INDYCAR: Barber Motorsports Park Review

Will Power pushes his red tires hard
Scott Morris/

INDYCAR’s visit to Barber Motorsports Park was chock full of revealing incidents. Here are a few of them:

Half the field complained of severe understeer, with many teams switching to used “red" tires to compensate. That tells us a lot of things.

First, these tires aren't wearing out. I can tell you from experience that racing tires generally last much longer than fans think. Tire changes are as much about advertising and selling tires to race teams as they are gaining speed on the track.

Secondly, scrubbed reds are better than fresh blacks. Otherwise teams wouldn't be switching back to them halfway through the race.

And thirdly, using stickier tires to compensate for a car that won't dial in means that the DW12 must push like a freaking snow plow. That's the oldest and most desperate trick in the book. It basically means that the crew has given up on actually making the chassis work and is instead simply trying any band-aid they can find to fake their way through the rest of the race.

Many of the teams that didn't switch back to reds were using more front wing to pin the nose down in the corners. That's just as bad. They're using aerodynamic downforce to compensate for a chassis that won't work. And when the polesitter and winner of the first race (Helio Castroneves) is doing it, you know it's an issue.

On the bright side, this may be the best thing that could happen. It makes the cars more difficult to drive and the race more unpredictable. The DW12 snaps into an oversteer on corner exit. That makes them fun to watch and puts more of the outcome in the hands of the driver. You can visibly watch the cars slide all over the track. That's good for the series. Really good.

The quick times being set by the DW12 on road courses are not simply because the new chassis is superior; it's also because nearly everyone in the field is now braking with their left foot. This is because the new car has a hand-clutch attached to the steering wheel rather than a traditional foot-operated clutch, freeing up the driver's feet and eliminating the age-old issue of having two feet to operate three pedals simultaneously.

I experimented with left-foot braking years ago in Atlantics and Formula Fords… partly because I was looking for better lap times and partly because I've never been the best heel-and-toe driver (I actually heel-and-toe backwards, believe it or not).

Left foot braking allowed me to stay on the throttle for nearly a tenth of second longer in every corner. On a 15-turn course, that can knock nearly 1.5 second off your lap times. That's a mighty big difference in speed. Since learning that, I've braked with both feet in various corners on every track. If the corner requires a gear change, I'll heel-and-toe. If not, I brake left-footed. Yeah, I'm weird.

So keep that in mind when IndyCar is advertising the DW12's record lap times. The hand clutch goes a long way toward making those hot laps possible.

Here are some other random thoughts while wondering just how awesome this year's Indy 500 will really be…

  • I'm a fan of this broadcast crew, and Bob Jenkins in particular. Jenkins is one of the best in the business. He is easy to listen to, informative, and keeps the broadcast on course.
  • Mike Conway may be good enough to make A. J. Foyt Racing relevant again.
  • J. R. Hildebrand needed an injection for pain in his upper vertebrae just before the race. Show me someone who says that racing drivers aren't athletes and I'll show you a couch potato who's never driven a car in anger.
  • INDYCAR’s top man, Randy Bernard, says he wants to create more “passing zones" at Barber. News flash: the whole track is a passing zone. Get the cars right and the track will take care of itself.
  • Motorsports journalist Robin Miller is a cool guy and a great writer, but he should avoid criticizing ESPN's on-air talent as he did on SPEED tonight. Robin had a tough moment of his own and dropped the ball badly during today's Barber race, but I don't see anyone calling him out on it. Hey, we all do it from time to time. And a lot of folks still haven't forgiven him for his vicious attacks on Jack Miller in the IRL days. Let it go, Robin.
  • After retiring with engine problems, Alex Tagliani was desperately looking for ways to avoid saying “My Lotus went off like a hand grenade." Lotus stablemate Katherine Legge was so slow that she spun after picking up debris on her tires from driving off-line while being passed. I feel bad for Katherine. Anyone who watched her in Champ Car knows she can drive and the mess she's in now is not of her own making. She had no testing because the team had no engines available in the preseason. Lotus now has 4 remaining engines to service their 5 teams. But I still believe they're up to the task. Don't give u on them. Hang in there, guys.
  • Super Studs of the Day: Marco Andretti, Oriol Servia and Sebastian Bourdais. Servia went from dead last to 13th while Bourdais started 17th and finished 9th. That was real, measurable progress for Lotus. Marco drove like a guy whose last name is “Andretti."
  • Rumor has it IndyCar may no longer automatically close pit road when a caution comes out. Thank goodness someone is finally doing away with the dumbest rule in auto racing. Note to IndyCar: The pits belong to the teams. They aren't yours to close.
  • Here's hoping the federal prosecutors and IRS agents who tried to destroy Helio's career a couple years ago will get what is coming to them in this life or the next. Robbing people and then calling it “the law" doesn't make it right.
  • Barber Motorsports Park is really beautiful. A few more trees and another hill and you've got a North American version of Spa-Francorchamps. Kudos to the builders and grounds keepers.
  • Watching Rubens Barrichello, Marco Andretti and Sebastian Bourdais duke it out in the final ten laps was worth the price of admission. Top that, NASCAR.

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