Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Preview

Last year's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was a wet race, won by Ryan Hunter-Reay. [Bret Kelley Photo]

Last year’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was a wet race, won by Ryan Hunter-Reay.  [Bret Kelley Photo]

The Verizon IndyCar Series finally ran a clean race last week in California as a pre-race drivers-only meeting produced the desired results: just one caution flag for four laps and little contact or Aero Kit debris on a tight Long Beach course.

This Sunday the series comes to Barber Motorsports Park for the sixth time hoping to continue that trend in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.

Last year Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay captured his second Barber win, leading 40 laps, as he battled an early thunderstorm and pole-winner Will Power in a race that turned into a 100-minute, 69-lap timed event.

“As back-to-back winners of this event, we’re looking to return with a strong result and continued progress working with the new Aero Kit,” noted the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner. “We’re dealing with a completely different car this year, so we’ll face some new challenges in a relatively short weekend. As a three-car team, we’ll be working closely together to make the most of the short track time.”

Target Ganassi pilot Scott Dixon comes to Alabama having finished on the Barber podium in all five previous races (four seconds and a third). The winner at Long Beach last week, he hopes to move to the winner’s circle on Sunday.

“I think we are due for some success in the Coke Chevy this weekend. It’s a really crazy racetrack with lots of elevation (changes) and high-speed grip. I love going there and we’ve always qualified and raced well there. Hopefully I can try to move up to that top spot at Barber.”

2014 series’ champion Will Power has won here twice (2011-12), but travels to the South having struggled last week at Long Beach.

“I want nothing more than to get back to the racetrack as soon as possible,” noted Power who started 18th at Long Beach, stalled his Penske Chevrolet while pitting on lap seven and finished 20th, one lap down. “It’s never fun to go through a weekend like that. We had bad luck in qualifying and it just snowballed from that point. We know that we can run a quick pace and challenge here because we have done that on multiple occasions in the past.”

The 17-turn, 2.38-mile Barber course near Birmingham features 80 feet of elevation change and hosted its first IndyCar event in 2010 as a replacement for the cancelled Detroit event.

Team Penske’s Juan Pablo Montoya leads the points chase with 119 followed by Helio Castroneves (-3), Tony Kanaan (-26), Dixon (-32) and James Hinchcliffe (-36).
“Honestly I couldn’t be prouder of my Penske Chevrolet team for the way we’ve started the season. We’re the only team with one win, two podiums and three top-five finishes in the first three races,” explained JPM who won at St. Petersburg in March. “I was happy the way we tested at Barber last month and we were really good there last year before we went off course. That gives me a lot of confidence heading into this weekend.”

Barber Clippings:
• Former F1 test driver Rodolfo Gonzalez, who tested an Indy Car for the first time at Barber last month, becomes the fourth pilot for Dale Coyne’s #18 entry in just four races, joining Carlos Huertas, Conor Daly and Rocky Moran Jr. Coyne’s driver in his #19, Francesco Dracone, will complete his four-race stint at Barber with Coyne’s very fluid driver line-up. Speculation is that Coyne may choose from this group to fill his cockpits for Indy and beyond.
• The three-day attendance of 181,000 at Long Beach was the highest in the past dozen years. IndyCar’s agreement at that track runs through 2018.
• Beside Indy cars, Barber’s weekend will include Pirelli World Challenge, Legacy Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and USF 2000 events.
• Chevrolet and Honda will each support 17 engine programs at Indianapolis in May. Teams will have a test day at Indy on May 3 to try out their new Speedway Aero Kits.
• Twenty-three cars are entered at Barber with Gonzalez being the only new name.
• TV: NBC Sports Network- 3:00 p.m. (ET). Radio: Sirius Ch. 213/ XM Ch. 209.

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