IndyCar Preview: The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
The Verizon IndyCar Series is back on track this week at what has recently been one of the most competitive, fun venues on the schedule: the permanent road course at Barber Motorsports Park. It’s been a crazy two weeks since the Mayor was sworn in at Long Beach, especially with Fernando Alonso providing the validation we all crave that Indy still matters and real racers love a challenge, but it’s time to preview the action at hand in Alabama. Let’s get to it!
Stats (Active Drivers)
Who do the stats say to watch this weekend? In short, Team Penske. Three of The Captain’s drivers are in the top-five in best average finish. Penske has won four of the seven races held at Barber, and their current roster (with the addition of Josef Newgarden) boasts four of the venues’ five IndyCar race winners. (Shout-out to indycar.com and racing-reference.info for crunching the numbers.)
Simon Pagenaud (2016)
Josef Newgarden (2015)
Ryan Hunter-Reay (2013, 2014)
Will Power (2011, 2012)
Helio Castroneves (2010)
Best Average Finish (min. 3 starts)
Scott Dixon (3.4)
Will Power (3.4)
Simon Pagenaud (5.5)
Marco Andretti (7.3)
Josef Newgarden (7.6)
Will Power (3)
Helio Castroneves (2)
Simon Pagenaud (1)
Ryan Hunter-Reay (1)
Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and Sebastien Bourdais come into this weekend with consecutive top-five finishes to start the season. James Hinchcliffe showed good pace at St. Pete, leading before an untimely caution left him high-and-dry mid-pack. Hinch and his Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports team bounced back at Long Beach with the feel-good win we’ve all been waiting for since his accident at Indy.
Zach Veach was slated to make his IndyCar debut with A.J. Foyt Racing at Indianapolis in May, but a last-lap injury to Ed Carpenter Racing’s J.R. Hildebrand (broken bone in hand) at Long Beach left the No. 21 team searching for a replacement for this weekend. Veach got the nod, and it will be interesting to see how the Indy Lights standout does at a track where ECR has found victory lane in the past.
Storylines to Follow
The young season has been a mixed bag so far for Andretti Autosport. The team has been fast and raced well, but outside of top-fives in St. Pete by Hunter-Reay and Takuma Sato, results have been lacking. At Long Beach, Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi looked poised to challenge Hinchcilffe for the win before falling out of competition with electrical and/or mechanical issues. All four Andretti cars failed to finish the race. Have they sorted out the gremlins? If they have, they could be poised for a breakout weekend–they’ve won at Barber twice.
Your current Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader, Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais (of course!), comes into the weekend with first- and second-place finishes to start the season. But for the first time in 2017, we’re leaving the relatively boxy corners of temporary street courses for a fast, flowing, permanent road course. Can DCR keep up the pace–and luck–at Barber?
Scott Dixon has finished on the podium an amazing six times at Barber, with four runner-up finishes and two third-place finishes. But, Graham Rahal has been the real show at Barber the past two years. In 2015, he charged through the field in hot-pursuit of eventual race-winner, Josef Newgarden, and finished second. Last year, he went toe-to-toe with Simon Pagenaud in one of 2016’s more memorable shootouts before contact forced him to settle for second, again. Will either get over the proverbial hump on Sunday?
Get Your Popcorn Ready
We’re only two races deep into 2017, and the level of parity and competition has been wild this year. We only have a small sample-size to work with, but with the way the season has started, don’t be surprised to see bad breaks continue to hound the Penske, Ganassi and Andretti camps and Carlos Munoz or Spencer Pigot on the top step of the podium on Sunday (okay, maybe be a little surprised if that happens). Either way, catch all the action on indycar.com and NBCSN. Qualifying is Saturday at 4:15 p.m. ET, with the race getting underway on Sunday a little after 3:30 p.m. ET.