Thursday, April 21, 2016

Track Walk: Barber 2016

IndyCar heads to Barber Motorsports Park for the seventh Grand Prix of Alabama
IndyCar is at the quarter post of the 2016 season and the fourth race of the championship is the Grand Prix of Alabama from Barber Motorsports Park. After the blend line snafu at Long Beach, Simon Pagenaud enters fresh off his first victory with Team Penske and the Frenchman has built his championship lead to 14 points over Scott Dixon. Juan Pablo Montoya is the only other driver with over 100 points through three races and trails his Penske teammate by 28 points. Hélio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan round out the top five in the championship. There have been three different winners through the first three races of 2016. The last two seasons have seen four different winners in the first four races and there were five different winners in the first five races last year.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 24th. Green flag at 3:38 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Rick Allen, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Kate Hargritt and Robin Miller will work the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 12:00-1:45 p.m. ET (75 minutes). NBCSN will have live coverage of this session.
Second Practice- 4:00-5:15 p.m. ET (75 minutes)
Third Practice- 12:00-12:45 p.m. ET (45 minutes).
Qualifying- 4:00 p.m. ET. NBCSN will have live coverage of this session.
Warm-up- 11:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. ET (30 minutes).
Race- 3:38 p.m. ET (90 laps).

Can Scott Dixon Find The Top Step?
Only one driver has been on the podium in every Barber race but that driver has yet to ascend to the top step. Scott Dixon is six-for-six in terms of podiums at Barber Motorsports Park but Dixon is not one of the four drivers to have won at the track.

The New Zealander has actually regressed in the last two seasons. After four consecutive runner-up finishes from 2010 to 2013, Dixon has finished third in the last two Barber races. Dixon's consistency on the podium is matched on the starting grid. He has started third twice, fourth twice and fifth twice at Barber. He is one of five drivers to have completed every lap at Barber along with two-time Barber winner Will Power, another two-time Barber winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, winner of the inaugural Grand Prix of Alabama Hélio Castroneves and Marco Andretti, who has finished on the podium twice at Barber and has five top tens in six starts with his worst finish being 11th.

Dixon finished second in the 2010 race by just over a half of a second to Castroneves after a late restart put him into contention for the victory. In 2011, Dixon finished second but was no match to Power, who led all 90 laps from pole position. Arguably Dixon's best chance at victory came in 2012 where he led 32 of 90 laps but was beat by Power, who started ninth and used a mix of on-track passes and pit strategy to get to the front. In 2013, Dixon challenged Hunter-Reay but could not catch and overtake the American and finished just over six-tenths back in second. Dixon was running second to Josef Newgarden late in last year's race but a hard charging Graham Rahal on fresh tires passed Dixon, dropping him to third while Rahal ran out of laps and finished second to Newgarden by 2.2 seconds. Outside of the 2012 race, Dixon has only led three laps at Barber.

Who Can Enter the Month of May on a Strong Note?
Juan Pablo Montoya won last year's Indianapolis 500 and his 2016 results through three races are similar to his results through three races in 2015. Montoya's victory at St. Petersburg was followed by a ninth and Phoenix and a fourth at Long Beach. Last year, Montoya finished fifth at NOLA and third at Long Beach after he won St. Petersburg. His first two starts at Barber have been marred by a trip into the kitty litter in 2014 and a flat tire last year. He finished 21st in 2014 and 14th last year. He did lead a lap in last year's race.

Tony Kanaan is one of four drivers with top tens in each of the first three races this year but is the only one of the four not in the top four of the championship. Currently fifth, 50 points back, Kanaan has finished ninth at St. Petersburg, fourth at Phoenix and sixth at Long Beach. He has never started nor finished in the top five at Barber. He has started sixth twice and finished sixth in 2011. Kanaan has also finished eighth and ninth. Kanaan has completed all but one lap at Barber.

Takuma Sato enters Barber coming off a fifth place finish at Long Beach and he finished sixth at St. Petersburg with his 15th at Phoenix being the one blemish on Sato's record this year. He has been one of the quickest Hondas at both street circuits this season. Sato is one of eight drivers to have started every Barber race and he is the only one to never finish in the top ten. His best finish was 13th in 2014. He started sixth in the inaugural Barber race but his next best start at the track is 11th.

Last year, Graham Rahal charged from eighth to finish second to Josef Newgarden. Outside of that second and a fourth in 2012 (ironically from eighth on the grid), Rahal has never finished in the top fifteen at Barber. His average starting position at Barber 13.2 and his average finish is 13.3. While Rahal is ninth in the championship, his lone top five was a fifth at Phoenix with a 16th and 15th at the two street circuits.

Charlie Kimball rounds out the top ten in championship and has been consistent this season. After a tenth and 12th at St. Petersburg and Phoenix, Kimball finished 11th at Long Beach, a career best for him in that event. Barber has been one of Kimball's better tracks. He finished fourth there in 2013 and finished tenth in 2011 and 2014. He finished 12th last year at Barber. Kimball also finished second in his only Indy Lights start at Barber in 2010 to JK Vernay.

Mikhail Aleshin finished fifth in the St. Petersburg season opener but in the last two races Aleshin has been down in the order. At Phoenix, the Russian finished 17th after a spin entering the pit lane under caution took him out of contention for a top ten. At Long Beach, Aleshin started and finished 16th. In Alehsin's lone Barber appearance, he spun in turn after contact with Sébastien Bourdais and then has his race end with an accident four laps from the finish.

Who Needs to Enter the Month of May on a Strong Note?
With the month of May approaching, drivers are running out chances for a good finish before heading to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Through the first three IndyCar, eleven full-time drivers have yet to finish in the top five and five have yet to finish in the top ten.

Thirty-nine of the last fifty Indianapolis 500 winners have had at least one top ten finish entering that season's Indianapolis 500 and thirty-six of those had at least one top five finish. Sixteen of the last fifty Indianapolis 500 winners had already won a race that season, including the last two Indianapolis 500 winners.

Off the 11 Indianapolis 500 winners who failed to score a top ten before their Memorial Day weekend triumph, three had yet to make a start that season. Graham Hill won the 1966 race on his IndyCar debut while the story of Al Unser winning in a year-old car in 1987 is fresh in our mind and we all know about Dan Wheldon's dramatic victory in 2011.

The last eight Indianapolis 500 winners who had failed to have a top ten finish entering the race were Mark Donohue, Tom Sneva, Rick Mears in 1984, Bobby Rahal, Buddy Lazier, Arie Luyendyk, Eddie Cheever and Kenny Bräck.

Josef Newgarden enters Barber off consecutive top tens for the second consecutive season. He finished sixth at Phoenix and tenth at Long Beach but has yet to really take it to the top teams through the first three races.

Top rookie Max Chilton had an impressive seventh at Phoenix but has been in the back half of the field in both street circuit races. He qualified seventh for last year's Freedom 100 but a mechanical failure prevented him from starting the race. Phoenix is the largest oval he has raced on.

After failing to finish in the top ten in four consecutive races dating back to last season, Sébastien Bourdais has consecutive top ten finishes. Last year, Bourdais entered the Indianapolis 500 with three consecutive top tens and finished 11th in the race.

Carlos Muñoz's eighth place finish at St. Petersburg has been marred by the contact he made with Graham Rahal that ruined Rahal's and a handful of other drivers' races. While Muñoz was handed a drive through penalty, he still managed a top ten. However, an accident at Phoenix and a less stellar 12th at Long Beach have negated the top ten performance from most people's minds.

James Hinchcliffe's eighth at Long Beach was his first since returning to competition. The Canadian entered the 2012 Indianapolis 500 with four consecutive top tens and when on to finish sixth in that race but outside of 2012, he has never had more than two top tens entering the Indianapolis 500.

The top driver without a top five is Conor Daly, who is two points ahead of Hinchcliffe, 16th in the championship. Daly has finished all three races this year but he has only been able to manage a 13th at both street circuits. He made one start at Barber in Indy Lights. He finished 11th after front wing damage.

Alexander Rossi is ahead of his teammate Marco Andretti by a point in the championship but they are 18th and 19th in the championship table. Both have had top tens slip through their grasps. Rossi lost one at Phoenix while Andretti lost his at St. Petersburg. Neither driver has started in the top ten through the first three races.

Jack Hawksworth just missed out on a top ten at St. Petersburg with an 11th place finish. The British driver has been quick in practice sessions but that speed has not been translated to race pace. Hawksworth won at Barber in Pro Mazda in 2012 and finished second there in Indy Lights in 2013. His best IndyCar finish at Barber is 12th.

Luca Filippi has been oddly consistent. He started 16th in the first two races and finished 20th in the first two races. He improved at Long Beach but continued to be one step forward two steps back, as he started 12th but finished 17th. He finished 11th in his Barber debut last year.

Road to Indy
All three Road to Indy Series return to competition at Barber Motorsports Park. Barber is the site of races four and five for Indy Lights. Pro Mazda and U.S. F2000 last competed at St. Petersburg and each series will run its third and fourth races of 2016.

Kyle Kaiser took the Indy Lights championship lead with his first career victory at Phoenix. The Californian has 81 points and is 18 points clear of St. Petersburg 1 winner Félix Serrallés. Kaiser looks to duplicate the performance of his former Juncos Racing teammate Spencer Pigot, who swept the Barber races last year. Felix Rosenqvist won St. Petersburg 2 but a 15th at Phoenix has the Swede 28 points behind Kaiser. Ed Jones' second at Phoenix puts him fourth in the championship with 50 points, two ahead of RC Enerson, who finished third at Phoenix.

A point behind Enerson is his teammate André Negrão, who is a point ahead of another Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver, Santiago Urrutia. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has only one victory at Barber and that was the first race in 2010. Andretti Autosport's Dean Stoneman trails Urrutia by a point and is three points clear of former Barber winner Zach Veach. Andretti Autosport leads all teams with three Indy Lights victories at Barber. Scott Hargrove rounds out the top ten with 40 points. The Canadian Hargrove is not scheduled to compete in any races after Barber and he finished second in the first race of the season.

Juan Piedrahita is six points behind his Team Pelfrey teammate Hargrove. Dalton Kellett has 28 points with Neil Alberico on 27 points. Alberico won at Barber last year in Pro Mazda. Zachary Claman DeMelo has 25 points and is one ahead of Shelby Blackstock. Scott Anderson returns with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports after Heamin Choi drove at Phoenix. Anderson scored 20 points at St. Petersburg.

There has not be a lead change in the last seven Indy Lights race at Barber. The only lead change was on lap two of the 2010 race when JK Vernay passed Charlie Kimball. Indy Lights race one from Barber will be at 1:00 p.m. ET on Saturday with race two Sunday at 1:20 p.m. ET.

Pato O'Ward and Aaron Teltiz both had a victory and a second at Pro Mazda's opening weekend from St. Petersburg but the Mexican O'Ward has 59 points to Telitz' 57 points because O'Ward took fastest lap in each race. Team Pelfrey has the top three in the championship as Weiron Tan sits on 39 points. Defending U.S. F2000 champion Nico Jamin is a point behind Tan with his Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing teammate Jake Eidson two points behind Jamin.

Juncos Racing drivers are the next three drivers in the championship. Jake Parsons is on 30 points with Garret Grist two points behind the Australian and Will Owen a point behind the Canadian. Mexican Jorge Cevallos has 26 points with Nicolas Dapero and Bobby Eberle rounding out the championship with 22 points and 20 points respectively.

Pro Mazda will race at 5:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and 12:15 p.m. ET on Sunday from Barber.

Pabst Racing Services swept the U.S. F2000 St. Petersburg races with Jordan Lloyd and Yufeng Luo each winning a race and finishing second. Lloyd has 58 points and leads Luo by two points. Luke Gabin trails his fellow Australian by 22 points in the championship. Robert Megennis is the top American and he is a point behind Gabin. Anthony Martin rounds out the top five with 29 points.

Cape Motorsports teammates Parker Thompson and Nikita Lastochkin are tied on 26 points with Victor Franzoni two points behind them. Jordan Cane finished third in race two after an accident in race one. Cane has 23 points with Ayla Ågren rounding out the top ten with 19 points. Garth Rickards has 16 points. Clint McMahan, Dakota Dickerson, TJ Fischer and Tazio Ottis are all tied on 15 points.

U.S. F2000 will race at 5:30 p.m. ET on Friday and 6:35 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Pirelli World Challenge
Like IndyCar, the Pirelli World Challenge also heads to Barber Motorsports Park fresh off of a weekend at Long Beach.

The GT category enters after a bit of a controversy. Cadillac's Johnny O'Connell won Long Beach on the road but was handed a ten-second penalty for overboost. This promoted K-PAX Racing McLaren's Álvaro Parente to victory, the first for the Portuguese driver in only his fifth start in the series. O'Connell finished second. EFFORT Racing Porsche's Patrick Long finished third at Long Beach with Nissan's James Davison in fourth and CRP Racing Audi's Kyle Marcelli rounding out the top five.

EFFORT Racing's Michael Lewis finished sixth with Acura's Ryan Eversley in seventh. Martin Fuentes won in GT-A with an eighth for Scuderia Corsa Ferrari. Adderly Fong finished ahead of his Bentley teammate Andrew Palmer for the first time in 2016 at Long Beach with Fong in ninth and Palmer in tenth.

Michael Cooper entered Long Beach as the championship leader but his 15th dropped him in the championship standings to third, 51 points behind his Cadillac teammate O'Connell with Lewis 41 points back in second. Parente trails O'Connell by 60 points with Long trailing by 95 points in fifth. Davison is 112 points back in sixth and Marcelli is 127 points back in seventh. Eversley is eighth on 322 points, nine behind Marcelli. Palmer and Thompson round out the top ten on 314 points and 298 points respectively. Fuentes is 11th with 289 points, a point ahead of Bryan Heitkotter. Jon Fogarty withdrew from Long Beach after a practice accident and Bob Stallings Racing hopes to have that McLaren repaired for Barber. He has 259 points and is 14th in the championship.

The GT races will be at 2:45 p.m. ET Saturday and 10:15 a.m. ET Sunday.

After not running at Long Beach, the GTS class will compete at Barber Motorsports Park. Brett Sandberg has a victory and two second place finishes from four races and the KTM X-Bow driver leads the GTS championship with 396 points. Two-time GTS champions Lawson Aschenbach trails by 32 points in his Blackdog Speed Shop Chevrolet Camaro. Twenty points behind Aschenbach is Ginetta driver Parker Chase. Ford Mustang driver Nathan Stacey trails Sandberg by 64 points. Jack Roush, Jr. swept the St. Petersburg races and is fifth on 272 points. 

Maserati driver Jeff Courtney is four points behind Roush, Jr. Sandberg's teammate Dore Chaponick, Jr. is seventh in the championship on 260 points. Blackdog Speed Shop's Tony Gaples has 230 points. Scott Dollahite skipped the St. Petersburg round but the Lotus driver is still ninth in the championship with 181 points. Maserati driver Mark Klenin rounds out the top ten on 176 points.

GTS will race at 2:15 p.m. ET Friday and 10:45 a.m. ET Saturday.

Fast Facts
This will be the first time IndyCar has raced on April 24th in fifty years. Rodger Ward won at Trenton on April 24, 1966. It was Ward's 26th and final IndyCar victory and in his penultimate start. He would retire after finishing 15th at the Indianapolis 500 a month later. The only other IndyCar race to take place on April 24th was in 1949 at Arlington Downs Raceway in Arlington, Texas. Johnnie Parsons was victorious. It was the final IndyCar championship race held at the track.

Scott Dixon holds the track record with a lap of 66.7750 seconds. He set it in qualifying in 2013.

Honda and Chevrolet each have three victories at Barber but Chevrolet has won three of the four Barber races since returning to the series in 2012.

After winning the first three Barber races, Team Penske has only had one podium finish at the track in the last three Barber races. Hélio Castroneves finished third in 2013.

Chip Ganassi Racing has taken eight of 18 podium spots in the six Barber races and has at least one car on the podium in every Barber race.

Chevrolet has won the last 23 pole positions in IndyCar. The last Honda pole position was Simon Pagenaud at Houston 1 in 2014.

The average starting position for a Barber winner is 3.667 with a median starting position of third. Every Barber winner has started in the top ten with five of six starting in the top ten.

The average number of lead changes at Barber is 6.5 with a median of seven.

The fewest lead changes at Barber were zero in 2011. The next fewest lead changes were six in 2013. Last year, a record ten lead changes occurred.

The average number of cautions at Barer is three with a median of two. The average number of caution laps is 10.667 with a median of 9.5.

Possible Milestones:
Should Hélio Castroneves start the Grand Prix of Alabama, he will tie Johnny Rutherford for sixth all-time in IndyCar starts at 315 starts.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 41 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 70 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 67 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 76 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs one podiums to reach 50 career IndyCar podiums.

Scott Dixon finally gets that elusive Barber victory. A caution will occur in this race and at least one caution will be for an incident in turn five. Honda has at least one car finish in the top five. Andretti Autosport recovers from Long Beach and has at least three of its cars finish ahead of the best Dale Coyne Racing driver. Chevrolet will not sweep the top six positions in qualifying. At least two drivers lead their first laps of 2016 this weekend. Sleeper: James Hinchcliffe.