Preview: 2019 NTT IndyCar Series – Barber

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2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, Grand Prix of Alabama, Barber Motorsports Park
Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

The 2019 NTT IndyCar Series is back in action this weekend for the third round of the season, the Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.

A favourite of many drivers on the field, Barber Motorsport Park is a relatively recent addition to the NTT IndyCar Series, having held its first IndyCar race back in 2010. The circuit’s elevation changes, coupled with a mixture of technical and flowing corners, make for a fantastic spectacle that has seen some thrilling races over the last few years.

Here is everything you need to know ahead of this Sunday’s race in Birmingham, Alabama.

What happened in 2018 at Barber Motorsports Park?

The 2018 Grand Prix of Alabama was an event heavily affected by rain. In Saturday’s qualifying session, the circuit remained dry. Team Penske‘s Josef Newgarden would end the session as the fastest driver, taking the team’s eighth pole at the Alabama circuit out of the previous nine races held there. Qualifying right behind Newgarden would be his team-mate, Will Power, with the pair separated by just one-tenth of a second.

At the start of the race on Sunday, rain was thundering down at Barber Motorsports Park. Newgarden held the lead for the opening stages of the race, with team-mate Power holding station in second place.

The rain was so heavy that the drivers were struggling to keep themselves pointing in the right direction. This was demonstrated perfectly on a race restart on lap seventeen when race-leader Newgarden almost spun at the front of the pack. Seconds later, Power too would lose control, but he was unable to gather his car back up. He was sent spinning into the wall and subsequently out of the race.

A few laps later, the race was red flagged due to the sheer severity of the rain. Series officials waited as long as possible to see if they could restart the race, but ultimately the decision was made to postpone the remainder of the race until the next day.

Mercifully, conditions were much drier on Monday when the race was restarted, with roughly an hour of track-time remaining before the chequered flag would fly. Newgarden would pick up from where he left off when the race was restarted, pulling away sharpishly to build a three-second lead within the opening few laps.

Newgarden would remain with a comfortable lead as the race neared its conclusion, but, once again, rain would begin to fall. Newgarden would make the decision to pit for wet tyres as the rain slowly worsened, with much of the field following him into the pits. Sebastien Bourdais, however, would gamble by staying out on the circuit on dry tyres, hoping that he could hang on until the end of the race.

Sadly for Sebastien, his gamble would not pay off. Conditions continued to get worse and worse, with other drivers on dry tyres spinning off the circuit at regular intervals. In the end, Sebastien’s Dale Coyne Racing crew were forced to call him into the pits for dry tyres; putting the Frenchman back into fifth place.

After Bourdais pitted, Newgarden was back into the lead of the race. With a comfortable lead, Josef would cross the line to take the race victory, with almost ten seconds in hand over runner-up finisher Ryan Hunter-ReaySchmidt Peterson Motorsports driver, James Hinchcliffe, would complete the podium in third place.

You can read the full reports from last year’s qualifying and race at Barber by following the links below

Josef Newgarden (USA), Team Penske, 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series, Barber Motorsports Park

Credit: Chris Jones / Courtesy of IndyCar

What should I look out for this weekend?

Looking at past races, it is hard to look past Team Penske for a potential dominating performance this weekend, in particular with driver Josef Newgarden. As mentioned previously, Josef enters the race as the defending race winner from 2018, but he also has two other Alabama wins to his name.

A win this weekend would be his fourth at Barber Motorsports Park and his third in succession; adding to what is already a great strike-rate at the circuit for Josef. What’s more, it would help Newgarden to further increase his lead at the top of the standings, as he currently sits seventeen points clear after finishing first and second in the opening two races.

Of course, if Newgarden’s #2 Penske Chevrolet is fast this weekend, chances are that Will Power’s sister #12 will be as well. Power was in a prime position to take a dominant victory two weeks ago at the Circuit of the Americas, but a driveshaft failure during the final pit-stops would see him forced to retire. As a result, he is now sixth in the standings when he could have been in the lead. Determined not to have another inconsistent season, as he did last year, Power will be hoping to take his third win at Barber Motorsports Park, which would be his first since 2012.

Andretti Autosport team-mates Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay have both shown decent pace in the opening two rounds of the season, but neither has had the finishing results that they would have hoped for. Rossi currently sits fifth in the standings, which could have been much higher had it not been for an ill-timed caution at COTA whilst he was running in second place. Hunter-Reay, meanwhile, has been just as quick as Rossi but sits fifty-one points off of the lead in the standings in eighth place after retiring from the season-opener at St. Petersburg.

Both drivers have previously shown flashes of speed at Barber, with Hunter-Reay having won at the Alabama circuit back in 2013. For Rossi, Barber has been less of a successful hunting ground, with his fifth place back in 2017 being the only time that he has finished inside the top ten in his three attempts. The duo will be hoping to finally utilize the speed of their Andretti Hondas in order to be in contention for the win on Sunday.

Finally, keep an eye on two young guns this weekend. The star of the last race at COTA was unarguably Colton Herta, who made history by becoming the youngest ever IndyCar race winner in only his third start. The Harding Steinbrenner Racing driver has been fast at both races so far this season, so don’t count him out from being fast yet again this weekend, as he tries to maintain his strong second place spot in the standings.

Another rookie hoping to impress will be Carlin‘s Patricio O’Ward. Despite having missed out on the first race of the season and pre-season testing before that, O’Ward made waves on his return to the championship last time out at COTA. In his first start for the British team and only his second race, O’Ward fought wheel-to-wheel with some of the best drivers in the championship en-route to taking an eighth-place finish.

With more mileage under his belt now, expect Patricio to be making headlines yet again in Sunday’s race, as he returns to the site of his double victory in the Indy Lights championship twelve months ago.

What is the schedule for the weekend?

Friday 5 April

12:15 ET / 17:15 GMT – Practice one
15:50 ET / 20:50 GMT – Practice two

Saturday 6 April

11:45 ET / 16:45 GMT – Practice three
16:00 ET / 21:00 GMT – Qualifying

Sunday 7 April

16:00 ET / 21:00 GMT – Race

Where can I watch the 2019 Grand Prix of Alabama?

Tickets are still available for this weekend’s race. Head to the Barber Motorsports Park website for more information.

As a part of the IndyCar’s UK coverage deal, both qualifying and the race will be broadcasted live on Sky Sports F1.

In the United States, television coverage for COTA will be shown on NBC Sports.

Further coverage of practice and qualifying will be provided in the United States by NBC Sports Gold.

How can I keep up to date with all the race action?

If you cannot make it to Birmingham, Alabama for this weekend’s race, you can keep up to date with all the action across the weekend right here at The Checkered Flag. We will have coverage of this weekend’s practice, qualifying and race sessions.

Be sure to also follow IndyCar on Twitter – @IndyCar – for live updates throughout the event.

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