Chances are, if you’re reading this before 10:00 central time on Friday morning, I am still en route to Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, AL. I will be there all day today and will be posting here throughout the day. Please check back often as I share my experiences with you today. I’ll return home tonight, rest up on Saturday, then do it all again on Sunday. Also, don’t forget to post questions for my meeting with Randy Bernard, which will take place at 11:00 central time, Sunday morning. In the meantime, here is my usual Friday race preview.
So much of the story of the last race was focused on double-file re-starts and drivers not accepting responsibility for bad driving, that there wasn’t a whole lot of discussion on the racing that took place beyond turn one. Dario Franchitti was pretty well uncontested throughout much of the day. The best duel of the afternoon was between Tony Kanaan and Simona de Silvestro – a veteran with a new team, and a second-year driver that is quickly earning respect.
Many of the top drivers had their days effectively ruined at the first turn fracas, even if they weren’t taken out completely. Hopefully, everyone learned their lesson and have made plans to take great care to not let it happen again. They are going to need all the help they can get at Barber Motorsports Park this weekend. It is a tight track that offers very few passing zones around the 2.38-mile track. If the drivers thought turn one at St. Petersburg was bad, they need to remember turn one at Barber. It is an unforgiving left-hander that has a sudden drop before heading into a very tight turns two and three.
The track is only forty-five feet wide. It was built primarily as a motorcycle course. The IndyCars are a little wide for the layout. Consequently, I think there was only one on-track pass for the lead last year. Of course, the drama that unfolded at the end was due to fuel-mileage – never a good thing.
I was in attendance at last years race. I had a blast and am looking forward to attending this year’s, as well. The attendance was great, the atmosphere was electric and yes, the track layout was beautiful. I say that tongue-in-cheek because it seems to be the standing joke when talking about Barber – there’s no place to pass, but it sure is beautiful. The thing is, it IS beautiful. I’ve never been to Augusta National, but I’ve heard people say that Barber Motorsports Park isn’t too far behind. The rolling hills, the steep elevation changes, the green manicured lawns and colorful flower beds everywhere you look all make for a very picturesque setting for a racetrack.
Although I had a blast last year, I must admit that I never quite knew what was going on. There was a giant TV screen in turn two, but it was hard to see the scrolling graphics to tell who was winning. The sound system was lacking so we always felt a little in the dark about what was happening. It wasn’t until I came back home and watched the DVR that I knew about the fuel-mileage issues. I did know that Helio Castroneves won and Will Power was disappointed to finish fourth after winning the first two races of the season as well as the pole at Barber. Marco led throughout the day but needed a splash of fuel at the end to finish fifth.
After the first turn fiasco two weeks ago, several top drivers find themselves in a huge hole to climb out of. Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon and Marco Andretti all need a good showing this weekend. I think we can expect all to fare better this week. They are already in panic mode and need to be extra cautious this weekend to not get any further behind.
Marco and Helio both showed they know their way around there last year. So did the usual cast of characters in Will Power, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti. But there are two drivers that I think may sneak up and steal the show – Justin Wilson and Mike Conway.
Justin Wilson had a so-so afternoon at St. Pete. In all candor, he was disappointing – but that was probably due to a wrist injury he suffered during the race. He will be wearing a carbon fiber brace this weekend. I think he seeks redemption and wants assert himself into early championship contention. Mike Conway was the pleasant surprise all weekend at the last race. He was quick in every session and was on track to have a career day. That is, until he was speared by his teammate on the first lap and ended his day.
I think we are in for another strong run from Simona de Silvestro. She did everything right two weeks ago and I expect another big weekend from her at Barber. She is getting every bit of speed out of a car that is fielded by an underfunded team. I’d really like to see what she could do with a Penske or Ganassi car.
I’m also curious to see if Vitor Meira can put together another solid day. If he does, he may not be able to keep himself under the radar. He is probably very excited to have countryman Bruno Junqueira join him at AJ Foyt Racing for the month of May. It has been a long time since Foyt ran car No. 84 – maybe since George “Ziggy” Snider, but that will be Bruno’s number at Indy.
So who will it be this weekend? I think Will Power will take the pole again, but I’ll go out on a limb to predict my winner. I’ll pick Mike Conway to win and get his promising season back on track.
Check back later today.