2010 Grand Prix of Alabama Start Last year's winner, Helio Castroneves Grand Prix of Alabama podium

While our many readers will be watching this weekend’s Malaysian Formula 1 Grand Prix with great interest, don’t forget that this weekend will also see the IndyCar Series stage its second round of the championship season at Barber Motorsport Park: the Grand Prix of Alabama.

Our esteemed IndyCar correspondent Matt Lennon breaks out his tea leaves to make some predictions for this weekend’s race…

Chaotic would be a fair word used to describe the first race of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series a fortnight ago in St Petersburg, where we saw plenty of evidence supporting and rejecting the new "double-file" restart rule. At least the first 30 laps or so were chaotic before Dario Franchitti controlled things for the majority of the remaining laps.

Double-file restarts will be a talking point after a crash-laden race at St Petersburg Since then it has been a bit of a contentious talking point among all with an opinion on the matter. Some support the new rule for the increased chances of first-corner mix-ups, mostly from an entertainment perspective for the fans. Some are vehemently against it for the repetitive caution periods and many slow laps behind the pace car that inevitably result from these very mix-ups.

And as the teams gather in the leafy surroundings of the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama for Round 2, all eyes will be on the first corner, a medium-fast left hander with a downhill exit, similar to the first corner of the Turkish Formula 1 circuit and with realistically only one racing line through it. First impressions say to prepare for carnage.

2010 Grand Prix of Alabama The picturesque 2.3-mile layout will be very familiar to all teams with a testing budget, as its undulating twists and turns provide no shortage of setup headaches. Should a car be set up with a higher ride height to maximise cornering through the hills and slopes, or should corner speed be sacrificed for better downforce on the straights? What would you do?

In driver movements, and as reported by Richard’s F1, Simon Pagenaud has swapped his American Le Mans seat for a drive with Dreyer & Reinbold, replacing regular driver Ana Beatriz who is nursing a broken wrist sustained during the St Pete race.

The Newman Haas Racing Team has also doubled in size, with popular and highly rated Canadian James Hinchcliffe getting his sponsorship sorted and taking his seat alongside Oriol Servià for the remainder of the season.

Hélio Castroneves is the defending race winner and will be looking to repeat following a poor race in St Pete, in which some saw him as responsible for triggering the accident at the start which left Marco Andretti staring skywards. Ganassi have proven they can beat Penske on the road courses in a straight fight, so will Dario Franchitti or Scott Dixon be able to chalk up another win. In such a competitive series, the possibilities are endless.

Tune in early Monday morning AEST for the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama.

[Original images via Flickr and LAT]

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.