Random Thoughts On Barber
The fifth Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is in the books and I’m proud to say that Susan and I have attended every single one, including yesterday’s race. There are still only three drivers who have ever won at Barber Motorsports Park. Helio Castroneves was the first, Will Power won the next two and Ryan Hunter-Reay has won the last two. Hunter-Reay won again yesterday in dominating fashion. He and Will Power both pulled away from the field early, with Power leading Hunter-Reay. Then Power spun on the rain-slicked surface. Power recovered nicely, but still re-entered the course training Hunter-Reay. From that point on, Hunter-Reay was never seriously challenged again.
The rain played havoc with the entire field all day long. For the teams and fans alike, the rain was particularly frustrating because it had not been predicted, even on Saturday. Saturday was hot and sunny and gave the drivers a slick track in qualifying. Yesterday was cool, windy and gloomy even before the rain started around 1:00. After the three-hour weather delay, fans were forced to endure chilly temperatures made worse by a stiff breeze. It was worse for the drivers as they had to deal with a green race track that was now still very wet.
The rain obviously had a profound effect on the drivers as they had difficulty navigating the twisty, narrow circuit that had become like an ice skating rink. Many drivers found themselves with off-track excursions – so e worse than others. The worst was made by Mikhail Aleshin who hit the tire barrier extremely hard, and brought out the final caution. The race ended under caution.
Once IndyCar officials determined that they were going to get underway, there was a mad frenzy on the staring grid. All pre-race ceremonies were cancelled and it was a mad dash for drivers to get strapped I to their cars as quickly as possible in order to start the race. Susan and I were almost knocked down a couple of times by team members hustling to their cars. We were still in the pits as the cars rolled off the grid. It was fascinating to see the giant rooster-tails from the cars as they made their way to Turn Five behind the pace car. I could only imagine what they would look like when the cars were at speed.
Hunter-Reay’s victory was no fluke. He pretty well dominated from start to finish. Curiously enough, he did not have a top ten finish in his first three races at Barber. He has won the last two. I would say Ryan hunter-Reay has found something he likes at Barber Motorsports Park. After his shunt at Long Beach a couple of weeks ago, he has out himself squarely back in the points battle. He is now second in points, only eighteen behind Will Power. This is looking like it could be a vary interesting points battle this season.
TV Coverage: Obviously I have yet to see the television coverage since Susan and I did not arrive home until late last night. However, NBCSN should be commended for extending the TV window, allowing viewers to see the entire race despite the three hour rain delay. I heard some people griping, wondering g why IndyCar did not run the race in the rain since the cars have rain tires. I was there. I saw the downpour and there was standing water in the track. Plus, there was heavy lightning in the whole vicinity. This was a safety issue and IndyCar made the right call. It’s fortunate that their TV partner was flexible enough to work with them on this.
On another note, it was good to see Jon Beekhuis on the grounds and part of the telecast this weekend. Jon does a very good job and deserves to be back on the broadcast full time.
Good day for Ganassi: While Chip Ganassi’s four drivers seemed to struggle throughout the weekend, they performed well during the race. Every Ganassi’s driver moved up considerably from their starting position in the race – even Scott Dixon, who started fifth and finished third. Charlie Kimball qualified seventeenth and finished tenth. Ryan Briscoe started twentieth and finished eleventh. The biggest Ganassi mover was Tony Kanaan, who qualified dead last, yet finished ninth.
All of the Ganassi drivers rose to the occasion on Sunday – even Charlie Kimball, who was relegated to his back-up car after a hard crash in the Sunday morning warm-up. It is an on-going mystery as to why the Ganassi cars are all struggling in practice and qualifying this season. If they can ever get their act together as they unload off the trailer – look out.
Bad day for Penske: While the Ganassi cars struggled early in the weekend, but finished strong in the race, team Penske suffered the opposite fate. There were two Penske cars In the Fast Six – one of which won the pole and another that started eighth. However, pole-sitter Will Power finished fifth, while teammates Helio Castroneves and Juan Montoya finished nineteenth and twentieth respectively. The Captain cannot be very pleased with that. It was a very un-Penske-like day for team Penske.
Good day for Honda: It is fitting that the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama was won by a Honda. Since Chevy entered the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2012, they had taken the victory in every race they had entered at Barber. That was not the case yesterday. Not only did Honda take first- and second-place – six of the top-eight finishers were powered by Honda. This was Honda’s first victory of the young 2014 season. It will be interesting to see which, if any, engine manufacturer dominates either or both races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.
Verizon swag needed: I mentioned in a post on Friday how disappointed I was that there was absolutely no merchandise to be found bearing the new Verizon IndyCar Series logo. At the risk of beating a dead horse some more, I found that inexcusable. This could have been the only race someone may have attended all season. Although the Verizon title sponsor deal was announced in March, surely they knew this was going to happen before the announcement. Since all of my apparel bearing the old IZOD IndyCar logo is obsolete, I was looking forward to buying some Verizon apparel since I did not care to give IZOD any more free advertising. Until they get some Verizon apparel on the shelves, I feel I can only wear clothing with the "wing and wheel" or Indianapolis 500 logos. I can only hope that they have a full supply of Verizon apparel at Indianapolis for the Month of May.
All in all: despite the fact that it rained yesterday and the race became a timed race, the weekend was still a blast. Friday and Saturday seemed noticeably bigger than in years past. We could feel a definite buzz from the crowd as we wandered about the grounds. Even early Sunday morning, you could feel the excitement in the air. Unfortunately, that all changed when the skies opened up Sunday afternoon. I think many people left when the rains began and they did not come back. The crowd that we saw overlooking Turn Two during the race was much smaller than it had been in years past. This was a direct result of the weather.
The race itself was not great. Due to the wet track, there were a ton of yellows, which prevented the race from developing very much of a rhythm. As a spectator, for once – I was glad to see the race come to an end simply due to the delays, the cool temperatures and the lack of clean passing, instead of hoping other cars spun out. This was no one’s fault, it was strictly a function of the weather – which is a part of racing. I just wish that it didn’t happen at one of the few races we get to attend in person.
I will post several pictures from the weekend either on Wednesday or possibly as a special Tuesday post. Thanks to everyone who followed along with us throughout our weekend at Barber Motorsports Park – a beautiful facility.