By the time you read this, one of us will be well on our way to Barber Motorsports Park for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. I say one of us, but I guess I should say I’ll be on my way. Susan has some work to do and will be driving down to Birmingham later today. In order to not have two cars to deal with for the weekend, I am riding down early this morning with my One Take Only cohort, John McLallen; who is driving down for the day to watch practice with his son Jack.
With John down here, we may (notice I said “may”) record a trackside episode of One Take Only today and post it here sometime this weekend. That should give you something to dread and try to avoid over the weekend.
We had to wait four weeks between the first and second race of the season. That’s been cut in half between the second and third. After this week’s race at Barber, the Verizon IndyCar Series heads straight to Phoenix for a race next Saturday night. That will be three races over four weekends, so the season is undoubtedly in full swing now.
After two races, it seems that the resurgence of Honda and the lack of wins among the top-three teams is what everyone is talking about. Dale Coyne Racing won at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports took the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The big question heading into the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is will this trend continue or will normalcy return to the series?
Of course, the other big topic is still the news that Fernando Alonso will forego the Grand Prix of Monaco in order to run this year’s Indianapolis 500. Interest in that topic will probably grow this weekend, since Alonso will be on the grounds at Baber Motorsports Park Saturday. He will be in the Andretti Autosport pits and garage this weekend getting familiar with his team and the way things are done in the series.
It’s hard to believe, but this is the eighth Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Susan and I have been here for every one of them. Those that have never been here will joke about the “beautiful facility” references that we make, but once you’ve been here to see it for yourself – you know we aren’t just making conversation. If you saw any of The Masters a couple of weekends ago, Barber Motorsports Park is not too far away from having its grounds manicured almost as meticulously as Augusta National. But instead of a golf course sitting amongst the dogwoods and azaleas, it’s a 2.3 mile road course.
I’ve been to many IndyCar venues over the years and Barber Motorsports Park is one of my all-time favorites. First of all, they do things right. Everything at the facility is first class. The fan village across the track offers anything you would want if you were a new race fan and wanted to know more about the sport. There are trams running at all times around the track, giving fans free access to any vantage point or attraction they might want.
The concessions are good and varied with enough spots that there are rarely any lines to speak of. And there is the art work that randomly appears at obscure places either right next to the track or somewhere on the grounds. From morning until late in the day, there is rarely a time when there is not some type of race cars on the track either practicing, qualifying or racing.
Then there is the museum on the grounds. Whenever IMS decides they have outgrown the Hall of Fame Museum, they should take a few cues from the Barber Museum. I’m not sure how many stories tall it is, but it’s huge. They have also made use of every inch of space, mounting cars and motorcycles on the wall and suspending them in the air. If you are ever at this race or even passing through Birmingham at any time of year, you need to make a point to stop in and visit.
One thing I really like about Barber (other than the fact it is the closest race to Nashville) is how laid back it is. The Month of May is exhilarating, but it can be very hectic no matter what weekend you are there. Barber has a different feel. It’s hard to describe, but it’s just …different.
And don’t fall into the trap of thinking these are NASCAR fans that just came over from Talladega for the weekend. You would be mistaken. The folks that come to the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama are savvy open-wheel and road racing fans. They know all about IndyCar past and present.
As far as this year’s race goes, I think everything is wide open. Since Chevy returned to the sport in 2012, Honda has only won this race once – when Ryan Hunter-Reay won his second in a row in 2014 (remember in 2013, Andretti Autosport was still a Chevy team). Other than that, it has been pretty well dominated by Chevy. Only once has one of the big-three teams not won this race. That was in 2015 when Josef Newgarden won for CFH Racing.
Oddly enough, Chip Ganassi Racing has never won at Barber, although Scott Dixon has finished on the podium in six of the first seven races here. He finished second in his first four Barber races and third in the next two. Last year’s tenth place finish was Scott Dixon’s only non-podium finish since this race started in 2010.
The weather for the race is looking better than it was earlier in the week. It looks like today and tomorrow will be in the mid-eighties with some partial overcast. Severe storms are scheduled to rumble through the area Saturday night, but are supposed to clear out by sunrise Sunday morning. The bad news is that the parking lot will be an absolute quagmire and the grounds will be soggy. The good news is that the temperature is supposed to drop considerably on Sunday – with a predicted high of only 65°. That should make for some interesting conditions since no one will have run in cooler temperatures all weekend.
So who am I picking to win this year’s race? Based on the past two races, I should be picking our points leader, Sébastien Bourdais – but I’m not. While I think Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing will have an excellent season, I don’t think they will excel at Barber. That’s based on more of a gut feeling than anything else. I’m torn between going with Josef Newgarden getting his first win for Roger Penske, or Scott Dixon finally breaking through to reach the top spot of the Barber podium. Whoever I pick will have their race ruined. My picks for the first two races this season have not even sniffed the podium. My heart says Newgarden, but my head says Dixon. I think I’ll go with logic and say that Scott Dixon will be the winner on Sunday.
As usual on race weekends that we attend in person, there will be multiple posts here throughout the day, every day. Susan will have a couple of posts showing her perspective. Plus, there’s also the threat of the possibility of a One Take Only on here at some point this weekend. Please check back here often throughout the day. As usual, follow me on Twitter at @Oilpressureblog or Susan at @MrsOilpressure for instantaneous photos, comments and more. I’ll have a post up here shortly after we arrive at the track. See you then.