Thursday, April 19, 2018

Track Walk: Barber 2018

IndyCar makes a return to glorious Barber Motorsports Park
The fourth round of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season takes place at Barber Motorsports Park. This will be the ninth Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and it concludes three consecutive race weekends. This also marks the final race weekend before the start of the month of May. Team Penske has won five of eight Barber races including the last two years with Chevrolet having won five of six races during the DW12-era. American drivers have won four of the last five Barber races. Three of the last four seasons have had four different winners through the first four races.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 22nd with green flag scheduled for 3:42 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: NBCSN
Announcers: Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy will be in the booth. Kevin Lee, Katie Hargitt, Marty Snider and Robin Miller will work pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice: 12:10 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Second Practice: 3:50 p.m. ET (45-minute session)
Third Practice: 11:50 a.m. ET (45-minute session)
Qualifying: 4:05 p.m. ET (CNBC will have live coverage of this session)
Race: 3:42 p.m. ET (90 laps)

Americans On Top
After three races the top three drivers in the championship are all Americans and represent three different teams.

Alexander Rossi's Long Beach victory combined with a pair of third place finishes at St. Petersburg and Phoenix have the Andretti Autosport driver on top of the championship for the first time in his career. Rossi sits on 126 points and he heads to Barber, where last year he had an impressive drive from 18th on the grid to fifth. Rossi's three consecutive podium finishes is the longest stretch in his career and he has nearly doubled his number of total career podium finishes as he entered 2018 with four career podium finishes. Rossi has finished 15th in the fourth race of each his first two IndyCar seasons including a 15th at Barber in 2016 and a 15th last year at Phoenix.

Josef Newgarden lost the championship lead after his seventh place finish at Long Beach but the defending champion finds himself 22 points behind Rossi. Newgarden won last year's Barber race after Will Power had to make a late pit stop for a deflating tire. He has three consecutive podium finishes at Barber and five consecutive top ten finishes at this track. Newgarden also topped the Barber test in March. The Penske driver started the 2017 season with four consecutive top ten finishes and he looks to match that feat this year. Regardless of the result this is the fourth consecutive season Newgarden has started with at least three top ten finishes in the first four races.

Graham Rahal has yet to win a race this season but he is 33 points behind Rossi. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver has started his season with a second, ninth and fifth place finish through the first three races. This is the first time Rahal has started a season with three consecutive top ten finishes and it is the first time he has had at two top ten finishes from the first three races since 2009. Before his 13th place finish last year at Barber Rahal had finished runner-up at the track in 2015 and 2016. However, this has been a hit or miss track for him. He has finished outside the top fifteen in four of eight Barber starts.

Newgarden and Rossi have won the last two races and three different American drivers have not won three consecutive IndyCar races since 2005 when Sam Hornish, Jr., Bryan Herta and Scott Sharp won at Milwaukee, Michigan and Kentucky respectively. Three different American drivers have not won three consecutive races that all occurred on road/street course races since 1990-91 when Danny Sullivan won the 1990 finale at Laguna Seca with John Andretti and Al Unser, Jr. splitting the first two races in 1991 at Surfers Paradise and Long Beach respectively.

That Second Pack
Through three races the championship standings has kind of broken up into a few chunks with the top three followed by another pack of three drivers.

St. Petersburg winner Sébastien Bourdais has finished 13th in the last two races but despite the lack of results he is still fourth in the championship on 88 points. Bourdais is looking to avoid having three consecutive finishes outside the top ten since 2015-16 when he finished outside the top ten in the final three races of 2015 and in the 2016 season opener. Last year, he matched his career best Barber finish by coming home in eighth. In his Champ Car career, Bourdais won the fourth race of a season four times out of five and finished second in that other race. Since he returned to IndyCar competition he has only one top five finish in the fourth race of a season.

James Hinchcliffe's trio of top ten finishes puts the Canadian fifth in the championship, five points behind Bourdais. Hinchcliffe has four consecutive top ten finishes at Barber and five top ten finishes in seven starts at the track but he has never finished better than sixth in this race. Hinchcliffe has started in the top ten in six of seven Barber starts and he has made the Fast Six session on three occasions.

Scott Dixon had his streak of 13 consecutive top ten finishes snapped at Long Beach with an 11th place finish. The good news for Dixon is he sits sixth in the championship on 79 points and he heads to one of his most successful but frustrating racetracks. Dixon has an average finish of 3.2 at Barber, the best all-time at the track, but he has yet to win the Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. He has seven podium finishes with his worst result being tenth in 2016. Last year was Dixon's fifth runner-up finish in this race and he has finished runner-up to four different drivers.

A Large Middle
After the top six, the next seven drivers are covered by 13 points after three races.

Ryan Hunter-Reay's pair of fifth place finishes have him on 73 points and seventh in the championship despite his 20th place result in a disastrous Long Beach race. Hunter-Reay has won twice at Barber but he has finished 11th the last two years in this race and he has only made it out of the first round of qualifying in four of eight Barber appearances.

Will Power is one point behind Hunter-Reay. Like the American, Power is a two-time Barber winner but the Australian has seven top five finishes in eight starts with his 14th place finish last year breaking up a remarkable run of results. Power has four pole positions here and he has started on the front row seven times but he won here from ninth in 2012. He should enter Barber on a confident note, not only because he finished second but because Power has won the race following a runner-up finish on the last four occasions. Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Power and Hélio Castroneves have all completed all 699 laps held in eight Barber races.

Ed Jones' third place finish has him ninth in the championship on 69 points and it was Jones' best finish on a road/street circuit in the Emirati driver's short career. He finished 16th last year in his first IndyCar race at Barber but Jones won at the track in Indy Lights in 2016 and he finished second in the other race that year. Last year, Jones started 11th in this race and it was the first time he made the second round of qualifying in his career. He has not advanced to round two in the last six road/street course races.

Marco Andretti rounds out the top ten on 68 points. He finished sixth at Long Beach after starting 20th for the second consecutive race. He has not started 20th or worse in three consecutive races since 2011 when he started 27th at Indianapolis and 23rd and 27th for the Texas doubleheader. Note that a draw determined the the grid for the second Texas race. Andretti had completed every single lap at Barber before last year's race where a gearbox issue prevented him from taking the green flag and by the time he joined the race was already two laps down and he would lose another lap before the race was over.

Tony Kanaan is a point outside the top ten but his worst finish this season was 11th at St. Petersburg with a pair of eighth place finishes in the last two races. Kanaan holds a dubious distinction with Hinchcliffe as both drivers are tied for most top ten finishes at Barber without a top five finish. Kanaan has five top ten finishes at this track, including a seventh place finish last year. He has never led a lap at Barber and has completed 698 of 699 laps in the eight races.

Despite being the talk of the season Robert Wickens finds himself 12th in the championship on 65 points after his accident at St. Petersburg and his gearbox issue at Long Beach cancel out his runner-up finish at Phoenix. This is another relatively new track for Wickens. He did test here in March but was 19th fastest that day however Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have made great leaps from testing pace at a race weekend. Wickens and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports had poor results at the Phoenix test but had both cars run and finish in the top ten when it came time to race.

Zach Veach finds himself only five points behind Wickens for top rookie honors after he finished fourth at Long Beach. Veach had a good record in Indy Lights at Barber. He finished ninth in his first race at the track in 2013 but he won there in 2014 with a third place finish in the second race of that doubleheader. In 2016, he finished third and tenth at Barber and he was tenth fastest in the March test. Veach made his IndyCar debut at this track last year substituting for an injured J.R. Hildebrand at Ed Carpenter Racing. Veach would finish start and finish 19th and he did finish on the lead lap.

Bringing Up the Rear
Veach has some breathing room as the next closest drivers in the champion trail him by 16 points.

Takuma Sato and Spencer Pigot are tied on 46 points with Sato holding the tiebreaker. Both drivers are suffering a significant drought. Sato has not picked up a top ten finish in the last seven races and he has finished outside the top ten in ten of the last 11 races. Pigot has not finished in the top ten in his last nine starts. Sato picked up his first career top ten at Barber last year with a ninth place finish. Pigot had a good race going last year before a spin in turn six ended his race. Pigot swept the Indy Lights race at Barber in 2015.

Simon Pagenaud has only one top ten finish through three races and that was a tenth place finish at Phoenix. He sits 16th in the championship on 44 points. This is his worst championship position since he was 24th after the 2013 season opener at St. Petersburg. Pagenaud also had his streak of 22 consecutive lead lap finishes snapped at Long Beach. The good news for the Frenchman is he has won the fourth race of the season three of the last four years including the last two seasons, one of which was at Barber in 2016.

Charlie Kimball got Carlin its first top ten finish with a tenth place finish at Barber, a career best for Kimball at the famed street race. However, he sits on 43 points and is 17th in the championship. He has had some good results at Barber with one top five and four top ten finishes in seven starts.

Gabby Chaves is still looking for his first top ten finish of 2018. The Harding Racing driver is a point behind Kimball in the championship. Chaves won at Barber in Indy Lights in 2014 but he was 23rd fastest out of 24 cars at the test ahead of only René Binder, who will be back in the #32 Chevrolet for Juncos Racing.

Max Chilton has finished 19th, 18th and 17th in the first three races respectively and he has only picked up 36 points. He has made it to the second round of qualifying in each of his first two Barber appearances but he has finished 21st and 12th in those races respectively. Chilton was the best Carlin driver at the test in 14th with Kimball 20th quickest.

Matheus Leist got his first career lead lap finish last week at Long Beach but he was still on the wrong side of the law as he was forced to give up a position on the final lap for blocking Sébastien Bourdais and that dropped the Brazilian to 14th. Last year, Leist finished fourth and seventh in the Indy Lights races at Barber.

Jordan King returns for his third race of 2018. He had a good race going at Long Beach before brake issues cost him a lap and then a penalty for spinning Bourdais dropped him further down the order. King was 21st fastest in the March test but he was ahead of his teammate as Pigot was 22nd fastest.

Zachary Claman De Melo is also back for his third race of the season. His Long Beach race ended in the turn nine barrier after completing 58 of 85 laps. Claman De Melo made four Indy Lights starts at Barber. In each of his two appearances he finished fifth in the first race but finished seventh and 14th in the second races in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

Road to Indy
After a month off, Indy Lights and Pro Mazda will both be back in action at Barber with doubleheaders scheduled for this weekend.

Belardi Auto Racing's Santiago Urrutia heads to Barber with the Indy Lights championship lead after the Uruguayan finished second and first at the opening round at St. Petersburg. Andretti Autosport driver Patricio O'Ward won the first race at St. Petersburg but a collision with barrier in race two while leading cost him a sweep and he now find himself eight points behind Urrutia. Shelby Blackstock is the top American in the championship after attrition got him a second place finish in race two at St. Petersburg, his career best Indy Lights finish but he will not be at Barber as Team Pelfrey has not entered the race. Blackstock sits on 42 points. Victor Franzoni finished fourth in both St. Petersburg races with Juncos Racing and has 38 points.

Ryan Norman finished third in race two at St. Petersburg and he has 37 points, two point ahead of Andretti teammate Colton Herta, who retired from race two after an accident. Neil Alberico sits on 31 points but the absence of Team Pelfrey means he will not be competing. Dalton Kellett has 28 points and Aaron Telitz's weekend from hell has him on 19 points.

The bad news is Blackstock and Alberico will not be at Barber and there will be no cars from Team Pelfrey. The good news is Alfonso Celis, Jr. will make his Indy Lights debut after missing St. Petersburg in the #7 Mazda for Juncos Racing.

Andretti Autosport swept last year's Barber races with Nico Jamin and Herta each picking up a victory. Andretti Autosport has the most Indy Lights victories at Barber with four. Ten of 12 Indy Lights races at Barber have been won from pole position and the other two races were won from third position.

Indy Lights will race at 2:50 p.m. ET on Saturday April 21st and at 1:00 p.m. ET on Sunday April 22nd.

Rinus VeeKay swept the Pro Mazda weekend at St. Petersburg and he leads the championship on 62 points. Parker Thompson trails VeeKay by 19 points with VeeKay's Juncos Racing teammate Carlos Cunha 20 points back. Thompson finished second and fifth in the season opening weekend while Cunha finished fourth and third over the weekend. David Malukas is 23 points behind VeeKay and he finished second in the second St. Petersburg race. Team Pelfrey's Sting Ray Robb rounds out the top five on 35 points.

Oliver Askew started on pole position for the first race from St. Petersburg but a fifth and a sixth place finish have him on 33 points. Askew swept the Barber races last year in U.S. F2000. Robert Megennis finished third in the first race of the season but a 16th in race two has him tied on 27 points with Askew's Cape Motorsports teammate Nikita Lastochkin. RP Motorsport drivers Harrison Scott and Lodovico Laurini round out the top ten in the championship with both drivers on 21 points.

The first race of the Pro Mazda weekend will be at 1:50 p.m. ET on Saturday April 21st with race two scheduled for 10:45 a.m. ET on Sunday April 22nd.

Fast Facts
This will be the seventh IndyCar race to take place on April 22nd and the first since 2007 when Sébastien Bourdais won at Houston.

Bourdais holds the Barber track record after he ran a lap of 1:06.6001 during the second round of qualifying in 2016.

Graham Rahal finished second in that Houston race and it was his first career podium finish. Simon Pagenaud finished fifth and it was his first career top five finish.

Will Power is the only other driver on the grid who was in that Houston race and he finished 11th.

At least one American driver has finished on the podium at Barber in the last five races and three of the last four races have had two American drivers on the podium.

Josef Newgarden is the only driver to pick up a maiden IndyCar victory at Barber.

A.J. Foyt Racing has only one top ten finish at Barber Motorsports Park. Mike Conway finished seventh in the 2012 race.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports has had at least one car finish in the top ten in the last six Barber races.

The average starting position for a Barber winner is 3.75 with a median of third.

The pole-sitter has won three times at Barber.

The worst starting position for a Barber winner was ninth (Will Power, 2012).

The driver that has led the most laps has won five times at Barber.

All three Barber winners that did not lead the most laps were Penske drivers (Hélio Castroneves 2010, Power 2012 and Newgarden 2017)

The average number of lead changes in a Barber race is 6.375 with a median of seven.

Outside of the 2011 race, where Will Power led all 90 laps, the fewest number of lead changes in a Barber race was four in 2016.

The average number of cautions in a Barber race is 2.625 with a median of two. The average number of caution laps is nine with a median of eight.

Six Barber races have had two cautions or fewer.

There has never been a caution-free race at Barber.

Possible Milestones:
Graham Rahal needs to lead 43 laps to reach the 400 laps led milestone.

Alexander Rossi needs to lead one lap to reach the 200 laps led milestone.

Scott Dixon gets the victory because we are picking him at Barber until he wins one. He is beyond due. Nobody can have this many podium finishes at a track without a victory unless it is Scott Dixon. We will not have a fourth different championship lead in as many races. A Penske driver wins pole position but at least one Penske driver does not make it to the final round of qualifying. It will be a wet race but all 90 laps will be completed. At least one podium finisher will not have been on the podium in the last 25 races. René Binder will not wreck the car and neither will Zachary Claman De Melo. Sleeper: Marco Andretti.