Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Honda Indy GP Of Alabama Gives High Marks To Round Four

CFH Racing's Josef Newgarden sprays ... and gets sprayed with, champagne after winning the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. Image Credit: Shawn Gritzmacher - VICS

Honda Indy GP Of Alabama Gives High Marks To Round Four

Ever go to a Team Penske Chevy coronation (with a Ganassi Chevy chaser) and have a competition break out? This is what happened during the fourth round of the young 2015 Verizon IndyCar season.

The dedicated road course racing complex just outside of Birmingham, Alabama, Barber Motorsports Park, hosted the sixth consecutive Honda Grand Prix of Alabama this last weekend and all of the activity leading up to the race pointed to a racing domination put on by Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing (TCGR) built upon engine-power and aerodynamics provided by Chevrolet.

Qualifications saw the top 10 places occupied Chevy with Team Penske's Helio Castroneves and Will Power filling up the first row followed by team-mate Simon Pagenaud at P3 with TGCR's and Round 3 winner (Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach) Scott Dixon slotted in at P4.

The closest Honda engine-power and aerodynamics packaged Dallara DW12 was piloted by Rahal Letterman Lanigan's Graham Rahal at P8 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Round 2 race winner (GP of Louisiana) James Hinchcliffe rounding out the top 10.

The weather decided not to become the story ... or better, become the over-riding factor of the race because the weather was perfect for the race to be the story of the race.

When the GREEN Flag flew, fans were treated to fast speeds and expert driving without all of that unnecessary carbon fiber flying all over the place. Barber Motorsports Park was originally constructed as a supermoto motorcycle race track so the racing surface provided tends to be a little tight for wide IndyCars but this did not limit expert passing on the many power curves this rolling hills situated track is noted for.

No. 67 Josef Newgarden leads No. 3 Helio Castroneves and the field into Turn 5 during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. Image Credit: Chris Owens - VICS

Within the first few laps, people were being treated to a masterful display of race management driving first by CFH Racing's Chevy of Josef Newgarden (starting P5) and in the closing laps by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing's Honda of Graham Rahal (starting P8).

Newgarden made his intent to win known immediately, passing Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon as the field streamed into Turn 1 after the GREEN Flag. Before the first lap was even completed, he gained another position when he out-maneuvered Will Power coming out of Turn 17.

On Lap 19, Newgarden and race leader Helio Castroneves dropped into the pit lane for their first stops of the race. The No. 67 Hartman Oil crew switched Newgarden to black Firestone Firehawk tires quickly enough to beat the No. 3 of Castroneves off of the pit lane.

Newgarden led the field to the restart on Lap 24 over Castroneves and Graham Rahal. A few clean laps were followed by another full course caution on Lap 34, sending Newgarden back into the pit lane for his second stop of the race. The team believed they were within the window to be able to complete the race on one more stop later in the event.  Castroneves remained on the same strategy as Newgarden, but this time the No. 3 beat the No. 67 out of the pits. The yellow flag split the strategy of the field, with half of the cars electing to stay out.

No. 1 Will Power works his way back through traffic as the field streams through Turn 5 during the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. Image Credit: Chris Owens - VICS

The next restart on Lap 39 saw Newgarden take the green from the 14th position. Newgarden focused on getting around Castroneves to move back to the first car in line on their strategy.  His goal was accomplished within the lap, when he masterfully overtook Castroneves coming out of Turn 16.

As the second round of pit stops cycled through, Newgarden regained the lead on Lap 51, ahead of Castroneves and Dixon. Newgarden's last stop came on Lap 63, one lap ahead of Dixon's final stop who was running in second. After final pit stops, Newgarden cycled back to the lead on Lap 70 and began building a lead that reached as high as seven seconds.

RLL driver Graham Rahal comes in for his final pitstop seven laps later than Josef Newgarden and one lap later than Scott Dixon which allows him to put on the hardest podium placing charge of the race. Image Credit: Chris Jones - VICS

A hard-charging Rahal, who was on a different pitstop strategy, got new tires and full fuel to the end on Lap 70, caught and passed first, Will Power (ending P4), Ryan Hunter-Reay Lap 81 (ending P5), Helio Castroneves Lap 83 (who finished P15 out-of-gas), then Dixon on the final lap after being as far back as P6 after his final pitstop.

Josef's car sports a 'wheel tag' mark on the left sidefloor kick (presumably from a set of Reds) as he crosses across just over the Start/Finish line proving the tight racing that was experienced throughout the 90 laps of the Honda Indy GP Of Alabama. Image Credit: Chris Owens - VICS

Newgarden took the checkered flag 2.2 seconds ahead of Rahal, adding his name to the record books as a Verizon IndyCar Series race winner.

As far as Chevy domination? ... Andretti Autosport, Honda-powered and aero-modified, finished with three cars in the top 10 at P5, P6, and P10 (RHR, Munoz, and Andretti), add James Hinchcliffe at P7 and Graham Rahal's P2 and the top 10 places are evenly split - five Chevy, five Honda.
(ht: CFH Racing for description contribution on Josef Newgarden, No. 67 Hartman Oil Chevrolet's run)

A photo posted by Paddock Insider (@paddockinsider) on

This excerpted and edited from Motorsport.com -

Five worthless opinions: Honda Grand Prix of Alabama edition
By: Mark Wilkinson, Motorsport.com - April 27, 2015 5:06pm

At times, my WO’s (worthless opinions) can run to sarcasm. Surprising, I know. And the Verizon IndyCar Series always seems to offer snark fodder in abundance.

At previous races this year, the fragile front wings, racing in the rain, and rules interpretations have made it easy for one so inclined. The Honda Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park changed most of that. While not snark free, most of these WO’s celebrate a great race.

1.  All-American Finish

Josef Newgarden winning is a big deal for many reasons. A compelling storyline to recent Verizon IndyCar Series seasons is the lack of a marketable American drivers for a North American series.

F1, noted for drivers from around the world, is a truly international series with venues around the world.  The IndyCar series is not. The international drivers in IndyCar are outstanding, but without sounding all jingoistic about it, having a young, well-spoken, and telegenic American cannot hurt the marketability of the series. If the series chooses to market him, of course.

They had American Ryan Hunter-Reay as both series champ and Indy 500 winner and it would hard to say they capitalized on that.

2.  The Racing

Newgarden and his Chevy were racy from the start, passing Scott Dixon, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power to grab the lead from a fifth place start. It was the kind of start that had fans using body English to help the drivers maneuver through traffic.

Graham Rahal’s run in his Honda to second after a late fuel stop had fans watching two strategies at once: Newgarden’s slow-paced fuel saving in his Chevy versus Rahal’s hanging-it-out after stopping for fuel near the end. Fans could actually see the interval decreasing by [a couple of] seconds per lap.

And while Newgarden’s early passes were scintillating, Rahal’s outside passes throughout the race were equally spectacular. Great stuff.

3.  Lack of Idiocy/Penalties/Yellows

It was almost life affirming to not see carbonfiber flotsam and jetsam strewn around the track on the first lap. The racing was tight and, for the most part, clean.

For the second race in a row, yellow flag racing was at a minimum. Of course, the last two races simply balanced out the first two in the green/yellow ratio. We’ll see where it goes from here.

It goes without saying that no Verizon IndyCar Series race is complete without grousing and complaining from drivers and teams about the officiating. Both Sebastien Bourdais and Stefano Colleti took exception to yellow flags causing them personal hardship.

Juan Pablo Montoya took umbrage at Rodolfo Gonzalez slowing him down. James Hinchcliffe was upset with Rahal’s line through the turns. Ryan Hunter-Reay is still upset about NOLA and sees inconsistency everywhere. And of course, everyone complained about Francesco Dracone’s pace.

The reality was that Race Control penalized some, drivers, warned others, and called nothing in other situations.  It’s like calling holding in the NFL. An official can do it every play. You can’t call it all in racing, either, no matter how much the drivers whine and complain.

4.  Success of CFH Racing and RLL Racing

Back at the top of the podium, the success of Carpenter Fisher Hartman Racing over Penske and Ganassi bodes well for the sport and the team.

The same holds true for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, too. The smaller teams in the series need success to bolster their bottom lines when it comes to sponsorship. While Ed Carpenter has Fuzzy’s Vodka for he and Luca Filippi in their ride share, a win can go a long way to help Sarah Fisher land a season-long sponsorship for Josef Newgarden.

Graham Rahal’s second place finish sure put sponsor Steak and Shake in the spotlight. And Rahal, ever the shill for his sponsors, tweeted after the race that he might stop in for a shake on his way home.

5.  Big Mo Heading to Indy:

There must be something to momentum in sports. Every announcer, coach, and player in every sport talks about its value.  If that’s true, then the month of May in Indy could be interesting.

Chevy certainly has engine and aero kit momentum. They are the class of the field. Penske has some, too.  The team has every driver in the top nine in the standings with Montoya and Castroneves running first and second.

The Ganassi boys are coming on, particularly after Long Beach. With Newgarden and Rahal riding their Barber success, this might be the year for an underdog winner at the 500. And don’t forget about the invisible man, Ed Carpenter.  He knows Indy.

The greatest beneficiary of momentum has to be the Verizon IndyCar Series. After the aero growing pains of St. Pete and the weather woes of NOLA, the series seems to be finding its groove.

All in all, it was a most excellent race.

Let’s hope it sets the tone for a most excellent month of May in Indy.
[Reference Here]

Will Power on course during the final warmup for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park. Image Credit: Shawn Gritzmacher - VICS

The last kudo goes to Will Power for qualifying P2, being passed, sliding back and being penalized with a drive through penalty for hitting Takuma Sato (on "pit out" after the first stop) sending Power to the back of the field, then fighting all of the way back to a respectable P4 finish ... the highest finishing Team Penske car in the field.

The promise of the merger, the DW12 with modified aero body parts, tire selection, fuel management, great weather, along with good strategy and excellent driving all came together at one of America's most beautiful purpose built road courses.

Bravo to Newgarden, Rahal, Dixon, Power, Barber Motorsports Park, and most of all ... the Verizon IndyCar Series for presenting the best road racing action in several years.

... notes from The EDJE

TAGS: Barber Motorsports Park, Round 4, VICS, Verizon IndyCar Series, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, Scott Dixon, Will Power, CFH Racing, Team Penske, Taret Chip Ganassi Racing, The EDJE

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