There were two constants this past weekend at Barber Motorsports Park: rain, and the unmatched pace of Josef Newgarden. The reigning series champion captured his second victory of the young 2018 season as Newgarden bested a pack of Honda drivers behind him in Alabama.
On Sunday, the race began with moderate rain falling and INDYCAR ordering a single-file start under yellow. Finally, the green flag flew and for a few moments, the stars of the Verizon IndyCar Series ran unscathed.
Drama would soon unfold as Marco Andretti spun, Gabby Chaves had to pit for visibility issues with his visor and then Ed Jones ran into the back of Charlie Kimball and ended the Carlin driver’s day.
The ensuing restart saw the leader, Newgarden, dart quickly left when his car hit a pool of water and hydroplaned. The Tennessee native reigned in his Team Penske machine before continuing down the frontstretch. His teammate, Will Power, was less fortunate. Facing the adverse weather conditions, Power himself hit multiple slick spots and finally lost control of his Chevrolet as it flew into the pit wall.
After a couple laps pacing under yellow, a disappointed Power watched as INDYCAR threw the red flag for inclement weather conditions. An aborted attempt to restart the race followed that forty minute red flag period before another red flag session set in. Finally, INDYCAR postponed the race until Monday with 22 of the scheduled 90 laps complete.
Monday did provide better weather for the start of the race, putting the picturesque Barber Motorsports Park on display as the “Augusta National of Motorsport.” The day was off to a quick start with Newgarden pacing the field as he jumped out to an unimaginable 10-second lead on the second place pilot of Sebastien Bourdais in the day’s early going.
Action was seen throughout the pack as Zachary Claman de Melo – two laps down at the time – fought feverishly to gain time to the leaders as he consumed Graham Rahal. He would run into trouble with Spencer Pigot, though, when the two young hot shoes got together in a multi-corner slide. Both left the accident scene rather unscathed and continued on.
As rain began to threaten the day (again), Newgarden had built a nearly 25-second lead on the field. By lap 71 the rain had become steady enough that the Team Penske driver found it necessary to surrender the lead for a set of Firestone rain tires.
That gave the top spot to Sebastien Bourdais for the first time, and the Dale Coyne Racing driver tried to navigate the winding road course on slick Firestone tires while the rain continued to pour. Finally, with just under eight minutes remaining in the timed race, Bourdais released the strategy and the lead to grab a pair of rain tires himself.
From there, Newgarden coasted to victory with a 10-second lead and vaulted himself back to the point in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings. The win was Newgarden’s second consecutive win at Barber and Team Penske’s sixth win in nine trips to the Alabama circuit.
Finishing behind Newgarden was a brigade of seven Honda machines before finding another Team Chevy entry. Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay finished runner-up while James Hinchcliffe completed the podium. His Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate and fabulous rookie Robert Wickens was the highest finishing freshman in fourth place while Bourdais nipped Scott Dixon to the line for fifth place in his Dale Coyne Racing entry.
A bit of drama unfolded after the race as drivers Simon Pagenaud and Gabby Chaves squabbled over on-track action during the race. The war of words quickly concluded and nothing else was to be made of it.
As previously mentioned, Newgarden assumes the championship lead once again and is 13 points clear of Alexander Rossi (who finished 11th). Bourdais and Graham Rahal are tied for third on the leaderboard, 39 points back of the Team Penske driver.
The Verizon IndyCar Series now shifts its focus to the ever-important Month of May at Indianapolis. Teams will be at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway from April 30 to May 2 for various testing sessions, including a series-wide open test, a rookie orientation and refresher program and manufacturer testing.
Action picks up on the second weekend of the month when the annual IndyCar Grand Prix of Indianapolis goes green on Friday, May 11 for practice and qualifications ahead of race day on Saturday, May 12. Each rung on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder will also be present with Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF2000 teams taking to the IMS road course.
All of that is ahead of the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500. Practice on the oval begins on Tuesday, May 15 in preparation for qualifications to be held on May 19 and 20.
The 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 will be held on Sunday, May 27 with the telecast being shown live on ABC.
Stay tuned to Open-Wheels through the month of May with around-the-clock coverage of the biggest sporting event on earth.
Images courtesy of INDYCAR.