Week 2 in IndyCar hits Alabama

Helio leads the points after a win at St. Pete - will the cars make a difference this weekend?

3/30/12 in IndyCar   |   Debi_L   |   11862 respect

As emotional as last weekend was at St. Petersburg, it was necessary.  The drivers and their families, the fans and even the officials needed the closure only racing can give them.  

The bugs in the new car and engines showed, and some of our favorites weren't even in the race by day's end, but in the end, it was a hugely cathartic result.  Helio Castroneves was the winner, after not winning a single race last year.  Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, along with Andretti Motorsports were on the podium, as we thought, but the drivers we all expected to be there were not.  Even James Hinchcliffe, Danica Patrick's replacement in the GoDaddy.com car had an excellent finish, in 4th, and let us know he is here to win.

This weekend the teams are at Barber Motorsports Raceway near Birmingham, Alabama.  Again, this is a road course, but by all accounts, couldn't be more different than St. Pete.  A handful of teams tested at the track in November, but that won't really give them much of an advantage.  Racing on the track with 25 other cars will be the true test.  In addition, Firestone is providing a slightly different tire for the track, one that is not quite as durable, meaning the tires may necessitate pit stops before fuel.  That being said, Will Power put 31 laps on a set of alternate Firestone tires last year.  He won the race leading every single one of the laps.  

Wait! Does that mean the racing won't be racing? Does that mean it will be a parade?

I don't think so.  I'm no expert, as I've said many times, but honestly, after watching last week's race at St. Pete, I'm happy to say I am really excited for this year in IndyCar.  I haven't watched a lot of open wheel racing in the last few years, mostly because of the irreparable damage that seems to be the boon of the open wheel cars.  However, I like the look of the new cars.  I like the fact that they have retained the look of the open wheel cars, yet made them safer.  They even look safer.  There are slight fenders over the rear tires meaning it will be unlikely for the front wheels of a following car ending up over top of the rear tires of the car in front of them, lessening the chance of the catastrophic wrecks that follow such contact.  I don't know about others, but that means I can enjoy the racing more.  I *think* it might also mean that we will see more daring passing, although it may take some time for the drivers to become more comfortable in the new cars.

Finally, the announcement was made this week that the IZOD IndyCar series will return to Houston, TX in October of 2013.  The CHAMP car series raced there during 2006 and 2007, and IndyCar will race the concrete circuit in the Shell and Penzoil Grand Prix of Houston over the weekend of the 4th and 5th of October.  

For the win this weekend?  Well, I have to go with Will Power.  Even with the new car and a possible tweak in the tire compound, the man showed last year exactly how to get it done here.  Hopefully we will see some racing, some passing, and hopefully Eric will give you a little better idea of what to expect at the track on Sunday, but I can't argue with success.  My dark horse has to be Hinchcliffe.  I don't think it was just luck that put him in 4th place last weekend.  I think the man has heart and talent.  I think he will be on the podium before this season is done.
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3/31/12   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Helio took the pole, with Hinchcliffe second. Dixon and Conway (the only Hondas in the Fast Six) make up the second row.

3/31/12   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

Two big surprises in qualifying already. Dario couldn't get out of round one and will start back in 18th. Now here in round 2, Ryan Hunter-Reay blew a shot at the Firestone Fast Six when he spun and hit the armco (if you cause a red flag, you lose your top two laps in the session). The big news though is that Will Power didn't have time to post a big lap. He had posted a 1:09.75, but it was after the red came out, so it doesn't count. Power's going to start 9th. Teams go out as late as possible, allowing five minutes of empty race track, and it burned the #12 team today.

Fast Six: Helio, Hinchcliffe, JR, Conway, TK, and Dixon

3/31/12   |   Debi_L   |   11862 respect

I actually got to see the ticker while I was having lunch so saw that Will and Helio were on top of the leaderboard, first practice.  I wasn't surprised.  But yes, I should have mentioned Newgarden and the great job he is doing so far this year!  

I'm trying to keep up my enthusiasm/anticipation for the race this weekend.  As I told you last weekend, I am excited for IndyCar racing this year, thanks, in part, to the new car.  I want to keep that hope that we will see some good racing, so I will be optimistic whenever possible. :)

Honestly, I thought the Ganassi cars had maybe just decided not to practice for some reason.  The ticker didn't even mention any of them, so that was my conclusion - I mean, it couldn't possibly be that their cars weren't fast enough, right?  At least that was my logic, having no sound.....

3/30/12   |   Eric_   |   7716 respect

(Edited by Eric_)

Good job Debi!

I wish I could share your enthusiasm about the chances for passing, but I can't. However, I'm hearing some things about those tires that say I might wrong. I'll have more in the live thread on Sunday.

Practice started today. First session had Will and Helio on top, but after that it jumbled up fast. Sato was 3rd, Newgarden 4th (wow has that kid been impressive so far), Rubens was 5th. The Ganassis meanwhile, were nowhere to be found at the top, with Dario 9th, Graham 10th, and Dixon only 13th.

The second session was marred by torrential downpours. With no rain forecasted the next two days, very few went out and the session ended early. Many, many soaked people at Barber.

Also, we have our first 10 grid penalty for an unapproved engine change, and it goes to Oriol Servia and Lotus. Of course, in order for it a full ten places, Servia will have to get the thing qualified in the top 15. Tough task with that Lotus.