After a lengthy rain delay and a shortened race, the 2014 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is now in the books. Here are our first impressions of the event.
I feel a bit bad for the folks who were trackside at Barber Motorsports Park today. They were rained on, evacuated, delayed, time limited, and forced to see an otherwise interesting race end under yellow because of a rapidly closing TV window.
That said, there’s nothing anyone could have done differently. IndyCar can’t run when there’s a threat of lightning for a whole host of reasons (most of them involving potential for liability, I suspect), and NBC Sports Network had a playoff hockey game that was starting at 7:30 Eastern. We should all probably feel pretty lucky that a race went off today at all.
As for finishing under yellow, it was another circumstance beyond anyone’s control. But the post-race calls by fans for a red flag to allow a green flag finish couldn’t be heeded — again, that hockey game was the issue, not IndyCar’s willingness — and I think a majority (if not a vast one) of IndyCar’s observers agrees that artifically altering a race distance to increase excitement, however that distance may be determined beforehand, is not something that would be popular.
However the win came about, Ryan Hunter-Reay is no doubt elated to get some redemption with a repeat win at Barber after the insanity that was Long Beach. There were some other great performances (Tony Kanaan, Jack Hawksworth, plus more) and talking points (Power’s mishap, Bourdais’s penalty, Castroneves’s missed pit box) to work through, but we’ll get to those as the week progresses.
We’ll try to do it quickly as attention will quickly turn to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as teams test on the road course this Wednesday to prepare for the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and kick off the Month of May!
In racing, rain is called the Great Equalizer. I don’t know if it was really an equalizer today, but it certainly had an impact on the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
Watching some drivers tiptoe around on the wet track while others drove with reckless abandon, the changing conditions made for exciting action and left the results truly in doubt until the very end. In a disjointed race that seemed to lack flow from the delayed green flag, it was ultimately Ryan Hunter-Reay who never put a wheel wrong.
Several drivers had good runs going at various points in the race but with guys like Will Power, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Simon Pagenaud all having problems at one point or another, it was a battle to see who could actually race for 100 minutes without making a mistake. Hunter-Reay ultimately survived that challenge, as did Marco Andretti who was able to bring home his Andretti Autosport Honda in second place, right behind his teammate.
And with that, it’s time for the Month of May!
A nice, clean victory for Ryan Hunter-Reay should provide a measure of redemption for the hijinks at Long Beach two weeks ago. After Will Power’s lockup into turn five it was pretty much smooth sailing for RHR, which vaulted him right back into legitimate championship contention.
This week’s event left me grumbling, though, and it was for two of the same reasons that I often grumble about IndyCar racing.
First: What do we have to do to get starters on these cars? At least three full-course cautions today should have been spin and continues with no more than a brief local yellow. We have numerous incidents to show us over the history of the DW12 chassis that the hand clutch is hard to engage during a spin, and more often than not the drivers stall the car. This is a spec series. I cannot grasp the concept of why IndyCar can’t retrofit all of the DW12s with an onboard starter. I know at least three drivers today who would have loved to have one.
Then, officiating: How does Will Power punt Simon Pagenaud in the dry at Long Beach and get nothing, while Sebastien Bourdais gets into the back of Mickhail Aleshin in turn 5 in the wet and gets a drive-through? How does Graham Rahal punt Justin Wilson in the hairpin at Long Beach and get a drive-through (deservedly) while Aleshin is allowed to do the same to him with no penalty mere laps later? There is absolutely no rhyme or reason to the penalties that IndyCar does or doesn’t levy, and it is beyond frustrating to have this conversation every race weekend. Drivers will adapt a heavy-handed approach over time, and likewise would learn to deal with a hands-off approach, but right now you have to wonder if the drivers have any inkling of what will or won’t garner them a penalty at the upcoming Grand Prix of Indianapolis.