Thursday, April 20, 2017

Track Walk: Barber 2017

Can Simon Pagenaud become the third driver to win back-to-back Barber races?
After a week off for Easter, the third round of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series championship will be the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama from Barber Motorsports Park. This is the eighth-time Barber Motorsports Park has hosted this race. Last year, Simon Pagenaud led 84 of 90 laps from pole position but faced a late charge from Graham Rahal only to have Rahal's challenge negated after the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver made contact with the back marker of Jack Hawksworth. Since 2013, three different drivers have won the first three races each season.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 23rd. Green flag will be at 3:30 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN.
Announcers: Leigh Diffey makes his IndyCar debut this season with Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy in the booth with Kevin Lee, Marty Snider, Katie Hargitt and Robin Miller working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 11:45 a.m. ET (45-minute session).
Second Practice- 3:25 p.m. ET (45-minute session).
Third Practice- 12:00 p.m. ET (45-minute session).
Qualifying- 4:15 p.m. ET (NBCSN will have taped coverage of this session at 4:30 p.m. ET).
Warm-Up- 10:45 a.m. ET (30-miunte session).
Race- 3:30 p.m. ET (90 laps)

Dale Coyne Racing Leads Honda Into Its Backyard
For the second consecutive race, Sébastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing enter leading the IndyCar championship. With a victory and a second-place finish, the Frenchman leads with 93 points. This is the second time in Bourdais' career he has started a season with consecutive podium finishes, the other being 2006 when Bourdais started the season with four consecutive victories. He could achieve three consecutive podiums for the first time since he won at Long Beach, Houston and Portland in 2007.

Barber has not been one of Bourdais' better tracks. His best finish in six starts is eighth and he has only one other top ten finish. Despite Bourdais' lack of success, he has completed 518 out of 519 possible laps in his six career starts and he started fifth last year but was handed a penalty for spinning Scott Dixon on lap two in turn five.

While Bourdais has deservedly gotten a significant amount of the attention, his rookie teammate has been holding his own through two races. Ed Jones finished sixth at Long Beach and became the first driver with two consecutive top ten results to start an IndyCar career since Neel Jani in Champ Car in 2007. Jones could become the first driver to start a career with three consecutive top ten finishes since Tony Renna in 2002 when he finished tenth at Nashville, fourth at Michigan and seventh at Kentucky.

Nineteen points behind Bourdais is the 43rd Grand Prix of Long Beach winner James Hinchcliffe. While Hinchcliffe has three consecutive top ten finishes at Barber, the Canadian has been known to suffer severe hangovers after victories. His average finish in the race after a victory is 20.75 with three finishes outside of the top twenty and he has never finished in the top ten. Hinchcliffe's teammate Mikhail Aleshin enters Alabama 14th in the championship with finishes of 14th and 12th. In his only two Barber starts Aleshin retired after a heavy accident in 2014 and finished a lap down in 17th last year.

Scott Dixon's streak of six consecutive podium finishes ended last year at Barber but the New Zealander was able to recover from that early spin by Bourdais to finish tenth. Dixon finds himself entering Barber fourth in the championship trailing Bourdais by 23 points. While Dixon once again finds himself at the top of the championship, all three of his Ganassi teammates are outside of the top fifteen. Tony Kanaan sits 16th after finishes of 12th and 15th. Max Chilton is 19th after finishes of 16th and 14th and Charlie Kimball has been in two first-lap accidents in the first two races this season and sits firmly at the bottom of the championship on 21 points.

While Graham Rahal, driver of the #15 Honda is 15th in the championship after two races, Barber has been a springboard for the Ohioan the last two seasons as Rahal has finished second in each race having led a combined 23 laps. He has started in the top ten in both races as well and was the only Honda to make the final round of qualifying and one of two to start in the top ten for last year's race.

Veach In, Hildebrand Out
The unfortunate news heading into Barber Motorsports Park is J.R. Hildebrand will miss the third race of the 2017 season due to a broken hand suffered at Long Beach. Hildebrand's hand was broken after contact with Mikhail Aleshin while battling for tenth on the final lap at Long Beach. Hildebrand left Long Beach 11th in the championship despite the incident.

Replacing Hildebrand will be six-time Indy Lights race winner Zach Veach. The 22-year-old Ohioan will be making his IndyCar debut just over a month earlier than originally planned as Veach has already made a deal to attempt the Indianapolis 500 in the #40 Chevrolet for A.J. Foyt Racing.

Veach has 85 starts across the Road to Indy series, 44 in Indy Lights. He has seven starts at Barber across the three development series and his second-career Indy Lights victory came at the track in 2014. He also finished third twice at the track in Indy Lights.

While Veach will be making his Indy Lights debut, his teammate for this weekend Spencer Pigot will be making his Barber debut. Pigot has won all four of his previous starts at Barber in Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. Pigot finished eighth at Long Beach, his third career top ten finish but first on a street circuit.

This is not the first time Pigot and Veach have been teammates. Both drove for Andretti Autosport in the 2011 U.S. F2000 season. Pigot finished second in the championship that season to Petri Suvanto while Veach finished fourth in the championship.

Andretti Needs to Rebound With Special Guest Looking On
Andretti Autosport had a promising start to the Long Beach weekend with two cars starting in the first three rows and three cars starting in the top ten. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Alexander Rossi both ran in the top five for most of the race and Hunter-Reay led 28 laps but both him and Rossi retired with engine/electrical issues while running second, Marco Andretti retired with an electrical issue while in the top ten and Takuma Sato also retired with an engine/electrical issue while in 11th position.

Now the team has to rebound and it will have a little extra pressure on its shoulders as Fernando Alonso, a man who has had his fair share of mechanical problems this season, will visit the team this weekend in preparations for his Indianapolis 500 attempt next month.

Ryan Hunter-Reay won back-to-back years at Barber in 2013 and 2014 and his average finish at the track is 8.0 with Hunter-Reay having completed all 609 laps contested in the seven previous Barber races. Marco Andretti has also completed all 609 laps and he has the fourth-best average finish all-time at Barber at 7.3 with five top ten finishes in seven starts. He finished second to Hunter-Reay in 2014 and led 58 of 90 laps in the inaugural Barber race before finishing fifth. Takuma Sato has never finished better than 13th at Barber and outside of starting sixth in 2010 his next best start is 11th. Alexander Rossi started 20th and finished 15th in his Barber debut last year.

Andretti Autosport has not won on a road/street circuit since Carlos Muñoz led an Andretti Autosport 1-2 in the rain-shortened Saturday Belle Isle race in 2015 with Andretti finishing second and Hunter-Reay's 2014 Barber victory is the team's most recent victory on a natural-terrain road course.

Chevrolet On the Snide
While Honda has started the season 2-for-2, Chevrolet heads to Barber looking to prevent Honda from winning three consecutive races for the first time since Ryan Hunter-Reay and Graham Rahal split the Iowa, Mid-Ohio and Pocono races in 2015. Chevrolet did not lead a lap at Long Beach, only the third time that has happened since the manufacture returned to the series in 2012 (Belle Isle 2012, Houston 1 2014).

Simon Pagenaud is the defending race winner at Barber and he returns as the top Chevrolet driver in the championship as he sits third, 22 points behind Bourdais. Pagenaud has six top ten finishes in six Barber starts but last year was his first podium at the track. His newest teammate Josef Newgarden sits fifth in the championship and his first career victory came at Barber in 2015 and he finished third last year after a late pass on Will Power.

Power is tied with Scott Dixon for best average finish at Barber at 3.4 and he has seven top five finishes in seven starts at the track but his two victories in 2011 and 2012 are his only podiums at Barber. Hélio Castroneves won the inaugural Barber race in 2010 and he has three podium finishes at the track and he has made it to the final round of qualifying on six of seven occasions. Team Penske leads all teams with four victories at Barber.

Carlos Muñoz is coming off his first career top ten finish with A.J. Foyt Racing after he came home in seventh at Long Beach. His teammate Conor Daly has not had as great of a start as he is the penultimate driver in the championship after finishes of 15th and 16th. Muñoz's results at Barber have been erratic with a retirement in 2014 due to a suspension failure, a sixth in 2015 from 22nd on the grid and a finish of 14th last year. Daly finished a lap down in 20th last year.

Chevrolet has won the last two years at Barber and four of five there since rejoining the series in 2012.

Road to Indy
Barber marks the second round for the Indy Lights and U.S. F2000 championships.

Andretti Autosport's Colton Herta leads the Indy Lights championship with 59 points after finishing second and first at St. Petersburg. Ten points behind Herta is the defending Pro Mazda champion, Belardi Auto Racing's Aaron Telitz, who won race one from St. Petersburg and finished fifth in race two. Telitz won at Barber in U.S. F2000 in 2015 and finished second in both Pro Mazda races last year. Pato O'Ward won both Pro Mazda races at Barber last year and he is third in the Indy Lights championship on 39 points as he returns with Team Pelfrey.

Belardi's Shelby Blackstock and Juncos Racing's Kyle Kaiser are tied on 34 points, one point ahead of Blackstock's teammate Santiago Urrutia, who finished second to Herta in race two from St. Petersburg. Urrutia won the second race at Barber last year, his first career Indy Lights victory. Carlin's Neil Alberico scored his first career Indy Lights podium in race one from St. Petersburg but didn't complete a lap in race two and sits on 28 points, one ahead of his teammate Zachary Claman De Melo.

Juncos' Nicolas Dapero and Andretti's Ryan Norman round out the top ten of the championship on 25 points and 23 points respectively. Nico Jamin is two points behind his teammate in 11th. Team Pelfrey's Juan Piedrahita, Carlin's Garth Rickards and Andretti's Dalton Kellett are tied on 18 points. Matheus Liest rounds out the championship on 16 points for Carlin.

Indy Lights will race at 3:00 p.m. ET on Saturday and 12:45 p.m. ET on Sunday. The Sunday Indy Lights race will be the 400th race in series history.

In U.S. F2000, Cape Motorsports' Oliver Askew leads with 58 points after finishing second and first at St. Petersburg, 11 points ahead of Rinus VeeKay of Pabst Racing. Exclusive Autosport's Parker Thompson swept the U.S. F2000 races at Barber last year and he is third in the championship on 40 points. Team Pelfrey teammates Kaylen Frederick and Robert Megennis round out the top five on 36 points and 34 points respectively after Frederick scored a pair of top five finishes at St. Petersburg while Megennis won race one and hit the wall while in podium contention late in race two.

Newman Wachs Racing's Dakota Dickerson finished sixth in both St. Petersburg races and he is sixth in the championship on 30 points, one point ahead of Luke Gabin of Exclusive Autosport. Pabst's Calvin Ming is on 25 points, tied with Cameron Das. Das is contesting the BRDC Formula 3 Championship full-time this year and will be replaced at Newman Wachs Racing by Flinn Lazier, son of Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar champion Buddy Lazier. Flinn Lazier is a two-time SCCA Regional Formula Vee champion. Kory Enders of DEForce Racing rounds out the top ten in the championship on 19 points, tied with Pabst's Lucas Kohl but Enders holds the tiebreaker with a best finish of eighth to Kohl's 11th.

Race one of the U.S. F2000 weekend will be Friday at 1:30 p.m. ET with race two scheduled for 5:45 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Fast Facts
This will be the fifth IndyCar race to take place on April 23rd and first since Emerson Fittipaldi won at Nazareth in 1995. That was Fittipaldi's 22nd and final IndyCar victory.

This year's race will fall 50 years to the day Mario Andretti scored his tenth career victory at Trenton.

A Honda-powered car has finished second in every Barber race.

Sébastien Bourdais has six consecutive top ten finishes, the longest streak of his career since nine consecutive in 2007.

Scott Dixon has finished in the top five in the last two races. He hasn't had three consecutive top five finishes since he had four consecutive top five finishes in the final four races of 2014.

Nine of Ryan Hunter-Reay's sixteen career victories have come after races in which he finished outside the top ten and six of those were races were when he finished outside the top fifteen, including both his Barber victories.

Come race day, it will be 2,500 days (6 years, ten months and four days) since Mikhail Aleshin's most recent victory, a Formula Renault 3.5 Series race at Magny-Cours on June 19, 2010.

Tony Kanaan has finished outside the top ten in four consecutive races, the longest drought of his career since he finished outside the top ten in six consecutive races in 2013.

Will Power has finished 19th and 13th in the first two races. He has not failed to finish in the top five in one of his first three starts of the season since he rookie year in 2006.

Zach Veach becomes the fourth driver all-time to make an IndyCar debut at Barber joining Bertrand Baguette, James Hinchcliffe and Rodolfo González. The average finish of those three debuts is 21.333 with Baguette and González each finishing 20th and Hinchcliffe finishing 24th.

The average starting position for a Barber winner is 3.285 with a median of three.

The pole-sitter has won three times with the worst starting position for a race winner being ninth.

The average amount of lead changes at Barber is 6.142 with a median of seven.

Five of seven Barber races have featured more than five lead changes.

The average amount of cautions at Barber is 2.714 with a median of two. The average amount of caution laps is 9.285 with a median of nine.

Possible Milestones:
Should he start the race, Hélio Castroneves will surpass Al Unser, Jr. for third all-time in starts with his 330th start.

Should he start the race, Tony Kanaan will tie Al Unser, Jr. for fourth all-time in starts on 329 starts.

Hélio Castroneves needs to lead 5 laps to reach the 5,600 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon needs to lead 69 laps to reach the 5,000 laps led milestone.

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

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

Josef Newgarden needs to lead 21 laps to reach the 700 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon finally ends up on the top step of the podium at Barber and Sébastien Bourdais does not finish in the top five. Will Power is the top finishing Penske driver and Simon Pagenaud is the worst of the Penske drivers but finishes within the top four Chevrolet drivers. Andretti Autosport puts two cars in the top ten. NBCSN interviews Fernando Alonso and it's not by Robin Miller. Sleeper: Marco Andretti.