Random Thoughts On Barber

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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.

George Phillips

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11 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Barber”

  1. Bent Wickerbill Says:

    Good race.. Was definitely great to see Jon Beekhuis in the pits…

  2. “After a three hour weahter delay, fans were forced to endure chilly temperatures made worse by a stiff breeze.”

    That immediately brought to me flashbacks of quite a few Pole Days at Indianapolis……

  3. Jim Gray Says:

    Nice write up. Your experiences, while more gorgeous and wet than mine, seemed to mirror what I saw in the broadcast. I’ve been searching online since the announcement and have yet to see Verizon IndyCar gear available, it is almost inexcusable to not have something by this point.

    • billytheskink Says:

      While the Verizon deal and Indycar’s new merchandising deal did come together late, we are well over a month into it. New things really should be available.
      Even the perpetually disappointing (unless you really like Ferrari) Speedgear was able to make a couple of AJ Allmendinger-Forsythe shirts available within weeks back when he switched teams in the middle of the 2006 Champcar season.

      I have been to 4 very different major motorsports events this month, AMA Supercross, MotoGP, World of Outlaws Sprint Cars, and an NHRA national event. These were early-season events for three of those series. It is striking how much better merchandised all 4 of these series are than Indycar. Series-specific gear was up-to-date and most every driver of significance had merchandise available, much of which featured an actual depiction of their racing vehicle. Indycar may or may not move the amount of merchandise these other series do, but I do think this is an indication that they can certainly do much better than they have been doing.

      … the things you talk about when the race wasn’t controversial. Enjoyable race, though.

  4. Wonder if Indycar should consider running races on Saturdays in the event of weather problems? Qualify in morning, race afternoons? Or maybe that has happened in the past? Don’t know…I’m also surprised by lack of Verizon swag. Hopefully it will be at Indy, I’m sure you’ll let us know. I do think the road race is bringing some relevance back to the entire Month Of May. Looking forward to the test this week and your opinion. Read two interesting things over the weekend. Ed Carpenter said in the Indy Star that running more cars (I think he meant at Indy) was now more a question of availability of car parts than money. And apparently everyone is on board with Cosworth returning as soon as they find a car company to badge their engines.

    • They mentioned in the broadcast that there are no more Honda engines available. So if the field is going tob 33, Chevy is going to have to make more engines available.

  5. Usually rain improves road and street races, but at Barber it did not. I am pretty sure there were no passes in the top 10 during the last thirty minutes of “racing.” It was a good race, though. (note the sarcasm)

    • Um, sometimes that happens in motor racing. Occasionally, you get a scenario where the fastest car/driver finds its way to the lead by half distance, the 2nd fastest to 2nd place, the 3rd fastest to 3rd, etc., and then everybody carries on in those positions. And in that scenario, there can be no passing because a pass requires a faster car to be behind a slower car. A slower car will never pass a faster car unless the driver of the faster car makes a mistake. This isn’t just true of IndyCar races at Barber, or of IndyCar races alone, or whatever, it’s true of ALL types of racing. And in my 23 years of watching racing, I’d say that I see races that fit this description 4-5 times per year. It happens.

      So, no, yesterday’s race was far from a classic. Most races aren’t classics. And when they aren’t, you take it for what it was and move on to the next one.

  6. Paul Wheeler Says:

    The lack of Verizon related merchandise is just a part of a larger problem. The lack of Indy 500 merchandise in general that is not available from the official IMS online store. Since the folks at IMS have revamped the official online store for IMS, there has been a serious lack of any 500 merchandise. I collect the 3X5 event flags and order hats for my annual Indy500 party and it doesn’t look like there will be much to choose from. I sent them an email regarding this and got no response. Wonder what is going on there?

    • SkipinSC Says:

      Paul, my wife and I traditionally order the 500 tie-dye t-shirts. Until Saturday, these were not showing in the IMS store. If memory serves, these have been available almost as soon as the logo is determined for the race each year, so I was wondering the same thing.

      On another front, during the rain delay yesterday, I found it telling that even an IndyCar official (Derek Walker) was NOT wearing Verizon IndyCar gear.

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