RLL: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Pre-Race Notes
The 2013 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will mark the second IndyCar Series race for the team at Barber Motorsports Park (BMP). Last year the team prepared an entry for Takuma Sato here. He set the third fastest lap time in Friday’s first practice at BMP and was fastest in the wet second session but traffic limited his qualifying performance on Saturday to 16th. In the race he passed Newgarden, Barrichello, Hunter-Reay and Andretti for 12th place on red alternate tires but struggled on primary tires and ultimately retired in 24th place due to mechanical failure after 52/90 laps. For 2013, RLLR has entered the No. 15 Midas / Big O Tires car for Graham Rahal and the No. 16 Acorn Stairlifts car for James Jakes to bring the team’s total to three entries for this event and will attempt to break the stronghold Team Penske has on this event. In the three IndyCar events held here since 2010, Team Penske drivers have won pole and the race each year.
PRE-SEASON OPEN TEST AT BMP
The series held an Open Test at Barber Motorsports Park March 12-13 and 27 of the 28 car/driver combinations recorded laps faster than the track record and the top 16 cars were separated by a second. Graham Rahal was scheduled to run both days of the test but a fuel supply issue on the second day limited his lap total to 16 that day and a total of 70 for the two days. Mike Conway tested the No. 16 car on Tuesday and James Jakes took over on Wednesday. Jakes set the ninth fastest time in the final practice session and was ranked 11th overall. That data, plus information gained during the St. Petersburg season-opener has both Rahal and Jakes optimistic for a competitive run at BMP.
DESPITE LIMITED LAPS AT THE OPEN TEST, GRAHAM IS POSTITIVE OF A COMPETITIVE RETURN
The 2013 race at BMP will mark Graham’s fourth here. He qualified eighth last year, led one lap and finished fourth with Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing (SCCGR). The previous season he qualified 10th and finished 18th in 2011 with SCCGR. In 2010 he qualified 15th and finished 17th for Sarah Fisher Racing. Despite limited test miles at BMP in March, he is optimistic about the weekend about positive gains in St. Pete.
“James (Jakes) and Mike (Conway) had really good tests at Barber so while we certainly didn’t have the speed nor the amount of laps that we wanted, I think we found some things at St. Petersburg and came together as a team setup-wise there that will really help us at Barber. They are two totally different types of tracks but I really, firmly believe this is something that is going to help us down the road; I feel really positive about that. With (race engineer) Gerry and (Jakes’ race engineer) Eddie combined, I think that James and I will both have really good weekends. I feel really good after our performance in St. Pete in the race. Even without a high pressure fuel pump and having electrical issues, for us to maintain the leaders pace, it felt pretty good so I have pretty high hopes for the Midas / Big O Tires team for the rest of this year.”
JAMES IS LOOKING FORWARD TO RETURNING TO BMP AFTER A GOOD TEST HERE IN MARCH
Jakes will make his third start at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. While with Dale Coyne Racing, he qualified 20th and finished 16th in 2012 and qualified and retired in 25th place in 2011 due to mechanical failure. His pace at the test in March bodes well for a competitive weekend at BMP.
“It was a good test. Not having driven for a while, it was nice just to get back in the car and take things step-by-step. Generally we have a good car at Barber and I am excited to get back there this weekend to see where we stand. I think we did a great job of developing the car over the two days and I was just getting used to the team. I am really excited to get back out there.”
GRAHAM RECALLS HIS COMPETITIVE RUN HERE LAST YEAR
“It was a great weekend; really smooth,” said Rahal of his experience here last year that netted a fourth place finish. “The car felt great in qualifying. I thought we really had a chance to make it into the top-six (in qualifying) but unfortunately Ryan Hunter-Reay crashed early on in qualifying and therefore we didn’t get any laps in but we started reasonably close to the front end of the grid, we passed some guys and made our way up to the front and damn near had a podium. Helio (Castroneves) and I were fighting in the end and he was blocking me like crazy, which is now legal, so at the end of the day we didn’t quite get the podium result we wanted but I felt really good about the car and now I know what it takes there to have some success so that’s what we are going to be looking to do this year.”
GRAHAM ON WHY THE HONDA INDY GP OF ALABAMA IS ONE OF HIS FAVORITE EVENTS
“Barber Motorsports Park is one of my favorites of the year because it’s a beautiful place to go race. The track is great, the people are really friendly and the food is always good. It’s a beautiful part of this country and with the track being hidden up in the hillside, it’s pretty cool. I have always enjoyed that and after having some success last year, I look forward to getting back there.”
RAHAL AND JAKES ON THEIR FAVORITE -- AND HARDEST -- PARTS OF BMP
“My favorite part is the back section of the track and it is extremely tricky,” said Rahal. “There are a lot of really high-speed, high (G-force) load, very physical corners and that is difficult. It’s very easy to make a mistake. I would say that not only is it my favorite, but it’s probably the hardest part of the track.”
“My favorite part of the course is the first corner after the Start/Finish; the quick left hander and the long right down the hill,” added Jakes. “That start of the lap is really key -- especially coming out of Turn 2 -- to getting a good exit down to the hairpin, especially in the race when you have a chance to overtake. I think the hardest part of the track is probably the quick chicane in the back and over the crest. It’s another area that you have to make sure you pull it together to get the maximum out of the lap time.”
GRAHAM’S REPORT CARD FOR THE PERFORMANCE AT ST. PETERSBURG
“We are working on unloading a better car when we show up at the track. And what we found in St. Pete is really going to help us do that for the reminder of the road and street courses this year. The guys did a phenomenal job at St. Pete, making a lot of really big changes. There was a lot thrown at them to try to improve the car in a short period of time and I think that now, with where we are going to begin, I feel we will be much more competitive from the start. I was really pleased with the way the entire team is operating. I have never felt a team as close as this one is in terms of personalities within and the way everyone is gelling together. For something that has come together in the past few months, and with staff that was added recently too, it’s impressive and I am very proud of everyone. They are doing a great job.”
JAKES ON AREAS HE IS FOCUSED ON FOR IMPROVEMENT
“Improvement wise, we just need to make sure everyone is working together as well as possible and everything is working in the pit stops and our stops are great. Obviously it’s a new bunch of guys working together and it is going to take a little bit of time to gel. Everyone is very encouraged and hopeful of doing a great job this year so it should be great for the Acorn Stairlifts team.”
JAKES ON THE LEVEL OF COMPETITION IN ST. PETE AND THE SEASON AHEAD
“I think the closeness of the field and the fact that Firestone slightly adjusting the tire compounds will make the racing even more exciting this year. No one knows what they have to work with at the moment and it will take a few races to determine that -- especially switching back and forth from street and road course. Once we get a bit further into the season, people will have a better idea but as of now there is a little bit of uncertainty especially towards the tire compound and that should keep things interesting.”
JAKES AND RAHAL ON ANY SURPRISES AT ST. PETE
“Tristan (Vautier) was probably the only one who surprised me,” said Jakes. “He was kind of the lead Honda at the time and I don’t think anyone expected that. As for who could have a breakout year, outside of us, I would say Tristan.”
“(James) Hinchcliffe getting his first win was not a surprise to me,” added Rahal. “I think Andretti and Penske have the best cars right now and they seem to be there again this year. James was bound to win eventually. I think it will be the same guys fighting for it this year. I think (Ryan) Hunter-Reay is going to have a great year, he didn’t have the start to the year he was looking for but neither did Dario (Franchitti), (Scott) Dixon or (Will) Power and I think we are right there. To be honest, we passed Dario and were quicker than Dixie (Dixon) and in many parts of the race we were as quick as the leader and we didn’t have full horsepower so I feel pretty good about where we stand as a team and I think we have a lot of potential going forward.”