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IndyCar: Honda Grand Prix of Alabama Preview

After a second place finish last season, Scott Dixon is looking for a little more at Barber Motorsports Park this weekend. © [Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media]

After a second place finish last season, Scott Dixon is looking for a little more at Barber Motorsports Park this weekend. [credit Andy Clary / Spacesuit Media]

 

Honda Grand Prix of Alabama Preview
Barber Motorsports Park
Verizon IndyCar Series

by Paul Gohde

The Verizon IndyCar Series returns to the “Deep South” for the ninth time Sunday as Barber Motorsports Park plays host to the Honda Grand Prix of Alabama; race 4/17 on the current schedule. Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Josef Newgarden have dominated at the former motorcycle venue, having each won twice in the past eight races. But 2018 has seen multiple teams and drivers win in the first three races and it’s likely that this weekend will be no different.

BARBER RACE FACTS: Barber opened in 2003 for Grand-Am Rolex sports cars and AMA Superbikes, but Indy cars have been the dominant attraction since 2010 on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn natural road course. The Verizon series will race for 90 laps, 207 miles. 2016 winner Simon Pagenaud holds the race record of 1:48.42.33/ 114.254 mph, while Sebastien Bourdais recorded the fastest qualifying speed in 2016 (124.324 mph). Team Penske has won here five times and Power is a four-time pole winner.

PAST BARBER RACES: Josef Newgarden won here last year; his first for Team Penske. The eventual 2017 series’ champion scored a 1.04 second win over teammate Will Power after the Aussie punctured a tire after leading 60 laps from the pole. Newgarden held serve for the final 13 circuits, besting Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves for his first of four wins. Dixon is overdue, having come close with seven podium finishes, but no wins. Castroneves and Pagenaud have been other Barber winners.

2018 SEASON SO FAR: Last week at Long Beach, pole-winner Alexander Rossi led all but 14 of the 85 laps on his way to his third series’ win. He finished 1.24 sec. ahead of Power and moved into the championship lead with 126-points, 22 more than runner-up Josef Newgarden. Graham Rahal (-33), Sebastien Bourdais (-38) and James Hinchcliffe (-43) trail. Honda has two wins, both on road/street courses, while Chevy won at the Phoenix oval. Three teams (Coyne, Penske and Andretti) have wins and three drivers (Rossi, Sebastien Bourdais and Newgarden) have visited victory lane so far.

THE FIELD: For Barber, 23 cars are entered (21 in 2017). Rene Binder takes over at Juncos for Kyle Kaiser while Jack Harvey will skip Barber for part-timers Michael Shank Racing.

NOTES:

  • The entire 21-car field finished the 90-lap Barber race in 2017, with 19/21 on the lead lap.
  • Power’s runner-up finish at Long Beach last week was marked his 63rd career podium finish.
  • Andretti Autosport had three top-six finishers at Long Beach: Rossi, rookie Zach Veach and Marco Andretti.
  • Early-season sensation Robert Wickens finished 22nd last week, dropping the promising rookie to 12th in the points.
  • Ed Jones matched his career-best finish (2017 Indy 500) with a third-place at Long Beach for Chip Ganassi.
  • The Indy Racing League sanctioned the first Indy car race at Barber in 2010 before the IndyCar Series took the over in 2011.
  • TV: Race-Sunday, NBCSN 3:00 p.m. ET/ Qualifying-Saturday/ Qualifying-Saturday, 4:00 p.m. ET, Live

 

OUR TAKE: So far the 2018 season has been as evenly contested as any in recent memory. Three drivers and three teams have divided the wins as have Honda (two wins) and Chevrolet (one). Series’ rookies Robert Wickens and Zach Veach have challenged the veterans as have sophomore Ed Jones and third-year Californian Alexander Rossi who leads the points chase after his win at Long Beach. Some other racing series would gladly have that sort of a level of competition. Thanks to the new aero kit and a talented group of young drivers, fans have a bright future to look forward to. Things do, however, seem to even out for the veteran drivers. Trust me, Dixon, Power, Pagenaud and Carpenter will have their day. So, for Barber, Dixon should finally win after so many lower-step podium finishes. For Chevy it could be the week for Pagenaud to grab a win.

THE FINAL WORDS: Rene Binder (No. 32 Binderholz tip top timber Chevrolet) “Unfortunately we couldn’t complete the amount of laps that we had hoped for during the (recent) open test…Barber Motorsports Park is a fantastic facility and the track layout reminds me a little bit of the famous grand prix track in Spa Francorchamps (Belgium) where I managed to score a win in F3 and a second place in the Formula V8 World Series. I hope that’s a good omen.”

 

 

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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.”