Monday, March 17, 2014

Three Big Things To Watch At The Barber Test

For most of us, Spring has not precisely sprung just yet, but that’s not stopping the Verizon IndyCar Series from getting in some spring training this week. Monday and Tuesday’s open test sessions from Barber Motorsports Park will be the first IndyCar fix for many of us, and thankfully, it will be covered via IndyCar.com’s Live Timing and Scoring. 23 cars (22 drivers, 1 TBA) will take to the track over the two-day test. The 10am-12pm, 2pm-5pm (CT) sessions each day will be bookended by some interviews and press conferences, so we should get some nice announcements this week, too, as some of the final bits of the upcoming season are fleshed out or nailed down.

If you don’t have time during the early part of your work week to get into deep stuff, or you’re just looking for a brief overview of what to expect from Barber, here are three things to keep an eye on from the Verizon Indycar Series Open Test:

1) The Honda Differential
Honda is back this year with the newly-mandated twin turbo engine, and if there’s a big question mark right now, it has to be just how they’re going to do against Chevy and their revamped line-up. With Andretti Autosport moving to Honda and Chip Ganassi Racing moving to Chevrolet, there’s a lot of intrigue as to where the teams will sort out this year. With Honda jumping to a new engine design and the Ganassis and Penskes arrayed as the top Chevy teams, it would seem as if it is incumbent upon Honda and their teams to show they have what it takes to lead the pack. While a few open sessions might not be enough to tell the tale of a season, it could be an early indicator of where the Chevy and Honda camps (and by extension, their teams) are early on. The early results from Andretti, Rahal, Penske, and Ganassi could very well be bellwethers.

2) That Coyne 2nd Seat
God bless Dale Coyne, who keeps bloggers like me on the edge of our seats perpetually. Dale Coyne has been instrumental in bringing many drivers to this series, and has given a lot of drivers their chance in IndyCar. This year, the only unfilled spot on the entry sheet for the Barber Test is—you guessed it—the Coyne #18 car. We’ll probably find out sooner rather than later who it’s going to be, and of course there’s no guarantee the driver that’s in there for the test is going to be the main driver for the second Coyne ride. But it does add a bit of intrigue to a field that already appears to be fairly firmed cemented in terms of full-time rides (seeing as how Panther Racing doesn’t seem likely to answer the bell—you’ll notice their name isn’t to be found on the entry list). Coyne has his favorites, but he’s also been known to throw out some curveballs. I can’t wait to see who is in that seat, and what it means for the upcoming season.

3) Watch Those Rookies
There are three rookies in the field this week, and each of them brings their own story and situation to the table. Carlos Munoz already raced quite memorably part-time last year, and appears to be a strong candidate for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year. It will be interesting to see where he lands in terms of times versus the rest of a strong Andretti Autosport stable. Meanwhile, Russian Mikhail Aleshin has a teammate in Simon Pagenaud who seems a threat to contend for the title if his Honda is up to the task. Will Aleshin be an asset to the team’s campaign, and will he be able to complement his teammate well? Finally, there’s Jack Hawksworth, who was announced as a bit of a surprise with Bryan Herta Autosport. Hawk is young, and will likely have some challenges ahead of him on ovals, but Barber should be a course where he is quite comfortable. We’ll have to see just how the rookies compare against one another, and who needs a bit more work.

So there you have it—just a few of the items to watch from the Barber Open Test. Get ready, and gear up—the season is just around the corner!

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