Random Thoughts On Barber

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The 2016 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is now in the books. Although eventual winner Simon Pagenaud and Graham Rahal gave us some exciting action late in the race, I think this one could be considered a snooze fest. The disturbing thing is, that will make two snoozers in as many weeks.

The question is; is this a coincidence or is it a trend. Based on what I’ve seen in the last two weeks, I don’t hold out much hope that the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis in three weeks is going to be a barnburner. At this rate, I’m wondering if I might need to take a book to read during the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500. If what we have seen the last couple of weeks is the result of the aero kits making it impossible to pass cars, then I am no longer in the aero kit camp.

Then again, passing was not impossible yesterday. Juan Montoya started dead-last yesterday and he worked his way through the field rather quickly to finish fifth. Scott Dixon was spun early by Sébastien Bourdais and was twentieth. He rebounded to finish tenth. And Graham Rahal did his passing on the track to move up from his sixth place starting point to finish second for the second year in a row at Barber.

In the early days of this track, naysayers enjoyed pointing out that the track was too narrow for IndyCars to possibly race there. Then once the DW12 made its debut, the racing was suddenly great. So much for not being able to pass. Even last year, the aero kits allowed decent racing as Rahal carved his way through the field. But this year, passing was at a premium to say the least.

It’s a shame, because the weather was perfect Saturday and Sunday and the fans came out. The hillside where we sat overlooking Turn Two was packed more than I’ve seen in the seven years we’ve been going to Barber. We literally had trouble to find a seat just for the two of us. The three-day attendance was 83,765 – the second highest attendance since the inaugural event in 2010, which was 84,126. It’s too bad they didn’t get a better show.

But good for Simon Pagenaud. He did everything right this weekend. He won the pole, led practically all of the race and extended his points lead to forty-eight points over Scott Dixon. Don’t look now, but after scoring two second place finishes and two wins in the first four races, Simon Pagenaud may be running away with this championship.

TV Coverage:  Obviously, I cannot comment on the TV coverage since I haven’t watched the DVR of the race yet. But kudos to NBCSN for going the extra mile to show some practices this season. Along with their (usually) live qualifying shows, they are definitely setting the bar for IndyCar fans.

And I’ll say this about the pit reporters. They do a lot more than comment during races. Throughout the weekend, I saw all three reporters in in-depth discussions with drivers and crew members about the upcoming race and what their strategy might be. Friday and Saturday was not all fun and games. They were working.

Entourage:  No, I’m not talking about the TV show. I’m talking about the disruption caused throughout the track by the honorary Grand Marshall, Sara Evans. They’ve had some pretty big names here in the past to serve as Grand Marshall. Names like Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley, Bart Starr and Joe Namath have served in that role. They had maybe one or two people alongside as they walked through the paddock and into the media center, just to make sure that some loon didn’t get too personal.

But Sara Evans is a country music star and apparently that means an entire entourage has to accompany her. Her three limousines and motorcycle escort arrived at the media center twenty minutes late for a ceremony that also involved Ryan Hunter-Reay presenting her with a bottle of milk autographed by every driver.

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She said a few words and her posse left with her as quickly as they arrived. Later on, I was wandering the paddock when I heard sirens behind me. The same motorcycles were escorting three golf carts with five rows each, with Ms. Evans in the middle. All fans had to scoot to the side and even the vehicles carrying team equipment had to yield to the motorcade. If not drawing attention to herself was the goal, she failed miserably.

If Joe Namath and Bo Jackson can walk around virtually unbothered with only one or two handlers, why was this spectacle necessary. The thing is, I’ve always been a Sara Evans fan. That’s why I made sure to attend her press conference. Her star rating with me went down a little bit yesterday.

Another Teaser From Foyt:  After being strong in Friday’s practice and setting competitive times in practice and qualifying on Saturday, AJ Foyt Enterprises turned in another dud yesterday. Takuma Sato finished a very unremarkable thirteenth on Sunday and Jack Hawksworth was a dreadful nineteenth. They need to find better consistency, or this looks to be another disappointing season for Foyt.

Andretti Woes Continue:  One quarter of the way through the season and the biggest mystery is what is going on with Andretti Autosport. They were not competitive all weekend. Not one single Andretti car made it out of the first round in qualifying. In the race, Ryan Hunter-Reay set the pace for the team by working his way from an eighteenth starting spot to finish eleventh. Marco Andretti finished twelfth, followed by Carlos Muñoz in fourteenth and Alexander Rossi in fifteenth.

Having led the development of the aero kits last year for Honda, it’s perplexing why they cannot find the handle. They are being outperformed by many of the smaller Honda teams. Hopefully, the upcoming month of May will be a turnaround for them. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long season for Michael Andretti.

Frustrating Third:  It’s a sign of how far Josef Newgarden has come, that a third place finish bothers him. Having tasted victory at Barber last year, he had another podium finish yesterday, but appeared frustrated. It wasn’t that many years ago that Newgarden would’ve been thrilled to death with a podium. Hopefully that hunger will continue to grow with Newgarden as he approaches the month of May.

LED Lights:  I was not a fan when the LED lights were introduced late last season. They appeared to be a gimmick and you couldn’t really see them well on television. But having seen them in person, I’m now a believer. Now I get it. They are much brighter in person, than they appear on TV. From two-thirds up the hillside overlooking Turn Two, they were easy to read and were a help knowing where each car was running – in real time. I hate admitting it when I’m wrong, but I was on this one. Will we be able to read them from the stands at Indianapolis at high speeds? We’ll find out the answer soon.

All in all:  It’s hard to comment about a race that you watched from a spectator mound. Having not watched the broadcast yet, all I have to go on is the box score provided after the race. But from what I could see on the jumbotron and in front of us, there did not seem to be a ton of action. Discounting the yellows for a screwy start, this was the second race in a row with no cautions and all cars running at the end. That does not make for major excitement on a road course that offers few passing zones to begin with.

So, heading into the month of May and one-fourth of the season done – the Verizon IndyCar Series is not producing their greatest racing in history. Hopefully, those that are a lot smarter than I am can make the necessary changes to bring some good racing back. I sure hope that yesterday wasn’t a preview for what we’ll see May 29th.

Again thanks to everyone that followed us along this weekend. After I  watch the replay, I’ll comment further about the race on Wednesday and share a few more pics from the weeknd before we turn the page to the month of May.

George Phillips

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25 Responses to “Random Thoughts On Barber”

  1. In my opinion, the television coverage was very top notch. Adding Paul Tracy to the team was a great call and he put in another terrific effort yesterday. Truthfully, I liked a lot about this race and seeing Rahal take his Honda to second was awesome.

  2. Ron Ford Says:

    I watched the race on a live stream from the UK. It was excellent. The British announcers switched back and forth between their converage and the NBCS coverage. They did not know who Sara Evans was either.

    After watching racing for 65 years I begin watching each new race knowing that it may be boring, it may be very exciting, or more likely something in between. If you feel the need for every race to be a good “show”, watch a scripted program. I thought the last 20 laps of this race was exciting, edge-of-the-seat racing, as good as it gets.
    Snooze-fest??!! Seriously? Wheel to wheel, scrapin’ and bangin’ for the lead with five laps to go………..JMP slicing through the field from last to fifth (I believe that is called passing), Newgarden making a last lap pass of Power for a podium finish……………………….Yawn.

    • I get your point, but from where we sat (overlooking Turn Two) we saw none of that. That’s an ideal spot to watch restarts as they funnel into Turn One and make their way through Turn Two. Unfortunately, there were no restarts yesterday and all we saw was a parade go by us. All we saw was Pagenaud extending his lead every lap. Lots of folks around us were bored. When I see the replay tonight, I’m sure I’ll change my tune. – GP

      • Ron Ford Says:

        Did you not see Simon’s lead shrinking with each lap after the last pit stop? Surely you must have seen Rahal catch him.

      • Not much happens in turn #2. There is no place to pass. All a driver is really doing is setting up for really fast #3 for a potential pass in turn #5. The hill is a great place to hang out and see the cars go by but expecting something to happen there (there is an occasional spin, or cars running into each other entering the track from the pits) it will be a disappointment.

  3. Bruce Waine Says:

    Who is Sara Evans …………………………….. ? ? ?

  4. Ron Ford Says:

    With still another bump in the road-or street-problem popping up for the Boston race, I think IndyCar should move the race to Montreal where a open Labor Day date and crowd await.

  5. I actually enjoyed the race yesterday. Sure, it wasn’t as action packed as some previous editions but there was definately passing going on throughout the field, and an exciting finish. Hard to ask for more than that. What strikes me about the past few weeks has been the lack of yellows. I think it speaks to the quality of the field that we aren’t seeing the boneheaded kamikaze moves of prior years.

    I liked the non-call of the Rahal bump and run by race control. And while I appreciated the wild finish, seeing the big chunk of wing assembly lying in the middle of the track after Rahal clipped Aleshin , I have to admit I was getting a little sick to my stomach thinking about the risk of someone hitting that debris. I’m not a fan of Nascarlike “debris cautions”, but in a year when everyone is talking about driver protection, and enclosed cockpits I really do question the wisdom of not throwing a yellow at that point to clear the chunks of carbon fiber off of the track.

    • Mike Silver Says:

      I had a good view of the debris and it was in a dangerous place. TV probably didn’t show it but a driver hit a piece of it and it flew in the air while another car was approaching. Very frightening. Yellow should have been called

  6. I did not enjoy the race very much. There was a brief bout of excitement between Rahal and Pagenaud but other than that it was just a very quick, caution free Penske Parade. Rahal’s wing coming off ruined the race for me. While I don’t want to see fake cautions, the caution free races in Indycar seem to be a symptom of the fact that nothing interesting is happening on track so there’s no opportunity to do things which might bring out a caution.

    Indycar in 2016 seems more like Formula One than Indycar. I guess some people enjoy that, but I’ve been disappointed by every race this year. There’s not a lot of action on track and Penske and Ganassi seem almost unbeatable. Maybe some people enjoy that, but I’m so bored with Penske and Ganassi winning everything. I used to make an effort to watch qualifying online, but since Penske and Ganassi have won almost every pole since 2015 I’ve tuned out because it is pointless.

    • There was a period of time with the previous car, too, when only the “Red Cars” won. It is not surprising that the DW-12 has now reached this stage of setup development throughout the field. But as happened with the previous car, the small teams will catch up to the big two again. Maybe not quite during this season, though. And I wouldn’t count out other teams winning races this year just yet.

  7. SkipinSC Says:

    I guess it’s time for me to join the chorus pleading for the end of the aero kits. What was supposed to ADD excitement and identification to the series has had exactly the REVERSE effect. At least with the original DW12, we had exciting racing (although some would claim it was “too exciting” as at Fontana last year.)

    With new speed records at IMS completely off the table, I guess you could say that my anticipation of May at Indy has diminished somewhat.

    • Olderfan Says:

      Correct me if I am wrong, but last year at Fontana wasn’t run using the original DW-12.

      So if that race was exceptionally exciting, was it BECAUSE of the aero kits?

  8. billytheskink Says:

    Great race? Probably not. Good race? I find it hard to say any race where the outcome is very much in doubt in the closing laps is not “good”. Any race that lacks cautions and restarts is going to struggle to keep cars close together, so the fact that there was a battle for the lead late in such a race is notable. Granted, my rooting interest was fighting for the lead and ultimately finished second, so my opinion of this race is a bit biased.

    I was at a race on Saturday night where the only pass for the lead occurred because the leader cut a tire with less than 10 laps to go. Was that a bad race? I didn’t think so, because the outcome was thrown into doubt in the closing laps by the cut tire and a subsequent restart. Again though, my rooting interest in that one also finished second (good weekend for Joey Saldana), so I’m probably biased here as well.

    I felt bad for Hawksworth, who really had no where to go during the Rahal-Pagenaud battle before Rahal clipped him. He had a much better opportunity to let both cars by on the prior lap, but I expect it is hard to judge that in the car on a road course. Oh what could have been, but that’s racing sometimes.

  9. Road and street races are like soccer … you gotta stay with the whole thing or you’ll miss the moments of excitement within the 90-minute game. Barber was a 0-0 soccer game until the last 10% when one team started spanking shots off the crossbar. Thank God for lapped traffic. AND, like a soccer game, if fans get those few seconds of excitement that’s enough to declare it a good game/race. I literally fell asleep mid-race, but woke up in time to see Pagenaud make a diving save at the end. Long story short: as long as the sponsor likes it (and it is the Honda corporate picnic, right?) and the IndyCar cactus can survive on the sprinkle of TV ratings, Barber isn’t going anywhere. I agree with others that the races immediately after the DW-12 was introduced were markedly better than the races with the old car. We’re talking 3-2 soccer games instead of 1-0. Just unbunch your underwear … I’m actually a soccer fan, so comparing it to soccer is not a diss.

  10. PS .. who is Sara Evans?

  11. I guess I have to say that I’m sort of shocked by some of the sentiments shared here (and that I wish that we’d be able to link back up in Turn 2 after I abandoned you in the paddock about 30 minutes before the engine start command…sorry about that). I thought this race was pretty magnificent from start to finish, and I’m not even that big of a Pagenaud or Graham fan (I respect both immensely, I just prefer some other guys more).

    My phone battery was down to 30% by the drop of the green, so I couldn’t use the Timing & Scoring app through the race, but through the LED lights on the cars (which I found sometimes lagged real time by a half a lap or more…although the bright green “PP” when the use of push to pass was deployed was extremely cool and informative) and the big screen giving me the running order, plus my ever-present stopwatch (this is where I fully earn my self-given screen name, and folks can feel free to call me names for it, I truly don’t care at this point in my life), I was pretty much riveted to some battle or other all day long. JPM slashing through the field early on was a lot of fun to watch, as were the fluctuating gaps between Pagenaud/Josef/Power/Graham at the front. Watching RHR use 3-4 pushes to pass to get around Marco was entertaining, and validating, once he got around Marco and drove away. Dixon mixing it up in the midfield was an interesting change (and, yes, I personally saw him make several on-track passes). The order jumbling slightly and gaps between cars growing or shrinking during pit stop rotations was fun to watch. And the last 10 laps or so rank among some of the more suspenseful of any race I’ve attended in person (including after Pagenaud got around Graham; new question: “do Power and Josef have time to catch Graham?”). I did do some texting with my buddy Rick during the race, and here’s a sampling:

    (After his first lap spin): “Dixon will probably win this by taking advantage of being stuck in traffic, such that he saves enough fuel to do the race in one stop. And I’ll laugh.”

    (After first round of stops): “JPM jumped Luca”

    “And Marco”

    “And Helio”

    “And Kimball”

    “Going nowhere: Max Chilton”

    “RHR has used 3-4 push to pass to get by Munoz” (this is where it took me another 5 laps to realize it was Marco, due to their nearly identical paint schemes)

    “Graham catching Josef”

    “Bourdais 1.5 seconds per lap faster than Conor and Max”

    “Graham really catching Josef”

    “RHR is a rocket”

    (During second round of stops) “Dixon is taking a step forward”

    “Power has REELED in Pagenaud”

    (As Pagenaud was about to catch Conor, but not quite there yet) “Graham faster than the leaders”

    “Thank you, Conor Daly”

    “JPM and Helio have caught Hinch”

    “JPM just blew by [Hinch]. Helio about to”

    “Hinch is struggling. Backing up toward TK and Kimball”

    “[Power] must have had a slow stop. Josef way closer at pit out”

    “JPM now easily clear in 5th”

    “Dixon in tenth. That’s about as far as he’s getting today.”

    “Graham closing on Pagenaud”

    “Hinch and Helio closing on JPM”

    (Graham gets within 1.5 seconds of Pagenaud) “Oh boy oh boy oh boy”

    (About a lap later) “OOOOOOOHHHHHHH. This is what I just said out loud”

    (After Pagenaud went through the gravel) “This is not over”

    “Graham front wing flapping. Guess there was contact”

    (Over next 3-4 laps, while officials deliberated over Graham penalty) “Swallow the whistle, guys. This is awesome”

    “Oh, Power is closing”

    “This is gonna be hairy”

    “Josef!”

    “Hinch and Dixon stopped at pit out.”

    “3% battery left. That was fun.”

    Moral to the story: if you know where to look at a race, you’ll almost never be bored. I was never anything approaching “bored” for more than a minute or two at any time yesterday. I can’t wait to go back next year.

    • I agree that this was a pretty good race. I’ve missed the rest of the season so far but from the reactions I have read about those and what I saw from the broadcast of the GP of Alabama, I guess this has been the best race of the season up to now.

  12. I was impressed by Montoya, and it was great to see Josef on the podium again. I was surprised we didn’t see much of Will Power on Sunday. Obviously the battle between Simon and Graham was fantastic. Hopefully there will be more passing next month. One thing is for sure; Simon is on a roll right now…

  13. Kevin Schram Says:

    I watched on television and thought it was a good race. I can’t wait to see what George thinks about what Graham said about Conor Daly on the scanner and what Conor said back.

  14. From where I was sitting, this was a terrific race. We sat on the backstretch with a great view of Turn 5, and there was plenty of passing there to keep it interesting. While the leaders didn’t change until the end, there were several gutsy passing moves at Turn 5 through the middle and back of the field. Maybe the cameras missed much of it. I thought it was very exciting.

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