IndyCar Birmingham Report: Newgarden masters the rain at Barber

The fourth IndyCar race of the season at Barber Motorsport Park lasted somewhat longer than expected with the race getting away on Sunday as planned but not finishing until Monday afternoon US time. Heavy rain had been predicted for Sunday all week and it arrived in full force, drenching the track and limiting Sunday’s running to just over 20 laps.

We picked up the action again on Monday where a timed race was completed to take the race up to the two-hour limit, only completing eight laps less than scheduled in the end. That second race wasn’t without drama though, with 25 minutes to go, rain was starting to be reported and only intensified through the remainder of the race.

Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti Autosport Honda, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske Chevrolet, James Hinchcliffe, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, podium, champagne. Image Courtesy of Team Penske

Josef Newgarden came out on top after both instalments of the race and looked dominant throughout, leading all but nine laps to take his second win of the season and with it, the championship lead. The #1 Penske driver was on pole and led, with a large margin, off the initial start and, despite a hairy moment off the restart, he was entirely untouchable on Sunday. Monday was much of the same story with the lead only looking under threat when the rain came and Sebastien Bourdais tried, and failed, to stay out on slicks. Ultimately, it was Newgarden’s brave call to be the first to go on the rain tyres that kept his race together, even if it was influenced by fuel consumption. The lead was coming down in the closing stages of the race but Newgarden had enough of an advantage to hold firm and take the win.

Ryan Hunter-Reay followed Newgarden home, taking the Andretti limelight off Alexander Rossi who struggled, ending down in eleventh. Hunter-Reay didn’t get up to much on Sunday but was chasing down Bourdais for second in the opening stages of part two. With Newgarden clearing off at the front, Hunter-Reay knew he had to pass Bourdais to stand any chance of catching the Penske driver but the #28 Andretti driver was unable to, staying behind the Frenchman until the pit stops for rain tyres. Initially, it looked like Hunter-Reay was going to try and go to the end on slicks but, with 10 minutes to go, he bailed out and changed to the rain tyres – a call that ultimately saved his race. After a tough start to the season, Hunter-Reay was relieved to get through his first incident-free race of the year with the American now sixth in the championship.

The Schmidt-Peterson teammates of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens claimed third and fourth respectively but both felt that, had the rain played more in their favour, they could’ve been fighting for the higher podium spots. In the first race, Hinchcliffe struggled for pace and was ruing the ruling which means that drivers must remain in their cars during a red flag period, declaring that he’d peed in his suit for the first time once they were allowed out! Both drivers made good progress on Monday with Hinchcliffe pitting for rain tyres a few laps before Wickens however, both felt that, with hindsight at least, they should’ve come in earlier.

Bourdais was also of the same mind as the Schmidt boys after trying, very bravely, to stay out until the end but not quite making it. With about 10 minutes to go, Bourdais was lapping five seconds quicker than Newgarden on the rain tyres but just a few minutes later, the rain started absolutely pouring down, leaving Bourdais with no choice but to pit with just seven minutes left on the clock. The Frenchman was clearly disgruntled in the interviews afterwards, he felt that he could’ve won that race or at least got second so to come home fifth was a massive disappointment. On the brighter side, that was Bourdais’ best result since his win at St Petersburg after two thirteenth places at both Phoenix and Long Beach.

Simon Pagenaud, Team Penske Chevrolet. Image Courtesy of Team Penske

The trait of only a third of Penske being successful continued with Simon Pagenaud and Will Power having horrendous races while teammate Newgarden was in a league of his own at the front. Pagenaud had a few wide moments in the midpart of Monday’s race and, despite being one of the first to come in for rain tyres, he was unable to recover any of his lost places, finishing the race in a distant ninth. Power in the #12 Penske may as well have not turned up for Monday’s race after the unfortunate events on Sunday. On the restart following Charlie Kimball’s crash, Power was running in second but was passed by Bourdais before aquaplaning into the pit wall, breaking his suspension and effectively ending his race there and then. Another difficult set of races for the less fortunate Penske pair who now languish in tenth and fifteenth in the championship respectively.

With the rain and all, little can be told pace-wise from this race however, it was intriguing to get the first wet race of the new universal aero kit era done with Honda looking to have the measure of Chevrolet on the whole. The IndyCar paddock take a well-deserved break now after three straight races with the next race being on the GP track at Indianapolis on the 12th May before the month of May kicks off for real with the Indy 500 build-up.

Full Race Result:

  1. Josef Newgarden
  2. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  3. James Hinchcliffe
  4. Robert Wickens (R)
  5. Sebastien Bourdais
  6. Scott Dixon
  7. Graham Rahal
  8. Takuma Sato
  9. Simon Pagenaud
  10. Marco Andretti
  11. Alexander Rossi
  12. Matheus Leist (R)
  13. Zach Veach (R)
  14. Jordan King (R)
  15. Spencer Pigot
  16. Rene Binder (R)
  17. Gabby Chaves
  18. Tony Kanaan
  19. Zachary Claman De Melo (R)
  20. Ed Jones
  21. Will Power
  22. Max Chilton
  23. Charlie Kimball

 

Featured image courtesy of media.gm.com

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