Monday, April 2, 2012

Notes From The Barber Race: Pass-O-Rama

OK, new rule: we can never, never, again refer to Barber or the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama as a parade.

There was passing in Turn 5. There was passing in Turn 1. There was passing on the restarts. There was passing in places where we told these cars could not and would not pass.

Will Power won this race, but not before having a big fight on his hands in terms of both back-and-forth for track position and pit stops. This race was never a foregone conclusion, and it's just not podium finishers Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneneves that should feel good about how things played out Sunday. Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, and Rubens Barrichello were just a few of the drivers that really made this race exciting.

How good was it? It honestly made St. Pete feel like a dress rehearsal. If that was the welcome party for the new cars and engines, all I can hope is that we're all invited back very soon.

Granted, the ratings probably won't be stellar on this broadcast; NBC Sports has a name change working against it. But after a race and a telecast like that, it's hard to not feel optimistic.

Let's move on to some of the other items, big and small of the day.

The Broadcasting: NBC Sports Network did an amazing job. They had the "pulse of the race", so to speak. They showed passing, they went back and replayed important aspects, and their camera work was peerless. Quite frankly, NBC Sports Network not only gets an "A" on their coverage, but they made ABC look simply dreadful in comparison. Passion and excitement count for an awful lot, and the NBC Sports crew made it abundantly clear they were interested in what was happening on-track Sunday.

The only real disappointment was a poorly-coordinated, short Grid Run. As FTHurley suggested yesterday on Twitter, they need to get Townsend Bell involved on those to help the flow of the segment. Speaking of the Grid Run: Did Robin Miller interrupt the prayer invocation? Unintentionally funny in the extreme.

Passing: No longer a problem at Barber...
(Copyright Eric Schwarzkopf. Used with permission.
Pass, Pass, Pass: No one, including yours truly, expected to see this much passing on Sunday. But the action on track was sustained and amazing. It was a perfect blend of different engines, different setups, different tires, and yes, a defending rule that really brought things to life. When you let the racers race, they reward your trust. Beaux Barfield and the drivers both deserve high marks for taking care of things Sunday.

Pags' Stock Rising: Simon Pagenaud has been a rocket in these first two races, proving Honda and Schmidt Hamilton Racing knew exactly what they were doing when they invested in the driver. Last year's solid performance was clearly a sneak preview of his overall talent. Along with Scott Dixon, he's been Honda's bright spot so far. Yes, he's a rookie, but he could very easily grab some podiums before it's all said and done this year.

The High And Lows of Lotus: Actually, Lotus didn't have a completely terrible weekend. Alex Tagliani blew an engine right off the bat, which didn't help matters (or the engine supply situation), but Sebastien Bourdais showed why he's one of the best in the business with a P9 finish, and Oriol Servia's P13 was respectable. We'll see what their spare situation is in two weeks for Long Beach, however. It's also going to hurt that they won't have any representation at this week's test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Mazda Road to Indy Update: The Star Mazda race that should have run Friday instead ran Sunday, but it didn't seem to phase Jack Hawksworth. Hawk ran away with the first race, with Andretti's Sage Karam landing runner-up honors. In the second race, which actually ran after the IndyCar race (due to severe rain on Friday), Martin Scuncio held off Hawksworth and Connor De Phillippi to grab his first victory. This championship fight won't be over anytime soon.

The 40-lap Firestone Indy Lights race saw Victor Carbone finish P7 after starting P15 in a spirited charge, but polesitter Sebastian Saavedra led every lap, despite a very strong challenge from P2 Tristan Vautier. Esteban Guerrieri managed P3. As the tires fell off, there were some pretty lively fights throughout the race, which would turn out to be a minor precursor for what we'd get with the main event later. Without Carlos Munoz's late spin, we likely would have seen a wild finish.

Other Notes: Dario Franchitti recovered to finish P10, but he just has not looked comfortable in these first two races...Takuma Sato was again knocked out of the race with mechanical issues--that's 2/2 this season....Tony Kanaan's day ended with a shock issue--he finished a lap down, well out of contention. Not the expected start to his year...our IndyCar Engine Power Rankings are updated, with Honda and Lotus improving, but Chevy still leading...our Last Driver Standing contest is also updated, with only 6 bloggers there any doubt we need Road America back on the schedule with these cars?

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