IndyCar Open Wheel

What We Learned from Barber Motorsport Park 2017

The Big Picture:  The Verizon IndyCar Series comes to the Deep South with its legendary hospitality and beautiful scenery. It arrived here in 2010 and looks like it’s a keeper.

Event: It’s a three-day event headlined by IndyCar and featuring its support series. The facility is beautiful and getting better each year. Its museum features the largest motorcycle collection in the world.

Qualifying: Team Penske’s Will Power won his 44th career pole, and the practice and qualifying sessions for the weekend could also be called “Return of the Penskes”. Teammates Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, the reigning series champion, took the next two spots.  Also, worth noting is that Graham Rahal qualified last, the first time this has happened in his career.

Race:  A classic road race with enough lead changes to keep things interesting and enough surprises to give the crowd some suspense. For much of the event, it was Will Power versus Scott Dixon. To add some spice towards the end,there was rain. But the contest came down to one punctured tire for Power and Penske newcomer Josef Newgarden being able to capitalize on the leader’s misfortune to assume and maintain the lead for a win.

Biggest Surprise: The fifth-place finish of reigning Indy 500 champion Alexander Rossi was certainly not expected and well-deserved  for Andretti Autosport. Another surprise was the Saturday arrival of Formula One champion Fernando Alonzo, who will join Andretti for the 101st Indianapolis 500 in May.

Biggest Disappointment: Without a doubt, Will Power’s tire puncture while leading late  was a huge disappointment after his dominating performance up until then.  The Australian finished 14th after having to quickly pit for new tires.

Best Team:  Team Penske came back strongly at Barber. They lead the  most sessions,  won the pole and the race. Josef Newgarden won his first race at Penske in only his third start with the team.

Worst Team:  The other two Chevy teams, A.J. Foyt Racing and Ed Carpenter’s team, both had less than stellar finishes given the relative success of Penske and the relative mediocrity of their finishes.

Sponsor of the Weekend: Engine manufacturer Chevy/Ilmor came roaring back after a somewhat slow start to the 2017 season.

 Quotes of the Weekend:  JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet, Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama race winner): “That was an awesome day. This is what we work for as an entire group. We always want to get one of these cars in victory lane. And, for (teammate) Will Power, I feel so bad for those boys on the 12 Verizon car – they were on it today and I feel like it would have been a great battle between Will, myself and Scott (Dixon). But it ended up just being Scott and myself. It’s a group effort here (at Team Penske) – all four of these guys work together. I’m thrilled for the (No.) 2 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevy guys but this is a team effort with all four cars. So whoever is in victory lane – we just want to get someone there with Team Penske.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 NTT Data Honda): “What a great race here at Barber. Another second-place finish for the 9 car. I think that’s our fifth runner-up here. One of these days we’re going to win here. We had a great NTT Data car and we were right up in the mix for the win at the end. We just didn’t have enough there, but all in all a good points day for the team. I saw (Josef Newgarden) late coming into (Turn) 15 or 16 on the last restart and I tried to turn down but the car was just so neutral I just didn’t have the rear grip to pull it off. Kudos to Josef – he drove a hell of a race and the win was well deserved. The NTT Data car was strong in the race. I think we actually had the speed – I think if we would have had clean air in that race we would have checked out. I feel bad for Will Power too – I think maybe a flat tire there or something. It was definitely a good fight.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 10 NTT Data Honda): “We’re moving in the right direction for sure. I think it goes without saying that I want to finish a lot higher than seventh, but I’ll take a top-10 after the way this season has started. We had a pretty clean race and our stops were good, we just couldn’t get up with the lead pack. I have a good track record at Phoenix, so hopefully we can come away with a good result next weekend.”

 What We Learned:  One of the big teams finally posted a win in the third race of the season. No matter how good you are, (Power) ill luck can still strike you unfairly.

Schedule: It’s less than a week until the next race, a nighttime contest at Phoenix International Raceway in Avondale, Arizona on Saturday April 29th.

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

By Lisa Davidson

Lisa Davidson is a graduate of the University of Arizona and spent her corporate career as a Controller. She is a lifelong writer who has been covering open wheel racing since 2000 and is the author of historical articles and co-author of one book She and her husband, photographer Jeff Davidson, have two daughters and make their home in Murrieta, CA.