IndyCar – Friday Recap from Barber

Editor’s Note: Kevin Neely has been kind enough to write some articles for us while down at Barber Motorsports Park this week. I would like to personally thank Kevin for reaching out and offering his observations!

LEEDS, AL (March 30, 2012) — Right there on the backstretch, in front of the Red Diamond Fan Zone, she sits there. Her blank expression looks off to the southwest as if she’s searching for something. Perhaps she’s searching for a moment of zen as the apex of a corner unfurls in the drivers mind like an artist moves their brush. Maybe she’s trying to remember obscure facts, like how every piece save for two in the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum can be driven in less than thirty minutes. It might even be simply checking out the exotic cars in the Car Corral directly across from the entrance. More than likely, the now famed “Lady in the Lake” at Barber Motorsports Park is simply looking to the western sky, wondering when the showers would arrive. Much like death and taxes, the showers would inevitably arrive in Leeds, Alabama, dominating the day’s racing storylines.

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The morning on track activity was dominated by Rolex Series and Continental Tire Series qualifying. During this time, I did have the opportunity to chat with Simon Pagenaud. I wanted the perspective of someone who had driven different cars in many series on the performance of the DW12. Simon told me the DW12 handles almost identically to the LMP cars. He specifically mentioned the snappiness of the handling and how crisp the brakes react. Judging by Simon’s on track performance and his high regard of the DW12 in our conversation, I have to believe he’s going to take a race win before the season is over.

In the paddock, things seemed to be the usual laid back Friday feeling most races at Barber take. The only tension in the air came from anticipation of the rain. For a good bit of time, it looked as if we would be spared precipitation and get everything in as scheduled. As the first IZOD Indycar Series practice session wound down, the skies began to open, and large drops began to fall. I looked at my companions, said “Uh oh,” and we began to seek shelter. We waited for a while under the Rahal Letterman Lannigan Racing hauler, eventually making our way to the safety of the Indycar Two Seater experience trailer with the always hard working Liza Merkle.

Practice Session One was a pretty straightforward affair. Will Power ended the session in P1, Castroneves in P2. Nobody was really pushing the cars, so lap times weren’t as low as expected.

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The surprise of the session had to be Josef Newgarden finishing up session one in P4, only thee tenths of a second off Power’s pace. Everyone finishing the session first thru tenth ended the session in the 1:11 range. The Top Ten were an even split of Hondas and Chevrolets, with the Chevy taking more of the Top Five. Top Lotus engine was Sebastian Bourdais in 16th place. Perhaps the biggest story of the session was Justin Wilson’s Honda blowing smoke out of the back early in the session. As the Dale Coyne Racing crew poured over his Sonny’s Barbecue car, the problem was discovered to be a leaking fuel line going into a fuel injector. Needless to say, Wilson was done for the day, but there would be no penalty for an engine change. Your top ten in session one: Power, Castroneves, Sato, Newgarden, Barrichello, Andretti, Kanaan, Pagenaud, Franchitti, Rahal.

Like I said earlier, at the end of the IZOD Indycar Series practice, it started to rain. Eventually, some thunder and lightning moved into the area, so all on track activities were halted. As the rain let up a bit, we left the Two Seater Experience hauler and made our way back down the paddock. Unfortunately, the break was shortlived, so we sought shelter once again, this time ending up under the Target Chip Ganassi Racing hauler. There, I ran into Graham Rahal. Unfortunately, we never really talked racing. Instead, we discussed his new obsession, Rusty’s Barbecue in Leeds. We talked about how he convinced the owner to cook some Brisket, a type of barbecue not normally found in Alabama. In recent interactions with Graham, I have to say he’s one young man who seems to have grown up before our own eyes. He’s always been a very well mannered, down to Earth true gentleman type, but he seems even more comfortable in his own skin now. He also impressed me with his take charge attitude involving the Dan Wheldon Memorial Auction last year. I used to not be the biggest Graham fan, but now I’m sold.

After the track was released for activity once again, the Star Mazda series dried things off a bit. After their session, the IZOD Indycar Series once again took to the circuit for practice. Only 18 cars took advantage of session two due to the wetness of the track and the continuing downpours.

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Top story for this session has to be Oriol Servia’s Lotus deciding to take the rest of the day off. On just his first lap of practice, Servia’s Lotus seemed to have a terminal electrical issue that warrants an engine change. Of course, this is an unapproved change, so Servia gets a 10 grid spot penalty. As for other numbers and positioning from this session, it’s a bit difficult to actually make sense of anything. On the one hand, rain is the great equalizer of racing. Talent tends to come to the top under wet conditions. On the other hand, names missing for session two included Power, Castroneves, Briscoe, Conway and Pagenaud. The biggest thing I took away from this session is it marked the first time the DW12 was driven in anger under wet conditions.

Tomorrow includes an early morning test session for the IZOD Indycar Series, followed by qualifying a few hours later. There’s a chance the track may still be a bit damp during tomorrow morning’s practice session, but everything should be dry by qualifying time. There is still a thirty percent chance of rain for tomorrow at Barber Motorsport Park, but Sunday looks clean and dry for the main event, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by Legacy Credit Union.

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