With the controversy over some very inconsistent penalties being applied (or not, as the case may be) refusing to die down after the Grand Prix of Long Beach, the IndyCar Series field has headed east to the Barber Motorsport Park for the third round of the championship, the Grand Prix of Alabama.

The Circuit


Barber Motorsport Park

Date: 25-27 April 2014
Lap Length: 3.830km
Free Practice Session 1 Fri 10:00-10:45
Free Practice Session 2 Fri 14:00-14:45
Free Practice Session 3 Sat 10:00-10:45
Qualifying Sat 14:00-15:10
Sunday Warm-Up Sun 09:45-10:15
Race (90 laps) Sun 14:00-16:15
2013 Winner Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti Autosport)

* All session times are quoted in Central Daylight Time (GMT -05:00 hrs)

Considerably faster and with many changes in elevation through each lap, the layout on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama takes remastering with each visit.

The range of sweeping medium to high- speed corners and some of the tightest chicanes on the calendar make no driver an expert, and as always, a car set up to ride the circuit as it flows is vital and will be one of the determining factors to seeing the name of the winning driver standing highest on Sunday afternoon.

Alabama Talking Points

At the start of the season, IndyCar Series chief steward Beaux Barfield told drivers he was going to relax his gavel-wielding arm, step back a little bit and whilst still keep a close eye on things, was going to “let the drivers race”.

IndyCar also moved away from a single dictatorial-style “judge, jury and executioner” level of stewardship to a three-person judging panel. Some criticised the decision, saying that was like signing over the deed to the asylum to the inmates and that the drivers needed an imposing authority figure.

Others praised the move, commenting that the last thing the sport needed was the removal of “racing incidents” from the sport where some degree of blame and punishment would be attributable in every incident.

While St Petersburg went off with really only one incident of note, Long Beach was a calamity and left a sour taste in the mouths of several, namely James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud to name a few.

So as we approach Barber Motorsports Park this weekend, Beaux Barfield’s office is likely to be picketed by many demanding he stamp his authority back on the series before it descends into anarchy.

Now that is a bit of an over-reaction. While some of the drivers may not be happy, from a fan’s perspective the racing couldn’t be better. Long Beach is just that type of circuit, with lots of wide, flowing corners offering plenty of opportunities to try and pass, and any racing fan knows that without those opportunities, all you have is a high-speed parade. Barber Motorsports Park, while also a flowing and undulating circuit, doesn’t really offer the same wide and inviting corners so more decorum will be necessary. Otherwise, and also unlike Long Beach, one will find himself off the circuit and in the sand traps, rather than in the concrete surrounding wall.

Pagenaud felt that Power should have been penalised for this contact at Long Beach

Pagenaud felt that Power should have been penalised for this contact at Long Beach

Since Long Beach, Simon Pagenaud has been by far the most vocal in criticising the seeming lack of authority shown so far – steadfast in his belief he would have won the race had he not been punted into the tyres by Will Power. While we’ll never know if that would have eventuated, the meat of Pagenaud’s gripe is the lack of a penalty issued to Power, who went on to factor heavily in the race for victory and eventually finished second behind Mike Conway. The “Friendly Frog” as he is affectionately known, was anything but after the race and was seen engaged in heated conversation with Power, who to his credit took full responsibility and humbly apologised to his former Team Australia team-mate. Barfield will need to address the drivers this weekend to let them know exactly what he will be looking for, what they can get away with and what they cannot.

Elsewhere in the paddock, Michael Andretti would have gathered his four charges together and held an air-clearing session. Only his rookie Carlos Munoz has survived the first two races incident-free, and Long Beach saw James Hinchcliffe removed from contention after getting caught up in Ryan Hunter-Reay’s audacious and ill-considered move on Josef Newgarden which also took out Tony Kanaan, Jack Hawksworth and Takuma Sato. Hinch is a pretty cool customer and would have moved on, but would still have appreciated Hunter-Reay’s apology and admission of fault. All should be well in the Andretti camp now.

It is important Long Beach is consigned to the history books. Sure, lessons are there to be learnt by a number of parties, the Barfield-led officialdom being one of them. But Barber is a new circuit, Sunday is a new day, a new race and any grudges acted upon by those wronged in California will likely contain elements of malice and will result in the degeneration of what is an otherwise cordial atmosphere. Nobody, drivers, teams, officials or fans want that to happen. So here’s to a clean, yet competitive race won by the best man on the day.

Images via IndyCar Series Media and Motorsport.com

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Matt Lennon