Into The Crystal Ball – The Beautiful Facility Edition

crystal ballSunday will mark the fifth time the Verizon IndyCar Series descends upon the quiet, green hills of central Alabama and the beautifully manicured grounds of Barber Motorsports Park. The purpose built motorcycle track has found an unlikely partner with indycar as their connections continue to grow year on year. Spring training, record crowds and fast paced, close quarters action have solidified Barber into a fan favorite and a treasured early spring pilgrimage for local residents. Barber catches too much flak for being processional, but we have a partner in Barber and title sponsor Honda uses the weekend to entertain local Honda plant employees. Plus, the action is actually quite good with the DW12.

Five Things to Watch

Race Control – Boys have at it?! I’m not sure I think this is the best route of action for an open-wheeled series, bumpers or not. Since Long Beach, many drivers have been on record stating that they are not sure what they can and cannot do in the eyes of race control. It’s odd, after a year of relative silence in the media and an entire season of mostly good and sane decision from race control, we find ourselves back in the bad old days. I understand the want of race control to stay hands off, but why now? Drivers don’t have the same respect for each other as they did decades ago, they need a birdie on their shoulder to remind them what is ok and not. The quick and violent shift in race control ideology will be very interesting to watch through finger covered eyes.

Hot Heads – Post race interviews after the green fell in Long Beach were… passionate. Drivers were angry, respect was lost and gauntlets were thrown. By all reports, the drivers have made amends and are ready to play nice this weekend at Barber. I’m not so convinced; these are race drivers we are talking about. As soon as the visor is closed and they catch up to a guy who did them wrong in Long Beach, I imagine those hand holding campfire sing-alongs will be quickly thrown aside. Race drivers don’t forget, and I really don’t think they forgive; there are more ways to ruin a driver’s day than simply showing the chrome horn.

Turn Five – And all of that leads us to one of the only and really the best passing opportunity on the twistie circuit: turn five. Barber is punctuated by medium to high speed corners connected by relatively short straights. Even the 8/9 chicane is extremely high speed considering the configuration of the turn. There is no doubt that drivers will attempt passes in literally every other corner on the track, but turn five will give drivers the best chance to cleanly and successfully complete an overtake. The action will be non-stop all day long. When I finally get out to Barber, I know where I will be spending the majority of my time.

Will Power – Given the absence of Power’s mortal on-track enemy, the year could not have gone better for the Aussie. My biggest fear for Will Power’s 2014 strength was the addition of Juan Pablo; a driver with speed in hand hanging out in Power’s own backyard. That speed has not materialized for JPM as of yet, so Power needs to take this gift and pack on the points before JPM gets up to speed. Considering the Colombians increase in pace between St. Pete and Long Beach, Power is going to have to rack up as many points on Sunday as possible. It could be one of the last weekends where he is untroubled by Montoya.

Scott Dixon – In the four times indycar has visited the rolling hill of Barber Motorsports Park, Scott Dixon has never finished better than P2, he has also never finished worse. If there is a better four race streak at a given facility in any of indycar history, I am unaware of it. Scott Dixon… Mr. Consistency. I’m not saying that he needs a P2 or better finish to be in for a chance at the championship, but slow starts have always been Dixon’s Achilles heel. Although he has finished both races this year in a respectable position, a nice change for sure, with Power’s momentum a P2 or better finish will be nearly a must.

Predictions

Pole – Helio Castroneves – HC does very well at Barber, never starting or finishing outside the top ten, and has the ability to beat Power over the course of a single lap here.

Winner – Scott Dixon – 50/50 chance of finishing either first, or last. That sounds about right after four years of being first loser. I’ll take the win this week.

Epic Performance – Juan Pablo Montoya – Two top fives in a row would be an amazing feat, but not unexpected on his journey back to the front.

Biggest Loser – Graham Rahal – Beat by his part-time teammate? Check. Squandering one of the most coveted sponsorships in the league? Check. Languishing out of the top 15 most of the day? Check. Dismal future based on past performances? Check. Come on Graham, get it together.

The season is still early and everyone is trying to settle in for the fierce championship battle. This will be the last relaxed race weekend before the summer grind starts early with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Late season championship success is very dependent on putting in three or four good races before The 500. Indycar is at such a competitive level that it is nearly impossible to fight from the back of the pack for the final run of the season. Barber only lets the strongest competitors into victory lane and Sunday will be no different.

Eric Hall

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