IndyCar Looks for an Encore at Barber [Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama Live Thread]
Speeds have been fast. Over three seconds were taken off the track record in qualifying by Scott Dixon in round one. However, it wasn't Dixon that ended up on pole, but defending series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. Hunter-Reay doesn't have a great track record at Barber, but this is looking like his best shot to change that. Starting outside of Hunter-Reay is Power, who has won the last two races at Barber, but hasn't won a race since Brazil last season. These opening road and street races are his best chance to take a big points lead, and he needs to rebound after his misfortune at St. Pete.
The second row has Dixon on the outside, and on the inside the impressive rookie Tristian Vautier. Vautier originally wasn't in the Firestone Fast Six, but was advanced after Takuma Sato was penalized for blocking. On short notice, Vautier qualified third, impressing the paddock yet again. Completing the Fast Six is Charlie Kimball, who is having a great weekend and just finished P1 in the morning warm-up, topping the charts for the first time ever. The weekend love for Ganassi hasn't spread to Dario Franchitti, however. He qualified a poor 17th. Inaugural Barber race winner Helio Castroneves fills out the third row.
The biggest story though might be AJ Allmendinger's return to open wheel competition for the first time since his Champ Car career ended. Driving the #2 car for Team Penske, 'Dinger will start 10th today. This weekend, Penske announced that Allmendinger will also drive the car in two weeks at Long Beach, giving him an extra tune-up race before the Indy 500.
One thing that has become obvious in the still young IndyCar season is the depth of the field. There are threats to win up and down the field, if they can get the track position back. Simona de Silvestro has been fast again this week, but the car didn't take to the "red" optional tires in qualifying and she'll start 14th. Her teammate Tony Kanaan will start 19th, with the St. Pete winner James Hinchcliffe next to him. One year after his incredible drive, Bourdais is mired back in 23rd. It'll be tough for any of these guys and girl to get up to the front, but if they can manage, watch out.
In the end, my pick is Dixon. My gut feeling tell me it's his year, and I think this is the week he brings it. Picking a dark horse is hard due to the depth of the field, but I'll go with Kimball. Things are really clicking for him right now.
TV coverage begins at 3:00 on NBC Sports Network, with the green flag waving around 3:40. Timing and scoring can be found here, while More Front Wing's Event Summary can be found here.
Q it up here throughout the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.