I so enjoyed watching this race. Things were mixed up right from the beginning and the action under green was exciting. In fairness, some would say the same about the previous race at COTA. In fact some of you did, several disagreed with my thoughts on that race. I felt it was a little dull until the yellow came out. On the other hand I was thoroughly enjoying the Barber race without the yellow. So upon reflecting on the two races I wonder how much my setting had to do with it. I watching the COTA race from the top floor of a beach condo where the sun, waves and family begged me to step away from the tv. Barber, I watched from my couch in my house in the Midwest where it was raining. Safe to say I had no distractions. Perhaps I would have enjoyed COTA more under those same settings. Either way I was having a blast watching the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama at Barber Motorsports Park.
Qualifying really shook things up from the start when Josef Newgarden and Simon Pagenaud failed to make even the top twelve in qualifying. Will Power had won the two previous poles this season so there was still hope but in the end it was Takuma Sato that earned the top spot. Rahal Letterman Lanigan teammate, Graham Rahal, qualified second. First time since Chicagoland, 2005 RLL Racing swept the front row. Previous had been Danica Patrick and Buddy Rice. David Letterman flew down for the race after such a great qualifying day. Fun to see him there.
As I said I enjoyed the green flag action. Perhaps it was because it wasn’t a Penske driver leading, perhaps it was my ability to pay attention, or perhaps it was just a much more enjoyable race. Either way I was enjoying the mid pack action, the debate on a two or three pit stop strategy and just the beauty of Barber a Motorsports Park. The Park has some unique art and it shows up well on camera. I also laughed every lap when the cars drove under a particular bridge. It had a mannequin hanging from it. The woman had the best view in the house. Will Power joked on social media that when her legs came into view it was time to break. She wasn’t obvious in the screenshot but I saw her every time.
The race did not stay green, on lap 57 Graham Rahal stalled on the backstretch. Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan we’re likely trying to duck into the pits before a yellow came out. They made contact and Chilton went into the tire barrier. The yellow came out but the pits remained open for the leaders to stop. The pit strategy basically went out the window as this allowed everyone to stop and have fuel to the end. I don’t quite understand why the pits stayed open when usually they close. I’m in favor of them staying open when possible but I’m thinking that could be hard calls to make- when it’s appropriate and when it isn’t and might offer itself up to a lot of criticism. However, at least this time it kept everyone on even playing ground.
Takuma Sato went on to win the race. He had one incident where his car went off track but fortunately he was able to maintain his lead. Sato was incredibly dominant all day and as we expect from him was all smiles after. I think he is right up there with Hélio Castroneves on excitement levels. Love seeing the enthusiasm of these two drivers. Big hugs for all his team, including David Letterman. I’m sure David was glad he flew in.
Josef Newgarden also had a good day. He started 16 and finished 4th. That helped with championship points. During his post interview, Randy and I noticed a chalice behind Josef with dragons on it. Thankfully, Kevin Lee asked Josef about it during his interview. It is the Chalice of Excellence. It is given to someone each week on team Penske who does an outstanding performance. What a fun way to boost moral within the team. Apparently, the chalice has its own Instagram.
James Hinchcliffe and Marcus Ericsson finished 6th and 7th. James had been fast all weekend and I’m sure was hoping for a better finishing spot. Marcus has struggled the last two races so a finishing spot of 7th had to feel good for him. I’m expecting Schmidt Peterson to keep advancing.
Also worth noting is that the top 15 were all Honda’s with the exception of the Team Penske Chevy’s. Better engine or better driver/teams, that is a debate for another day. Will have to keep an eye on that, especially as we approach the Indianapolis 500.
So huge Congrats to Takuma Sato. Also huge shout out to NTT IndyCar Series, three races, three winners, that is one of the reasons I love IndyCar. The competition is amazing. Looking forward to another great race at Long Beach.