IndyCar Birmingham Report: Sato dominates proceedings at Barber

Takuma Sato converted a slightly unexpected pole position into a dominant win at Barber Motorsports Park, in a race that could’ve seen a one-two for his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team.

Sato ran an almost faultless race to take his first victory of the season and in turn the first of the season for RLL. His win only looked in danger once or twice during the race, with the first scare from Sebastien Bourdais’ two-stop strategy and the second from an off-track excursion from Sato with only five laps to go. Even so, Sato took the win with a two-second gap over second-place Scott Dixon to elevate him to third in the championship.

The only disappointment of the weekend for RLL was that Graham Rahal couldn’t convert his front row start to a decent finish. Rahal had the pace to stay with Sato and hold second, but his throttle started to stick on Lap 3, meaning he had to have a long pit stop to correct it. Just after halfway through the race, his car completely died, ending any hopes of a recovery drive and forming half of the reason for the race’s only caution.

Credit: Matt Fraver/IndyCar

The other reason for the caution was an incident between Tony Kanaan and Max Chilton at pit entry that left the latter stranded in the wall, though he did manage to re-join the race, albeit two laps down.

Dixon seems to be making a habit of finishing second at Barber, with his second place this race taking his total up to six, all without a win at the track. He ran a fairly uneventful race, with the only major drama coming as a result of Bourdais’ two-stop strategy. After the last stops, Dixon had got back ahead of Bourdais, but the Frenchman stayed with him throughout the final stint, though he was never able to make a move on Dixon, meaning they finished second and third respectively.

Bourdais was the only driver to make the two-stop work, with many others bailing out and sticking to the safer three-stop. Spencer Pigot and Jack Harvey were the only other two to try the two-stop, but they finished seventeenth and thirteenth respectively, though it could’ve been a different story for Pigot had he not got a drive-thru penalty for speeding in the pit lane. Bourdais was helped by the one and only caution which ended up merging the two strategies, meaning he was not at too much of a disadvantage tyre-wise in the final stint.

Championship leader Josef Newgarden had a very impressive recovery drive, finishing fourth despite having started down in sixteenth. He made up a lot of places through the first two stints and made steady progress after the restart, giving Alexander Rossi a taste of his own medicine with two laps to go as the pair banged wheels and, for once, Rossi didn’t come out on top. Penske struggled all weekend with pace and tyre wear, with Newgarden’s result a surprise compared to Simon Pagenaud’s ninth-place and Will Power’s eleventh. It wasn’t just Penske struggling though, all the Chevrolet cars were off the pace with only two finishing in the top ten.

Credit: Matt Fraver/IndyCar

Rossi made light of what was otherwise quite a disappointing weekend for Andretti, finishing a respectable fifth after getting the better of James Hinchcliffe on the restart. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the next best Andretti, coming home eighth while both Zach Veach and Marco Andretti spent the day buried in the midfield, eventually finishing twelfth and fourteenth.

Schmidt Peterson Motorsports scored one of the best team results since Toronto last year with Hinchcliffe finishing sixth and Marcus Ericsson one behind him in seventh. Hinchcliffe had been in a solid fourth-place for most of the race but both Newgarden and Rossi passed him on the restart, and from there he was unable to stick with their pace. Ericsson, however, spent the whole race passing cars and making some Rossi-esque moves to finish seventh having started way down the order in twentieth.

Credit: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar

Having won the race last time out, Colton Herta was brought back down to reality with a thump. He’d had some engine issues throughout qualifying that his Harding team had hoped to be on top of by the race; the issues resurfaced early on and forced Herta to go behind the wall. The team managed to get him back out on track, but it was only for a test session as he was already 35 laps down by then, meaning he’s gone from hero to zero in the space of two races.

After an eventful race at Barber, IndyCar head to Long Beach next weekend for their first back-to-back of the season.

Full Race Results:

  1. Takuma Sato
  2. Scott Dixon
  3. Sebastien Bourdais
  4. Josef Newgarden
  5. Alexander Rossi
  6. James Hinchcliffe
  7. Marcus Ericsson (R)
  8. Ryan Hunter-Reay
  9. Simon Pagenaud
  10. Felix Rosenqvist (R)
  11. Will Power
  12. Zach Veach
  13. Jack Harvey
  14. Marco Andretti
  15. Santino Ferrucci (R)
  16. Patricio O’Ward (R)
  17. Spencer Pigot
  18. Tony Kanaan
  19. Ed Jones
  20. Matheus Leist
  21. Ben Hanley (R)
  22. Max Chilton

DNF – Graham Rahal (engine), Colton Herta (R) (engine)

Championship Top 5:

  1. Josef Newgarden
  2. Scott Dixon
  3. Takuma Sato
  4. Alexander Rossi
  5. Colton Herta (R)

Featured Image Credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar

IndyCar Birmingham Preview

Barber Motorsports Park is the venue for the third round of the 2019 IndyCar season, with Josef Newgarden heading into the weekend at the top of the championship. The 2.38-mile road course is in Alabama and has been Penske territory for the past few years.

Newgarden’s lead in the championship at this stage is not an unexpected one, but the driver in second is not someone who anyone expected to be anything like a championship contender. After his remarkable first win last time out at the Circuit of the Americas, Colton Herta sits in second place in the championship, 18 points shy of Newgarden but with the same margin over third place Scott Dixon.

IndyCar’s first time out at COTA was certainly drama-filled, as was the last time IndyCar came to Barber, though for rather different reasons. Last year, the race at Barber ended up taking place primarily on the Monday, the day after the race was due to run. This was because of torrential rain that caused dangerous levels of aquaplaning, meaning the race had to be stopped after just over 20 laps and then continued as a timed race the following day.

Credit: Chris Owens/IndyCar

This didn’t stop Newgarden taking the victory, while his Penske teammates, Will Power and Simon Pagenaud, had horrendous races, a trait that seems to have started to play into this season as well. This year, some showers are predicted throughout the weekend but, if the forecast is to be believed, there shouldn’t be anything like the downpours of 2018.

Barber is the third road course of the season, with the usual road qualifying and race formatting in place, as it has been for the last two races, meaning qualifying will again be the two groups of twelve halving until we reach the Fast Six.

Like COTA, there will be a 24-car grid for Barber, with only two changes since the last race. Kyle Kaiser and Juncos will not be present, and it is not known when either will be returning to the series. Ben Hanley and DragonSpeed are back on the grid after making their debut at St Petersburg, before they take a two-race break, returning for the Indy 500. Other than that, everyone else is where they were at COTA, with very few changes scheduled from now until the Indy 500.

As mentioned earlier, Penske has always been strong at Barber, winning every race here since 2016 and taking every pole since 2015. In that time, the pole-sitter has taken the win in two out of the four races, though last year was a bit of an anomaly. As for this year, one of the Penske drivers desperately needs a return to form; this is, as it has been for most of the last year, Pagenaud, who’s seat is looking more and more at risk with each disappointing race.

2018 Barber podium, L-R: Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, James Hinchcliffe. Credit: Chris Jones/IndyCar

Elsewhere, Dixon and Alexander Rossi could both do with wins, or at least podiums, to really state their respective intentions to challenge for this championship, or they will run the risk of Newgarden getting a more comfortable gap at the front. Herta will be looking to carry on his momentum from COTA however, he is not really expected to be in the fight for the win or even the podium, but, then again, he wasn’t expected to be at COTA either.

None of the Road to Indy programme will at racing at Barber, meaning it’s just IndyCar for this weekend. NBC and Sky Sports F1 will be showing qualifying and the race as usual in the US and UK respectively, and all the timings you need for the weekend are as follows…

April 5

Practice 1 – 12:15pm (EDT) / 5:15pm (BST)
Practice 2 – 3:50pm / 8:50pm

April 6

Practice 3 – 11:45am / 4:45pm
Qualifying – 4:00pm / 9:00pm

April 7

Final Warmup – 12:10pm / 5:10pm
Race – 4:15pm / 9:15pm

Entry List:

# Driver Team
2 Josef Newgarden Team Penske
4 Matheus Leist AJ Foyt Racing
5 James Hinchcliffe Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
7 Marcus Ericsson (R) Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
9 Scott Dixon Chip Ganassi Racing
10 Felix Rosenqvist (R) Chip Ganassi Racing
12 Will Power Team Penske
14 Tony Kanaan AJ Foyt Racing
15 Graham Rahal Rahal Letterman Lanigan
18 Sebastien Bourdais Dale Coyne Racing
19 Santino Ferrucci (R) Dale Coyne Racing
20 Ed Jones Ed Carpenter Racing
21 Spencer Pigot Ed Carpenter Racing
22 Simon Pagenaud Team Penske
26 Zach Veach Andretti Autosport
27 Alexander Rossi Andretti Autosport
28 Ryan Hunter-Reay Andretti Autosport
30 Takuma Sato Rahal Letterman Lanigan
31 Patricio O’Ward (R) Carlin
59 Max Chilton Carlin
60 Jack Harvey Meyer Shank Racing/Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
81 Ben Hanley DragonSpeed
88 Colton Herta (R) Harding Steinbrenner
98 Marco Andretti Andretti Autosport

Featured Image Credit: Stephen King/IndyCar