This weekend begins the second of our six in-person racing weekends in seven weeks, as Susan and I head down to Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Although there is to be no on-track activity for the Verizon IndyCar Series today, there will be eleven hours of straight on-track activity with all of the various support series that will be on hand; including the Pirelli World Challenge, US F2000, the Mazda Pro Series and of course, Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. If you’re at a race track with cars running, that’s a pretty good day in my book.
This will be the sixth consecutive year that the Verizon IndyCar Series has run at Barber. Susan and I have been fortunate enough to attend every single one. There is no way to compare this event to the Indianapolis 500, but there are many reasons that this is my second favorite event that we go to each year.
Everyone always seems to be in a great mood at this track. It is a well-organized event and all of the staff seems to be extra-friendly. Being a native southerner, it always makes me proud to come here and watch the reactions of people from other parts of the country when they get to experience southern hospitality first-hand.
When we were at NOLA two weeks ago, I commented several times about how spread out that venue was. That’s not the case at Barber. It is a compact setting with most things very close by. But if you want to go over to the other side of the track, all you do is go stand at a tram station. You won’t wait very long before one of their trams will come along, pick you up and carry you around the track for free.
If it’s the Snake Pit you’re looking for, you won’t find it at Barber. Although plenty have coolers packed with adult beverages, I can’t recall ever seeing anyone drunk and obnoxious at Barber. It is, by far, the most family-friendly race track I’ve ever been to – although I’m still looking for the person that helped themselves to all of my beer two years ago during the race. We had been sitting high above Turn Two, when I wanted to go down by the fence to take pictures at track level. When we returned, our cooler had half of what it had in it before we left. I guess I should be thankful that they left us any and didn’t take the cooler itself.
It has become a standing joke over the years, because everyone always describes Barber as a “beautiful facility”. Well, there’s a reason for that – it is. Think of an already picturesque road course running through Augusta National. That’s sort of what you get at Barber. It is set among some fairly steep, but rolling hills. Many of the turns run through groves of tall trees, dogwoods and azaleas. Look off in the distance and you see the foothills of central Alabama.
Among the manicured flowerbeds are the unique sculptures that the facility is also known for. In the southeast corner of the property sits the Barber Museum, which I toured two years ago. If IMS is looking for something to pattern a new museum off of, this would be it. It has several levels and is wide open at the center of each floor. It is home to over 1,200 vintage motorcycles and race cars. I’m not really a motorcycle fan, but there were enough historically significant race cars to more than justify my going there.
And then there’s the race, itself. The first two years of this event saw races that were mostly parades. The old style Dallara just didn’t race well at this track But when the DW12 showed up at Barber in 2012, the racing improved significantly. The next year was just as good. Last year, it poured just before the green flag and they struggled to get the race in. Drivers were sliding everywhere, like they did at NOLA two weeks ago in similar conditions, so it was hard to tell just how good or bad the racing was.
This year is an unknown going in. One would assume that Chevy will continue to flex its muscle and dominate; just as they did in St. Petersburg and last week at Long Beach. Honda got a bit of redemption at NOLA two weeks ago, but the rain served as the great neutralizer. Looking at times for the open test last month at Barber, one would think it will be more of the same – but you never know.
There have only been three winners of this race over the past five years. Helio Castroneves won the inaugural event in 2010. Then Will Power won the next two, before Ryan Hunter-Reay won the last two. My heart tells me to pick Helio Castroneves, who has been very consistent and is only three point behind points leader Juan Montoya. My head tells me to go with Scott Dixon, who would be continuing his roll from winning Long Beach. Dixon has been on the podium at Barber every year, but has never won. But my gut is telling me to go with the driver who needs it the most and is known for performing best when he’s under the gun. That’s why I think Will Power will win the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Sunday.
Susan and I will be arriving at the track sometime around noon central time today. The weather forecast is not perfect, but it’s much better than NOLA. Today looks decent during the day, but a severe thunderstorm is supposed to go through the are tonight and tomorrow morning. Hopefully, it’ll be done by the time qualifying rolls around tomorrow afternoon. The best thing is that the forecast for Sunday looks good.
It’s about a three hour drive from Nashville. We’ll go check into our hotel first and then head to the track, which won’t take too long since our hotel this year is much closer to the track than in year’s past. She and I will both be posting here throughout the weekend, so please check back here often. Also, please follow me (@Oilpressureblog) and Susan (@MrsOilpressure) on Twitter for a lot more pictures and up to date posting from the track. Check back later today.