Race Weekend Central

IndyCar Breakdown: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

In A Nutshell: A two-and-a-half-hour rain delay. A shortened timed race of one hour and 40 minutes. And a wet start. That’s the kind of day it was at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. Perhaps not unexpected in such wet conditions, 5 cautions slowed the pace, including one for a hard crash by Mikhail Aleshin with just eight minutes left on the clock. The race ended under yellow, although it probably only served to make the margin of victory smaller as Ryan Hunter-Reay was happily driving away from teammate Marco Andretti when it flew. Scott Dixon finished third, followed bySimon Pagenaud and Will Power rounding out the top 5.

Rain failed to bring down Ryan Hunter-Reay’s spirits as he atoned for his Long Beach hiccup.
Rain failed to bring down Ryan Hunter-Reay’s spirits as he atoned for his Long Beach hiccup.

Key Moment: Will Power appeared to have things well in hand, with Hunter-Reay disappearing in the rear-view mirror until Power made an off-road excursion 20 minutes into the race. Power was fortunate to avoid getting stuck in the gravel and also not to hit anything, but before he could get back on track, his four-second lead evaporated and Hunter-Reay had gone by. It would pretty much be Hunter-Reay’s day from there on out.

Highlight Reel

– Yes, two and a half hours is a long rain delay. Long enough to show an entire Indy Lights race and still have lots of driver interviews. The thing with IndyCar, though is they have rain tires and they race in wet conditions, so the delay prompted many complaints on Twitter from fans wanting to know why there was a delay when they have rain tires. The reason is simple: it was not just rain, but thunder, lightning, and downpour. You can’t ask anyone, least of all spectators, to sit out in those conditions. It’s dangerous. And, rain tires or not, too much water is too much water. Those tires still have to be able to find the track surface. Does anyone here remember the Surfer’s Paradise disaster Champ Car had in 2002? With a temporary street circuit, the race had to go that day. So officials opted to start in heavy rain, resulting in a pileup that saw several cars get airborne. Most of the laps ended up being run under caution behind a pace car just to reach the distance. Series officials got raked over the coals, and rightly so. Had INDYCAR opted to start on time, it would have been Surfer’s Paradise all over again.

– Once the race did finally start, there were still some areas of the track with lots of water on the surface, as evidenced by the huge rooster tails thrown by the cars. Someone has to ask this question: How the hell could anyone past about the first four cars see?

– Wet conditions meant a slightly high five cautions for a one hour, forty minute race. But to their credit, given the slick track, when INDYCAR was green, there was a lot of great racing going on through the field.

– It’s interesting that once the track starts to dry and the wet tires overheat, drivers are actually aiming for the puddles to try and get the tires wet.

– Stopping in the wrong pit stall seems like a terribly amateurish mistake for a veteran driver like Helio Castroneves, but did you see those uniforms? The Boy Scout-sponsored clothing worn by Justin Wilson’s crew did look just like the AAA ones worn by the Penske team. And a rule is a rule. Honest mistake or not, Castroneves drove through another team’s pit stall and got penalized for such. Beyond of course probably feeling like a giant boob for the rest of the day…

– Juan Pablo Montoya went off the track and got stuck in the kitty litter on lap 27. The team had just switched to slick tires, a necessary move given the drying track conditions, but a track does not all dry at once so there were still some very slippery spots in the chicanes. Montoya found one, thus making it a rather dim day for Team Penske all around.

– The number one complaint once the rain finally got started from those posting in the Twittersphere was the nearly constant commercial breaks. Viewers did raise a good question though: what happened to the side-by-side coverage? It may not have been any more commercials than usual but Verizon IndyCar fans have grown accustomed to not being pulled away from the race for every single break. Not that these are things INDYCAR can necessarily control, but a long rain delay, a shortened race, constant commercials, and a finish under caution left a bad taste for some fans, it seems.

Notable Drivers: Tony Kanaan and Jack Hawksworth

Both drivers started in the back, 22nd for Hawksworth and 23rd for Kanaan, and both drove their way through the field to post decent finishes. 12th for Hawksworth, a rookie is worth noting, along with ninth for Kanaan. They managed to do this in a race constantly being slowed for caution periods and on a wet racetrack to boot. Hawksworth ran as high as 10th at one point.

“It was an exciting race with a lot going on,” said Hawksworth. “We started twenty-second and it was raining at the start. The car was good in the wet and we made some progress. Then, we had some solid racing throughout the field.”

From the Twittersphere:

Peter Leung @BaronVonClutch: The weather at @BarberMotorPark is, in a word, torrential. #IndyCar @allanmcnish

John Keefe @jkeefe71: Am I the only one?? It rain, its a road course, ?????? WTF#IndyCar

GEO @spellgo: As a fan of #IndyCar, I do love rain delays as they get interviews from more drivers that we’d not normally see pre-race. #HIGPA @NBCSN

Mandy @Indy_Mode: Someone get JPM out there to blow up a jet dryer. That will dry it up right quick. #IndyCar

SPM @SPMIndyCar: SPM fashioned boats out of hero cards for a race in the puddles at @BarberMotorPark! @IndyCar #HIGPA

Matt Archuleta @indy44: Riding blind. #RoosterTails #HIGPA #IndyCar

BryanHerta Autosport @BHA: Lap 38… UP TO P10 for @jackhawk98! Great run so far up from P22 on the starting grid! #IndyCar #HIGPA

RonKuhn @ronkuhn52: I’ve got @IndyCar on my laptop and @NHRA on the TV. I love racing! #Nascar #IndyCar #NHRA #imsa

Ben Carver @BKCMsport: It will end under yellow. TBH I’m glad there’s no GWC. That stuff belongs in #NASCAR. #IndyCar

Nick DeGroot @ndegroot89: Great…really wish #Indycar would implement the GWCpolicy. Things like this rob us of so many great finishes.

“The Verizon Chevrolet was really fast on the wet tires and I just got in trouble in turn 5. I keep moving my braking point further and further into the corners and I got caught going too far. It’s tough to not push past the limits with wet patches everywhere. We really didn’t have the pace in the dry anyway, but that sure didn’t help our cause when I went off course.” Will Power

“Unfortunately, I confused our pit stall with the 19 car of Justin Wilson. We were pitted right beside each other and our colors were very similar. I stopped in their pit stall, which was bad, but I also had to serve a stop-and-go penalty. With the cautions the way they fell, I could never get a full green-flag lap to serve my penalty. I feel so bad for the guys because that was completely on me.” Helio Castroneves

“It was a good day for us. I mean, we passed half of the field on a track that people say you can’t pass on. We’ll take a top-10 finish, especially after the weekend we had and qualifying in the back.” Tony Kanaan

“I’ve been anxious (to compete) since we left Long Beach. What a dream to have a car like that at that distance. Great to get the No. 28 DHL car with a Honda at a Honda (sponsored) race into Victory Circle. (Long Beach) should have been a great result, but we got it today.” Ryan Hunter-Reay

What’s Next:

This race officially wraps up the starting portion of the season and it’s now off to the annual month of May interlude at Indy. The next race will be the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the revamped Indy infield road course. Tune in on Saturday, May 10, 3:30 PM ET on ABC to kick off the month of May in Indy in a new way.

About the author

A writer for Frontstretch since 2002, and editor since 2006, Toni heads up the NHRA coverage for the site. She’s responsible for post-race coverage in the weekly Pace Laps multi-series round-up along with the weekly Nitro Shots column featuring news and features from the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series. An award-winning former writer for the Presbyterian Church, Toni works in web design and freelances with writing in North Carolina.

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