INDYCAR makes is third trip to the rolling hills of Birmingham Alabama and Barber Motorsports Park this weekend. After an emotional yet ultimately anticlimactic weekend in St. Pete, the paddock will finally find a semblance of normalcy as they descend on Barber. No more memorials, no more grieving, no more constant reminders of 2011… It’s just racing. There will be no excuses this weekend. Even though this is only the second race of the season, the 2012 campaign starts in ernest Sunday. There are new faces at the top of the leader board and the old guard has a bit of catching up to do. The real question this weekend will be if Power and Franchitti can make up a bit of ground and make a run to the top of the standings. Can surprise St. Pete Winner Helio Castroneves keep up his winning ways en route to his first championship? Save for attempting to rack up a fourth Indy 500 win; the championship should be the only thing on his mind.
Five Things to Watch
It’s Going to be Soggy – Although the forecast is looks merely OK for raceday it looks like practice and qualifying have a good chance to be quite soggy. Friday looks to have the highest chance of rain and if teams aren’t able to find some clean and more importantly dry running their setups could suffer. With no current dry weather data the drivers and engineers will have to dig deep into their playbook and just take a big swing at the chassis for quals. Yes, we did some open testing at Barber but many things have changed with the cars and engines that I’m just not sure how much of that information will be successfully transferred to race setups for Sunday. Our winner could be the guy who plain guesses right on raceday; possibly the only dry day we will see this weekend.
Turn Five is the Place – This seemed to be the only real place that drivers could take a shot at passing. Turn five is not, however a “classic” passing zone and is witness to a more dive bomb, banzai type of move because of the quick sweeper preceding the turn. The other two possible passing zones; T11 and T1, both seem to be a bit too high speed for anyone to make an honest attempt at an overtake move. Your car really has to be working well to pull something off in either of these corners. T5 is a slower carousel type corner and is more conducive to tempting the trailing driver into forcing the issue because everyone is hard on the brakes here.
Those who Guessed Correct – Looking back at St. Pete we can see who got the setup right and who got it wrong. The Hondas weren’t necessarily that far back from the Chevy contingent but with such odd standouts; Joseph Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud, it leads me to believe the Honda drivers are just missing the mark. Did the Chevy powerhouse of Penske, KVRT and AA do a better job at experimenting in the entire setup range? Furthermore, did Team Chevy do a better job at sharing information during the early parts of testing? I have to think that Team Honda, with only one truly heavy hitter team in Ganassi, may have put themselves at a disadvantage by taking so many slightly weaker, single car teams.
Let’s stretch our legs – We may see the two engine manufacturers a bit closer this weekend. The high-grip track surface coupled with fast and sweeping corners could see Honda come closer to the front. The Honda engine; purported to have a bit more power when driven wide open, may have a chance to stretch its legs given the high speed, sweeping style of the course. With the stop and go style of St. Pete possibly showing that Chevy really does have the low RPM grunt, this weekend should be an interesting comparison for the two engines.
NBCSN – We finally get to take our shiny newly renamed channel for a drive. Only by a miracle act of god could I imagine that NBCSN will do a worse job than ABC in covering the on track action. These guys are insiders with our series and everyone on the broadcast crew knows indycar racing inside and out. Just as the drivers have no excuses, the home of INDYCAR shouldn’t need a feeling out week to get to know the racing again. I have full faith that the network will provide up with the quality coverage I have come to expect from the old Verses crew. I was excited about St. Pete to just kick the season off; I am pumped about Barber so we can see our favorite racing the way we know it should be presented.
Pole – Will Power – I just can’t bet against WP in qualifying until he proves me otherwise. Over one lap; no one in the paddock is faster.
Winner – Scott Dixon – After his amazing performance in St. Pete he seems to be the Ganassi driver right now. He has a second and third place finish here already and all that is missing is a P1 finish.
Epic Performance – Reubens Barrichello – The F1 ace will have a much better race. Natural terrain road courses are where he should excel. His only handicap I can see is his race craft in indycar. There are different variables to contesting a race in this series compared to F1. If he can get some good practice in he should be a thorn in the sides of the front runners.
Biggest Loser – Sebastien Bourdais – After his epic performance last week I don’t doubt that he can have the same type of race this weekend. But seeing the four time champion tool around in a Lotus will get real old, oh so very fast. He should be right at home in this chassis so poor results due to mechanical gremlins will hurt.
I know there is a very real possibility that the actual on track action could be worse at Barber compared to St. Pete. But we know that quality TV coverage can really make a stinker of a race seem not nearly so bad; it really does work both ways. We won’t really get a clear view of how the championship may unfold until three or four races in, but a strong foundation to build a championship run off of is of extreme importance given the abbreviated 2012 schedule of only 16 races. As we have a week off between Barber and Long Beach we may see the drivers take a few more risks with their equipment and engine manufacturers could turn the wick up on the engines. It should be a very interesting weekend to get the season really rolling strong.
Good call on the Honda teams missing the setup at St. Pete. I’m going to be optimistic about Bourdais’ performance (and all the Lotii, for that matter).