IndyCar official impressed with "gorgeous" Barber track
The three-day IndyCar Series test that begins Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park is more than just a final chance for teams to tune up their road course programs before the start of the season.
It's an audition of sorts for the track itself, which is hoping to secure a spot on the Indy Racing League's 2010 schedule.
Terry Angstadt, president of IndyCar's commercial division, said the track near Leeds built by George Barber "is a gorgeous facility, a first-class operation." But there are still a few questions to be answered before an Indy race can come to Birmingham.
He said one of the reasons for choosing Barber as one of two preseason test sites is to answer those questions.
"The only slight concern we have," Angstadt said, "is how the track handles it when we have 15, 20, 22 Indy cars out there at speed."
Barber hosted an Indy test in September 2007, but that was a limited session with just a few teams. This weekend's session is with the full field as well as the Firestone Indy Lights Series, the IRL's minor league.
Angstadt doesn't see much of a problem with the track.
"We're very impressed with not only the facility but the people behind it," he said. "When there's a motivated group that wants to host you, that helps a lot."
Another boost to Barber's chances, he said, is the presence just a few miles to the east of Honda's assembly facility. Honda supplies engines for Indy cars.
Geography would also be a boost, he said. A Barber race would be Indy's only event in the Southeast since Nashville was dropped last year. The closest Indy races now are in Richmond, Texas and St. Petersburg.
Angstadt said a lack of grandstands at Barber is "not as critical" as other issues. Most fans at Barber, like many road courses, watch the racing spread out among the grassy hills that ring the track.
More critical, he said, would be adjustments that might have to be made to pit road or safety upgrades in the turns. Barber promoters have said such changes could be easily handled.
The bigger issue might well be something out of Barber's control - finding a spot on the calendar to give to the track.
Indy is racing a 17-event schedule this year after the Detroit Grand Prix dropped out, but it normally runs 18 races a year. That could expand some but not by much.
"Eighteen is a good number, maybe 19," Angstadt said.
One thing that doesn't worry Indy officials, he said, is racing in the heart of NASCAR country. The series would not depend on persuading NASCAR fans to come out and try open-wheel racing.
"I think we do attract a different crowd," he said, adding that a typical race draws fans from three hours away. "I don't necessarily think there are tons of crossover fans."
Angstadt declined to characterize Barber's chances of making the 2010 schedule. But if the track doesn't get an Indy race next year it won't be for lack of making a good impression.
"We sure like everything we've seen," Angstadt said. AL.com