|Ryan Hunter-Reay passes Helio Castroneves on his way to victory last season at Barber.
During the 2014 race season, AutoRacing1.com columnist Brian Carroccio is previewing all Formula 1 and IndyCar races. Below, is Brian's preview of this weekend's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. Enjoy!
A Few Quick Facts
The 2014 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will be the fifth Verizon IndyCar Series race at the George Barber-built Barber Motorsports Park. The 15 turn, 2.3-mile race course sits on a 740-acre plot of land in Leeds, Alabama, and was designed by world-renowned race course architect Alan Wilson. Other Wilson designs include Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, and NOLA Motorsports Park in Louisiana.
Barber Motorsports Park also features a vintage motorsports museum, which displays over 1200 vintage motorcycles.
Who runs well at Barber?
There are three previous winners in the four IndyCar races at Barber. Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves won the inaugural event in 2010, with teammate Will Power winning in 2011 and 2012. Ryan Hunter-Reay is the defending champion, having won from pole last year. Castroneves has also finished third the past two seasons, and won pole in 2012. Power was the pole-sitter in 2010 and 2011.
2013 series champion Scott Dixon has finished second all four years. Dario Franchitti finished third in 2010 and 2011. And the five drivers listed above, account for all podium finishes at Barber. As for teams, only Andretti Autosport, Team Penske and Ganassi have even placed a car on the podium.
Is there anyone else who has excelled at Barber?
Marco Andretti finished fourth in 2011, and fifth in 2010, and has qualified in the top-10 three of four years at Barber.
Graham Rahal finished fourth in 2012, with Charlie Kimball was fourth last year. Oriol Servia came home fifth in 2011, and Simon Pagenaud did the same in 2012.
Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner Mike Conway has an impressive qualifying record at Barber, starting second in 2010 and fourth in 2012. However, Conway’s best finish was 7th in 2012.
Is there anyone with a particularly unexceptional record at Barber?
Takuma Sato has a best finish of 14th in four starts, while Sebastian Saavedra has managed no better than 20th in 2 races.
KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais has never qualified better than 17th in three Barber starts.
How important is qualifying at Barber?
Power did win from the ninth starting spot in 2012. Hunter-Reay won from pole last year, Power from pole in 2011. Castroneves won from the third grid position in 2010.
Passing is difficult at Barber, and starting up front is paramount.
Are there any potential sleepers this weekend?
I’m not entirely comfortable calling a 31-time Indy car race winner a sleeper. However, you might remember that with the woeful Lotus engine, Bourdais drove from 17th starting position to ninth two years ago. Also, his strong qualifying form at Long Beach provides encouragement that the calculating French ace may soon again be back in victory lane.
And although he doesn’t have the most sterling record at Barber, we saw in Long Beach that Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing’s Josef Newgarden is poised for a breakout win soon.
So, who wins Sunday?
After Chevy sweeping the opening two rounds, I’m tempted to go with a Honda team. That makes Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud and Newgarden appealing candidates.
Conway, who was as fast as anyone on race day at both St. Pete and Long Beach, has started up front at Barber before. Plus, the Englishman is in an enviable place right now, driving confident and carefree, unburdened by the concern of an overall championship.
Also, Power, the series championship leader, is always fast at Barber.
Still, if I have to choose, I’m going with Bourdais. The four-time Champ Car champion has been chomping at the bit for a couple years now to get back to victory lane in an IndyCar. And after the speed he and KVSH Racing showed at Long Beach, I’m thinking Sunday might just be the day.
Brian Carroccio is a columnist for AutoRacing1. He can be contacted at BrianC@AutoRacing1.com.