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IndyCar Preview: Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Updated: Apr 28, 2023

Written by Dan Jones, Edited by Hugh Waring

IndyCar heads south-east for Round 4 of the 2023 NTT IndyCar Series, to the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama for the first road course event of the year as drivers seek to rack up points before the crucial ‘Month of May’ festivities begin in the build-up to the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

But before we look ahead to Alabama, let’s recap yet another thrilling race at Long Beach, where the surprises started on the Saturday, with young Floridian, Kyle Kirkwood picking up his maiden NTT P1 award and would lead the field to green on the Sunday, as he continued his promising start to the year. However, a driver who also excelled in the opening rounds suffered a nightmare on Sunday, in Pato O’Ward, who first collided with Scott Dixon, in Turn 8, with neither showing any remorse for the other, before he went in too aggressive on a move on Kirkwood and Ericsson after a caution restart and crashed again at Turn 8. O’Ward would slump home to 17th.

Dixon suffered issues after his incident with O’Ward, ending his streak of finishing races, and McLaren’s day got worse when Alexander Rossi retired with just two laps remaining from the top 10. Juncos Hollinger Racing also suffered a bizarre day, when Callum Ilott, who was being lapped by teammate (and race leader) Agustin Canapino, when Ilott held Canapino up and caused the Argentine damage, leading to a bizarre online feud between fans.

However, there were no such dramas for Kyle Kirkwood who dominated start to finish to claim his first IndyCar victory ahead of teammate Romain Grosjean, who took a consecutive second on the Californian streets. Marcus Ericsson regained the championship lead finishing in third, ahead of Colton Herta, with yet more encouraging signs for Andretti in the opening rounds of 2023.

Kyle Kirkwood felt the winning feeling for the first time in IndyCar. Credit: Greg Doherty/Gett Images

Looking at the championship standings, Ericsson’s podium and O’Ward’s disastrous day gives the Swede a 15-point lead heading into Long Beach over the Mexican, with Alex Palou a further four points back, and Josef Newgarden lying six behind O’Ward. Following the first four are Kirkwood, Dixon, Grosjean (who could well be in the lead of the championship should things have gone his way), Herta, Power and McLaughlin, with Armstrong leapfrogging Canapino to hold the top rookie by a singular point.

But let's look forward to Barber, a 3.83km (2.38 mile) road course consisting of 15 corners, famed for its fast, sweeping corners, and a real test for the drivers. The lap starts off with a downhill left turn, taken at high speed, before the much slower, much windier Turn 2, which merges into Turn 3, a never-ending right-hander, before drivers jump over the crest at Turn 4, before downhill braking into Charlotte’s Web at Turn 5, famed for the giant spider on the side of the track. Charlotte’s Web provides the best overtaking spot on the lap, with the tight hairpin, where we saw Pato O’Ward make the race-winning move last year.

Charlotte’s Web is the best overtaking point on the circuit and also features a small relic. Credit: Brian Spurlock/Icon Sportsware via Getty Images

Following Charlotte’s Web comes a small straight, featuring a kink at Turn 6, before an epic downhill chicane at Turn 8, a right-left-right-right, all in very quick succession, and one downhill braking zone, a corner very easy to get wrong, just ask Callum Ilott. Drivers then head under the footbridge, before a flat-out uphill chicane at Turns 9 and 10, before two quick corners at 11 and 12, and a fast kink at 13. Moves have been made a Turn 14 previously, a right-hander which gets progressively tighter and slower and has been one for incredible moves before a high-speed left-hander finishes the lap.

But who has Barber been a happy hunting ground for? Seven of the current drivers in the field have previously won the event. Helio Castroneves won the race’s first edition in 2010 before Will Power notched up consecutive victories in 2011 and 2012. Josef Newgarden claimed his maiden IndyCar victory in 2015 at Barber, and is the most successful driver at the track, picking up victories in 2017 and 2018. Simon Pagenaud splits the difference between Newgarden’s victories, whilst similarly to Newgarden, Alex Palou claimed his first victory at the circuit in 2021 but was beaten out to victory by Pato O’Ward in 2022.

And some of these drivers will be looking for a strong weekend to boost their championship hopes. Will Power has suffered a frustrating start to the 2023 season, but traditionally, has gone very well around Barber, picking up nine Top 5’s in just twelve races at the circuit, and will be hoping to add to this previous success, to back up the consistency he showed to become champion last year.

Rinus VeeKay slumps in at 22nd in the standings, after two retirements in three races, but has gone very well around Barber in his short IndyCar career, finishing sixth in 2021, and third last season, after claiming a surprise pole position. After his frustrating start to the year, Barber might be the ideal place to pick up his form again.

Some drivers will also wish to break their Barber struggles, including Colton Herta, who suffered a messy race last year, but still recovered to tenth - the highest he has finished at the event. Scott McLaughlin has suffered a sub-par opening three rounds and will be hoping to recover his form, as well as the McLaren’s of Alexander Rossi and Felix Rosenqvist. However, McLaren and their predecessors, Schmidt-Pedersen, have always been very successful at Barber, so could be ones to look out for. Remarkably, despite eight podiums, Scott Dixon has never claimed victory at Barber, one of very, very few IndyCar circuits that he has not found success at, and the Kiwi will be looking to break his duck this weekend.

But who to keep your eye on this weekend? Pato O’Ward suffered disappointment at Long Beach, but Barber Motorsports Park could very much be his best event on the schedule. O’Ward picked up two Indy Lights wins at the circuit in 2018, claimed pole position and finished P4 in 2021, and qualified second and took victory at the circuit last year. O’Ward will be hoping to put his Long Beach frustrations behind him and take back the championship lead at a track he has gone so well at.

Can O’Ward replicate his Barber success? Credit: David J.Griffin/Icon Sportswear via Getty Images

The Youth Movement seem to have a thing for Barber, as in addition to O’Ward and VeeKay, Alex Palou could make a claim for Barber being his strongest track, being victorious in 2021, and taking the runner-up spot last year, in just two races at the track, and similarly to O’Ward, Palou will be hoping to claim the championship lead this weekend.

As mentioned, Josef Newgarden has also gone very well around Barber, and being Josef Newgarden, you can never count him out of the equation, despite his frustrations in Alabama in recent years, as he looks to solidify himself in the championship hunt.

There is quite clearly a lot to play for in Alabama, and drivers will be looking to have a spring in their step as the Month of May begins. The tension in the series really ramps up ahead of the Indianapolis 500. However, drivers will have to face the fast, flowing and quick Barber Motorsports Park, as they bid to claim the Alabama bragging rights.


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