IndyCar Barber Motorsports Park Preview

Tony Kanaan on course during the open test at Barber Motorsports Park. [Photo by: Joe Skibinski]

Tony Kanaan on course during the open test at Barber Motorsports Park.  [Photo by: Joe Skibinski]

Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama- Race 3 of 17

by Paul Gohde

Barber Facts: Two Verizon Indy Car events remain before the teams move to Indianapolis for the “month” of May. This Sunday, April 23, Barber Motorsports Park plays host to the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on the 2.3-mile, 16-turn natural road course. Indy cars have raced here seven times since the first race (IRL) in 2010, with Simon Pagenaud showing the way last season. Every race has been a 90-lap, 207-mile affair except for 2014 when rain and lightning in the area shortened the race to a 1h:40m timed event. Pagenaud set the race record (1:48:42.3/ 114.254 mph) on his way to the 2016 series crown and Sebastien Bourdais holds the qualifying mark (1:06:60/124.324 mph).

Past Barber Races: Graham Rahal took the late-race lead from Pagenaud last April after contact, but the Frenchman returned the favor four laps later and drove to a 13.4 second win, with Rahal 2nd and Josef Newgarden 3rd. Will Power won in 2011 after leading all 90 laps while Scott Dixon has finished 2nd four times and 3rd twice. Team Penske Chevrolet has four wins here including the past two, but Honda-powered cars have three victories. Power and Ryan Hunter-Reay each have two Barber wins with Helio Castroneves, Newgarden and Pagenaud each having one.

2017 So Far: Bourdais captured the season opener at St. Petersburg for Dale Coyne Honda when a full-course caution allowed him to take the lead for 69 of the final 84 laps, coming from last spot on the starting grid. Schmidt Peterson Honda won Long Beach when James Hinchcliffe took the lead on a restart with three laps remaining and held off Bourdais and Newgarden. Bourdais (93) leads the 2017 points chase with Hinchcliffe (-19), Pagenaud (-22), Dixon (-23) and Newgarden (-34) trailing. Honda (two wins) has 185 manufacturers points vs. 135 for Chevrolet.

The Barber Grid: The regular 21-car entry will attempt to qualify at Barber with rookie Zach Veach replacing the injured JR Hildebrand for Fuzzy’s Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing after Hildebrand sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a late-race crash at Long Beach. Veach, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones have all competed at Barber in Indy Lights but have never raced an Indy car there.

Our Take: Honda is on a roll with wins in the first two events. Choose from Hinchcliffe and Dixon to win for Honda or Pagenaud and Newgarden for Chevrolet. Our pick is Dixon who has finished on the podium six times but has never won.

Final Word: Simon Pagenaud (No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) “Barber is very unique in many ways. The layout is beautiful with lots of elevation changes. It’s a very challenging track both physically and technically. The site is an actual racing park with the most incredible vintage museum of motorbike and racing cars. We tested there in March and found answers to a lot of our technical questions.”



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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”