After listening to the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on the radio Sunday afternoon, I finally got the chance to watch in on the DVR this morning. Not only were speeds faster this year but the cars just looked faster as well. The leader may have had quite a gap on P2 at times but there was still good racing from P2 on back throughout the race. The performance difference between the primary and option tires led to good strategy to follow (and not so good strategy to follow in the case of Penske and Will Power) as well. Here’s what I took away from race.
- There was great stuff from Tristan Vautier, Charlie Kimball, and Marco Andretti on the start. Will Power may have made some mistakes on the start and restart after the early caution but Vautier, Kimball, and Andretti let it all hang out on both. All three were aggressive without over-driving, and put on a great show for the fans.
- IndyCar should have towed James Hinchcliffe’s car back to the paddock under the caution instead of waiting for another one. Over the off season IndyCar changed the points structure to award points to all finishing positions, which rewards teams for repairing cars and rejoining the race. If they’re going to use that kind of points structure they need to make better efforts at getting stranded cars like Hinchcliffe’s back to the paddock instead of waiting for the next caution (because as in this race, it may not happen).
- Tristan Vautier is the real deal. What a battle he and Charlie Kimball had during the early portion of the race! Kimball was right on his rear wing and put a lot of pressure on him but Vautier stayed composed and didn’t make a mistake. He slipped back through the race but still managed a P10 finish. Combine that with his early race and qualifying performance at St. Petersburg and you have a rookie that deserves to be in and has a future in the series. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he does in the big cars on the oval tracks.
- I don’t know who lit the fire underneath Charlie Kimball but they need to leave it there. I already mentioned the great early race battle Kimball had with Vautier but Kimball drove hard all race long. He qualified P5 and finished P4 after racing in the top 3 for part of the race. For part of the race he was also the highest placed Ganassi car.
- The Chip Ganassi cars are back on form. Kimball, as mentioned above, had a good race as did Dixon. Franchitti was also much improved over his St. Petersburg performance but a mechanical failure prevented a better finish. Not only did they collectively race better as a team at Barber but with the exception of Franchitti they qualified better as well (Franchitti admitted making a mistake in qualifying so he could have had a better start than P17).
- Honda performed better at Barber but they still have reliability issues to overcome. The Honda engines seemed to be more competitive at Barber than they were at St. Petersburg but that could have been due to the more flowing nature of a natural road course than a city street course. The Chevrolet engined cars definitely didn’t run off with things like they did at St. Petersburg. It will be interesting to see if the Hondas can stay competitive at Long Beach or if the Chevrolets maintain their street course dominance like at St. Petersburg.
- A.J. Allmendinger did better than I expected in his first race back in an IndyCar. I honestly didn’t expect Allmendinger to be as competitive as he was at Barber. Up until a stall leaving the pits, he was able to race in the Top 10. Early on he even put a pass on Will Power. At any rate, his P19 finish certainly didn’t reflect how well he ran early on. I think he’ll only improve with more experience in the cars after a number years in NASCAR; IndyCar is certainly the series he belongs in.
Once again, the NBC Sports Network crew did a great job on presenting the race. They’ve really stepped up over previous seasons. The booth crew of Diffey, Bell, and Dallenbach has good chemistry. Putting Beekhuis in the pits was a move I had trepidation about but has worked out quite well. The one area I think they still need work on (and I understand they’re working on it) is in timing. During the qualifying coverage, they need to show sector times and lap times like Formula 1 coverage does so that you can better keep track of who’s where. It would also be good to have gap times during the races instead of interval to the leader so you know the time between positions and work out how strategy might work or be working.
After two good races to start the 2013 IndyCar season I can’t wait to see Long Beach. During the off season, I said that IndyCar would need to win me back on the track after the ridiculous off season and so far they’re doing it.