I've always found it one of my favorite races to watch, though I'm sure some don't share that opinion.

Engine Battle, Continued: While Chevy gained the upper hand at St. Pete, Honda is at least extremely close, and either engine manufacturer could win this round. Chevy will look to continue its strong showing from teams such as Penske Racing and Andretti Autosport, while limiting the battery woes that drivers had to deal with in Round 1. Honda had a few mechanical issues of their own, and will look to get their first win of the year behind drivers such as Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, and Simon Pagenaud.

For Lotus, the battle will be finding enough power to bring home a solid finish on a course that can demand a lot of pick-up. They’ll also look to tame some of the ECU issues they’ve been having, and hopefully show improvement in their second race. Lotus had at least one shot to finish a car in the Top 10 at St. Pete; if they can manage it at Barber, it’ll be a good sign for the program.

Up And Down: While Will Power won the pole last week, missing on fuel strategy saw him relegated to P7 in the final standings. However, he joins Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Simon Pagenaud, and EJ Viso as just a few of the drivers that could say they had a pretty good day last Sunday. Charlie Kimball also had a nice day as the biggest gainer of the race (up to P9), and Josef Newgarden impressed with a P11 in his IZOD IndyCar Series debut.

TK's promising day at St. Pete ran into power problems.
(Courtesy Used with permission.)
On the negative side, Tony Kanaan went out early, Sebastien Bourdais saw a great run come to naught with mechanical issues, and JR Hildebrand had a good run going, only to lose fuel pressure at the very end of the race. Accompanying them in disappointment were Dario Franchitti (never a factor and finished out of the Top 10), Mike Conway (mechanical issues stopping a nice race), Takuma Sato (ditto), and Marco Andretti (qualified well, but dropped well back with handling concerns). Look for many of these drivers to have a rebound race this time out—especially Marco, for whom Barber has been one of his best tracks.

Milestone Note: If Will Power wins the pole at Barber this weekend, he will move into a tie with Dario Franchitti for 9th on all-time pole positions earned; Will currently has 25 career poles. Mario Andretti is still the class of the field with 67 of them, and Helio Castroneves is the current active leader, with 36. If Power keeps up his pace, however, we could see him jump into even more rarefied air in the next few seasons, along names like Rick Mears (40), or even Bobby Unser (49).

Mazda Road to Indy Update: What’s shaping up to be a rip-roaring Star Mazda season continues Friday afternoon and Sunday morning at Barber with a pair of races. Last weekend, Connor De Phillippi and Jack Hawksworth each grabbed a win, and Hawksworth has a narrow lead headed into the weekend. However, drivers such as Sage Karam, Gabby Chaves, Martin Scuncio, and Petri Suvanto could easily turn things on their ear this weekend. I’ll say it again: this Star Mazda field is loaded for talent. Whomever makes it out with the championship should be a great addition to Firestone Indy Lights next season.

Speaking of Firestone Indy Lights, their turn comes around lunchtime on Sunday. We’re basically looking at the same entry list as last week, where Tristan Vautier pointedly ignored his rookie status in beating more experienced Lights drivers for the win. Esteban Guerrieri, Sebastien Saavedra, and Jorge Goncalvez will be attempting to change the outcome this week, however. Gustavo Yacaman will also look to rebound from a disappointing P6 finish.

(Speaking of Indy Lights and Star Mazda, if you missed my article this week on Understanding The Mazda Road to Indy, why not take a moment to check it out? As Bluto said in Animal House, “don’t cost nothin’.”)

TV Coverage: We’ll be in the capable hands of the NBC Sports Network this week, which should be welcome news for most IndyCar fans after ABC really mishandled the race portion of their broadcast last week. Townsend Bell joins the crew as a pit reporter (along with Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, and Robin Miller), and Bob Jenkins, Jan Beekhuis, and Wally Dallenbach, Jr. will again be in the booth. I’m not sure how many viewers we’ll have this week, but those that do tune in are in excellent hands.

Pole: No one will be surprised if Will Power wins another pole at Barber.

Winner: Marco Andretti. Considering his performance here the last two years, he’s due.

Sleeper Pick: Simon Pagenaud. He had a very good race here last year, and has already show this year his Schmidt Hamilton Racing team will very likely give the bigger teams headaches aplenty.

Broadcast Info: As stated above, NBC Sports Network takes over for this race. Don’t freak out if we see a decline in this weeks’ ratings; NBCSN has been struggling a bit since their name change from Versus, but will find their place.

Qualifying will be shown on NBCSN at 4:00pm ET on Saturday, March 31. On Sunday, April 1, the all-new IndyCar 36 (featuring Tony Kanaan) will be shown at 1:30pm ET. Pre-race begins 2:00pm ET, with a green flag time of 2:45 pm ET expected. All the action will also be covered on INDYCAR Race Control.

Last Driver Standing: 8 bloggers remain in our Last Driver Standing competition. Remember, if their chosen driver fails to finish in the Top 10 this weekend, they’re out of the competition. Each blogger can only choose a driver once during the season. Here are their picks for Barber:

Chris Sheridan, IndySoup: James Hinchcliffe

Eric Hall, anotherindycarblog: Scott Dixon

George Phillips, Marco Andretti

Jerry Cruz, IndyCar Puerto Rico: Ryan Hunter Reay

Kent M., Racing Mania: James Hinchcliffe

Mike Knapp, 15 Days In May: Helio Castroneves

Paul Dalbey, MoreFront Wing: Simon Pagenaud

Zachary Houghton, IndyCar Advocate: Helio Castroneves

2013 Schedule Survey Results: Yesterday, I posted a poll asking fans what track they’d most like to see added to the 2013 IndyCar schedule. The results were pretty surprising. Here are your Top 5:

Road America 26.8%
Pocono 23.9%
Phoenix 22.4%
Kentucky 9.9%
Kansas 5.0%

No other option polled over 5%.

Have an amazing weekend, enjoy the race, and we’ll meet back here on Monday to discuss!

1 comment:

  1. Well, it's up early and off to Birmingham! Last year our spot was a little too deep in the woods, planning on getting to the track early tomorrow.