Random Thoughts On Barber
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.
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.