Barber Preview

As you read this, I will be on my way to Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama – just east of Birmingham – for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Susan and I will have two cars in Alabama this weekend. She has been in Arkansas all week for work. Her flight gets into Nashville at 12:40 this afternoon. Rather than miss a day of track activity, I am headed there this morning and she will get to the track very late this afternoon.

This is one of my favorite tracks on the IndyCar schedule. IMS is obviously at the top, but tracks like Barber and Road America offer up a charm and personality that is all their own. People love to laugh about Barber always being described as a “beautiful facility”. There’s a reason people say that – it is.

I am not a golfer and I’ve never been to Augusta National for The Masters. But it is one of the few golf tournaments I’ll make a point to watch some of each year. From what I can tell on television, Barber Motorsports Park is about as close to Augusta National as a race track can be. There are sculptured flowerbeds with tall pines along with dogwoods and azaleas, running throughout the park – and it is a park.

Don’t forget the unique, and sometimes strange, metal sculptures that can be found in various places around the track. There is a giant spider found just inside Turn Five, giving that part of the track the name Charlotte’s Web. There are giant ants and my favorite – the giant bug eating a motorcycle rider in the woods, visible from the tram ride that encircles the park. Remember the IndyCar trophy they had for one year featuring the naked guy on the unicycle? That was inspired by the much larger statues just outside the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum.

Speaking of the museum, if you are ever in this area at any time of year – you owe it to yourself to go to the museum that is onsite. I’m not much of a motorcycle guy, but they have other items besides motorcycles. For instance, they have what I believe is the world’s largest collection of Lotus race cars. Dan Gurney’s 1963 Indianapolis 500 car is there, along with the sister car of the Lotus 64 that Mario Andretti destroyed in practice in May of 1969. There were three of those cars originally. The other two were withdrawn. One of those two is in the museum with Mario’s No.2 on it. These were the last Lotus Indy cars ever built. Mario went on to use the old Brawner-Hawk and drove it to victory that year.

Going to Barber is always a low-key affair for us. Not only is it beautiful, it is very relaxing there. But don’t take that to mean there is nothing going on. There are cars on track all day, every day this weekend from 8:00 until past 6:00. The Verizon IndyCar Series is the feature attraction, but the other series racing this weekend include Global Mazda MX-5 Cup, Pro Mazda, Porsche GT3, IMSA Prototype Challenge and Indy Lights. Between practice sessions, qualifying sessions and races for all these series, you can see that the track will be very busy this weekend.

This will be the ninth edition of this race. Susan and I have been to every one in the short history of this event. In fact, we also attended the open test that IndyCar held at Barber in 2009, before the first race was even announced. We fell in love with the place then and nothing has changed.

Of the nine races held here, five have been won by Team Penske including the last two. Helio Castroneves won the inaugural event in 2010. His teammate, Will Power, won the next two races at Barber in 2011 and 2012. In 2013 and 2014, Ryan Hunter-Reay made it two in a row for Andretti Autosport. Josef Newgarden won his first career IndyCar race at Barber in 2015, while he was driving for the short-lived Carpenter Fisher Racing (CFR). Simon Pagenaud returned Team Penske to Barber’s victory lane in 2016 and Josef Newgarden won at Barber last year, becoming the only driver to win at Barber driving for two different teams.

One team that is curiously absent from that list is Chip Ganassi Racing. While they have won four IndyCar championships in that time span, they have never won at Barber. It’s not that they haven’t come close. Dario Franchitti finished third in 2010 and 2011, while driving for Ganassi. Graham Rahal finished fourth at Barber for Ganassi in 2012 and Charlie Kimball finished fourth in 2013.

But Scott Dixon has perhaps one of the best records at any track of any driver that never won. Dixon finished second for four years in a row from 2010 to 2013. He finished third in 2014 and 2015. He had a tenth-place finish in 2016, and back up to second last year.

So that’s the past eight years, but who is going to win the ninth running of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama? It’s hard to bet against Alexander Rossi. He has been on a roll. He has been on every podium this season and drove a near-perfect race last Sunday at Long Beach. I think Rossi would be the safest bet if I were actually betting money here. But there hasn’t been a back-to-back winner in the Verizon IndyCar Series since Josef Newgarden won at Toronto and Mid-Ohio last season on his way to a championship.

Josef Newgarden would be a good bet also. He has won two of the last three races at Barber and has already won this season.

But I’m going to go against history. I think Scott Dixon is going to win Sunday’s race at Barber Motorsports Park. Not only is he way overdue to win here, but he was mad at his crew on Sunday over their decision to leave him out too long before his final pit stop. Some drivers allow such frustrations to disrupt their racing. Others use it as a form of extra motivation. I put Scott Dixon in the latter category. An extra-motivated Scott Dixon may not fare well for the rest of the field. He will win the first race at Barber for himself and his team on Sunday.

I should be arriving at the track around 9:30 or 10:00 this morning. As usual, I will be posting at various times throughout each day during the weekend. For more instantaneous comments or photos, you can follow me on Twitter at @Oilpressureblog or Susan at @MrsOilpressure. I’ll be solo for most of the day today, until Susan arrives at the track late this afternoon. The first IndyCar practice will be at 11:15 to 12:00 (CDT) and the afternoon practice today will be from 2:50 to 3:50. Please check back often today.

George Phillips

2 Responses to “Barber Preview”

  1. I think Dixon is a strong choice. I’m looking forward to seeing how RHR will do, also, as he was so strong there a few years ago. Now that the Andretti team looks like it is returning to form, I hope he’ll be back at the front again. I have both of them on my fantasy team.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    The Indycar trophy with the naked guy on the unicycle has come around from being kind of embarrassing to very funny for me. I think I still have an old sketchpad somewhere where I drew Johnny Hart being mad that the trophy ripped off his B.C. comic strip.

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