The Verizon IndyCar Series field heads to Barber Motorsports Park this weekend for the season’s fourth round – the third in as many weekends – the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
|2015 IndyCar Series Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama|
|Date||25-26 April||Lap Length||3.830km|
|Free Practice Session 1||Sat 09:00-10:00||Free Practice Session 2||Sat 12:40-13:25|
|Qualifying||Sat 15:55-17:05||Pre-Race Warm-Up||Sun 10:00-10:30|
|Race (90 laps)||Sun 14:37-16:45|
Session times quoted in Central Daylight Time (GMT – 05:00)
Designed by Alan Wilson and built by George Barber – and named eponymously after the latter – this 300-hectare facility is located on the eastern fringes of Alabama’s largest city.
Opened in 2003, the 16-turn circuit is known for a series of marked elevation changes and blind corners, making it one of the trickiest circuits on the calendar.
The venue is additionally famous for two other reasons: it is dotted with many unusual status among its well-landscaped surrounds, and it also houses the Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum. Opened in 1994, the facility houses over 1,200 vintage and modern motorcycles and and a further 300 racing cars, ranking it among one of the largest automotive museums in the world.
The History Bit
It took until 2010 before the Barber Motorsports Park hosted its first IndyCar Series race, and this year will mark the championship’s sixth visit to the circuit.
It’s a venue where honours have been split between three drivers and two teams. Team Penske’s Hélio Castroneves won the inaugural event in 2010 before teammate Will Power claimed back-to-back wins in 2011 and 2012.
The 2011 race saw Power dominate proceedings from start to finish as he led every lap, but his second win was a harder fight from ninth on the grid in a race which saw five different drivers take turns in the lead.
Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay broke Penske’s stronghold of the race in 2013, where he started from pole position but had to defend against a fast-closing Scott Dixon towards the end of the race. The pair crossed the finish line just 0.636 seconds apart.
The American successfully defended his 2013 win last year. The start was delayed by two-and-a-half hours thanks to heavy rain, which – when the race did eventually get going – turned the event into a 100-minute time-limited race.
Pole-winner Power led for the first 16 laps before spinning off of the rain-soaked track. This promoted Hunter-Reay into the lead and an assured victory.
It will be another 23-car field competing this weekend’s 90-lap race, although there will be two driver changes since the preceding Long Beach Grand Prix.
After relinquishing his Chip Ganassi Racing seat to Sebastián Saavedra last weekend – where the Colombian drove excellently to finish tenth – Sage Karam is back behind the wheel of the #8 Chevrolet-powered entry.
Meanwhile, the #18 Dale Coyne Racing seat will be occupied its fourth different driver of the season: former Marussia F1 test and reserve driver Rodolfo González will make his IndyCar Series debut for the team. The 28-year-old Venezuelan doesn’t boast the most awe-inspiring of CVs, having 60 GP2 Series races under his belt and achieving just three points’ finishes.
He did test with Dale Coyne Racing and the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teams during the 2015 pre-season at Barber Motorsports Park.
The Form Guide
With the new radically designed aerodynamic kits designed by both suppliers Chevrolet and Honda, we have seen three different winners from the first three races. Lap records have tumbled, and we’re likely to see that happen this weekend at Barber.
While there’s little to distinguish between Chevrolet and Honda in the horsepower stakes, what’s abundantly clear is that the former’s aero kit design has a clear advantage over the latter. That’s evidenced by just two of the top-ten-placed drivers in the championship standings – James Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal – running with Honda power and aero.
Hinchcliffe did win at the rain-soaked second round of the season in Louisiana, but that a result that showcased good strategy and timing rather than outright pace. If the weather stays dry this weekend, that will give Chevrolet a nearly unbeatable run and another battle between the Penske and Chip Ganassi stables.
Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya (who won the opening Indy Grand Prix of St.Pete) comes into the weekend as championship leader on 119 points, just three ahead of teammate Castroneves.
Chip Ganassi duo Tony Kanaan and last weekend’s Long Beach Grand Prix winner, Scott Dixon, sit third and fourth respectively on 93 and 87 points. Dixon is the field’s most consistent performer at this circuit, having finished on the podium at each attempt – including four successive runner-up results. Perhaps this weekend will see the Kiwi claim his maiden victory here and back-to-back wins after triumphing last weekend on the streets of Long Beach.
Schmidt Peterson-Hamilton Motorsports and NOLA winner James Hinchcliffe rounds out the top five with 83 points, three clear of reigning series champion, Will Power, who had a miserable Long Beach weekend.
Will we see a fourth different winner this weekend? Can Power bounce back from a miserable weekend in Long Beach? Can Montoya extend his points lead at the top? Will Dixon score back to back victories and his first at Barber?
Stay tuned to find out.
Images via IndyCar Series
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