Winter Testing In The Sunny South
With only the first week of the NFL playoffs in the books; it’s hard to believe that six weeks from today, the Izod IndyCar Series will be conducting an open test at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, AL on February 24-25. What’s really hard to believe is that the IICS would schedule a two-day test in central Alabama in late February. Perhaps the league should have consulted with Will McCarty at “Is It May Yet?”. He could have probably told them that conducting anything outdoors in the southeastern United States is an iffy proposition, at best.
I have found that many people that live in the north are surprised that we have cold weather in the south. Granted, our weather isn’t as harsh as Indianapolis or Chicago – but it can be pretty brutal here at times. Birmingham is a little less than three hours due south of Nashville. You can generally count on Birmingham being about five to six degrees warmer than Nashville on any given day. This past weekend, Nashville spent about four days with snow on the ground, a high of twenty-two degrees and a low of nine on Saturday night. The high in Birmingham on Saturday was twenty-six and a low of sixteen.
The point is, there is not a great deal of difference in the weather in Birmingham and Nashville – and there is no way I would have ever considered scheduling a two-day test in late February in Nashville.
I attended the test at Barber last spring that was held over the weekend of March 21. The weather was absolutely beautiful with highs in the low seventies. That was highly unusual for that time of year. I think that league officials were seduced into thinking that these were normal temperatures here for that time of year. Far from it. Some of the biggest snows I can remember here took place in late February and early March. What’s even more scary is that these big snows sometimes come up from the south – in Alabama.
Even if there is no snow during these two days, the chances are better than good that the temperature will be in the twenties. I realize that Barber is the closest, southern location for a permanent road course. I also understand that the season-opener will only be about three weeks from then, but there has to be a more dependable location in February than Barber. Since the first few races are street races, wouldn’t the road courses at Daytona or Homestead suffice? How about Sebring? You have a much better chance of finding warmer weather at any of these locations than you would in central Alabama in February.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m ecstatic that the IICS is coming to Barber to race. Unlike many, I don’t think the racing will be that bad. Even if it ends up being a one-groove race track with little or no passing, I think that people have been way too quick to criticize this facility. I think people will be pleasantly surprised when the Izod IndyCar Series goes there in April. It is a beautiful scenic course with many elevation changes and challenging double-apex turns. Yes it is tight and narrow, but let’s see how the races play out before we condemn the racing there.
But that’s the weekend of April 11 when it will probably be much warmer; although in 2004, we had a heavy snow in Nashville on April 13. That was unusual and chances are good that the weather will be pleasant then. But a lot can change weather-wise in the south, between late February and early April.
I may be wrong. Yes, I’ve seen decent weather in February – but not normally. If I am wrong, the teams will get a handle on their chassis for the upcoming run of street/road courses to start the season, as well as a preview of what to expect when they return to Barber in April. If the weather is typical for February when they test – even with no snow, the tires will be cold and I doubt that they will be able to gather much information that they can use for the rest of the season. Instead, they will have caused the teams to incur a sizeable expense to transport cars, teams and equipment to either sit around and shiver or run on cold tires that won’t perform as normal.
Unless Firestone is wanting to develop a new racing snow tire, I think the league should have chosen a more sunny location for an open test in February.