Photo: Bret Kelley/ INDYCAR

Event Preview: The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer

This coming weekend the Verizon IndyCar Series will invade the deep South for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The race is slated for April 21-23, 2017.

About the Race

The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is round three of seventeen for the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017. The event is held on a permanent road course, the first of six such races on the calendar.

The defending race winner is Simon Pagenaud, who drives the #1 Menard’s Chevrolet for Team Penske. the win was his second of an eventual five 2016 wins that culminated in a Championship.

The race will consist of 90 laps with a race distance of 214.2 miles.

Race fans will also be treated with action from the Mazda Road to Indy Pro Mazda, US F2000, and Indy Lights Series’ in addition to the Prototype Challenge and the Porsche GT3 Cup.

About the Track

Having opened in 2003, Barber Motorsports Park is a purpose-built natural terrain road course built on 740 acres in suburban Birmingham, Alabama. The course was designed by Alan Wilson, and it winds over rolling green hills and through beautiful wooded areas.  The multi-purpose facility features cut-off areas that allow a number of different configurations for club racing and test sessions.

The 2.38-mile road course has 17 turns and features 80 feet of elevation change that challenge drivers and engineers. The track maintains a consistent 45-foot width the entire lap around.

The grounds are also the home of the Barber Vintage Motorsport Museum, which boasts a collection of nearly 1500 vintage and modern cars and motorcycles.

Another of the unique features you will find at Barber are a collection of odd and interesting sculptures adorning the hillsides.  The artwork on display features giant spiders and scorpions, Greek gods and goddesses, lions, fireflies and armadillos.

Event History

Barber Motorsports Park first began its association with the IndyCar Series in 2007, with teams utilizing the track for pre-season testing. A three-day Spring Training test session event was held at the facility in 2009, and it proved to be an overwhelming success.

The course was granted a date on the 2010 schedule, at it has remained a favorite of both fans and drivers. 2017 will mark the eighth annual running of the event. The race weekend draws a large crowd that are both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about IndyCar racing, despite being smack-dab in the center of NASCAR country.

The inaugural run was won by by Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves. For the popular driver, it was a landmark victory that saw him surpass Emerson Fittipaldi as the winningest Brazilian driver in IndyCar racing.

Penske remained dominant at the track for the next two years with Will Power taking back-to-back wins. Ryan Hunter-Reay, with Andretti Autosport, repeated the back-to-back feat in 2013-14.

2015’s win by Josef Newgarden was tremendously popular with the fans. Not only is he a charismatic driver, but he was raised in the American South. Hailing from Hendersonville, TN, Barber is the closest thing he has to a home Grand Prix.

About the Field

The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series Field represents one of the strongest, talent-packed, top-to-bottom lineups in all of racing.

Five of the drivers have previously won at Barber. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power each have two wins on the circuit, while Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud have one win apeice.

The reigning Series Champion is Simon Pagenaud, who drives for Team Penske. Pagenaud, who hails from Poitiers, France, is in his third season with Team Penske, and 2016 marked his first series title. The current points leader is Sebastien Bourdais who won the season-opener at St. Petersburg, and followed up with a second place at Long Beach in the Dale Coyne Racing Honda.

Fifteen of the entered drivers are IndyCar race winners, six have won championships in IndyCar or CART/Champcar, and five are Indy 500 winners. There will be two true rookies in the field, with Ed Jones behind the wheel of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, and Zach Veach filling in for J.R. Hildebrand who suffered an injury at Long Beach a few weeks ago.

Drivers finding a new home this year include Josef Newgarden, who is now with with Team Penske. Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly both move to the ABC Supply A.J. Foyt Racing Team, which is also making a switch from Honda to Chevrolet Power. Takuma Sato replaces Munoz at Andretti Autosport, while Sebastien Bourdais will take over Daly’s old seat at Dale Coyne Racing. Chip Ganassi Racing retains its 2016 driver lineup, but is making a transition to Honda power from Chevrolet.

Drivers in the series represent twelve different countries around the globe, making it a truly international field.

About the Series

The current Verizon IndyCar Series was born out of the Indy Racing League, which absorbed the rival ChampCar World Series in 2008. In the years since the reunification, the series has seen steady growth in attendance and television ratings.

The positive growth in recent years bodes well for the Series that is owned by Hulman and Company. The centerpiece of the series is the Indianapolis 500, which will run for the 101st time in May. Mark Miles is the Chief Executive of Hulman and Company, and Jay Frye is the President of Competition and Operations for the Verizon Indycar Series.

Teams in the series use a common chassis, the Dallara DW-12, named in honor of the late Dan Wheldon, who did much of the development testing of the car. The chassis has aerodynamic components that differ according to the engine manufacturer. The 2017 rules called for a freeze on aero-kit development, in anticipation of a common aero package for 2018.

Chevrolet and Honda are the engine partners for the Series with each supplying a 2.2 Liter V-6 turbocharged engine to the teams that are capable of producing over 700 hp at 12200 rpm. All cars in the series run Firestone Firehawk tires.

Where and When to Watch

Tickets for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama can be purchased here. Ticket prices range from $39 for a single-day general admission up to $149.00 for a three-day VIP package with plenty of options in between. Children under 15 are fee with a paying adult.

Television coverage of qualifying and the race will be provided by NBC-SN.  Race coverage will begin at 3:00 PM EDT on Sunday April 23.  Coverage can also be found streaming on the Verizon IndyCar Series You Tube Channel, Facebook Page or at

Other coverage options include Sirius XM radio (Sirius:209, XM:212). Fans can also keep up with all of the action on the IndyCar Mobile app provided by Verizon Communications.

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A life-long racing enthusiast, Santoroski attended his first live race in 1978, the Formula One Grand Prix of the United States at Watkins Glen. Following graduation from Averett College, Santoroski covered the CART series through the 1990s and 2000s for CART Pages and Race Family Motorsports in addition to freelance writing for various print and web sources. He produces a variety of current and historical content for Motorsports Tribune and serves as the host for the weekly radio broadcast,Drafting the Circuits,