Event Preview: The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

By Frank Santoroski, Staff Writer

This coming weekend the Verizon IndyCar Series will return to the Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, AL, as they continue their 2016 season. The race weekend is slated for April 22-24, 2016.

About the Race

The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is round four of sixteen for the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2016. The event is held on a permanent road course, the first of five such races on the calendar.

The defending race winner is Ed Carpenter Racing’s Josef Newgarden. The young driver went on to win twice during 2015, and finished seventh in the season point standings.

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 Pro Mazda, US F2000, and Indy Lights Series’.

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. The 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. 2016 will mark the seventh 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.

Last years’ 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 2016 Verizon IndyCar Field represents one of the strongest, talent-packed top-to-bottom lineups we have seen in years.

21 drivers will take the green at the Grand Prix of Alabama.  Four of the drivers have previously won at Barber. Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power each have two wins on the circuit, while Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves have one win apeice.

Fifteen of the entered drivers are IndyCar race winners, six have won championships in IndyCar or CART/Champcar, and five are Indianapolis 500 winners.

Heading into Barber, Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud sits atop the points standings with a 14 point advantage over Target Chip Ganassi driver, Scott Dixon.

There are three drivers in the field running for Rookie of the Year honors: Max Chilton, Conor Daly and Alexander Rossi. Chilton is currently leading that group, occupying the 13th spot in the standings coming out of Long Beach.

Drivers in the series represent eleven 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 slow, but steady growth.

Over the past several seasons the racing produced by the series has been second to none, and the Championship battle has gone down to the final race.

Without the benefit of a gimmick like the Chase, the Verizon IndyCar Series has produced enough close racing and drama to satisfy the racing fan.

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 have its historic 100th running in May.

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.

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 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 start at $39.00 for a Sunday General Admission or $69.00 for a three day ticket. Admission for kids under 15 are free. There is a special weekend VIP experience ticket priced at $179.00 that includes garage access, parking and museum admission. Tickets for the Grand Prix can be purchased here.

Television coverage will be provided by NBC-SN. Friday practice will air on 4/22 at 11:00 am EST with qualifying on Saturday 4/23 at 3:00 PM EST. The race will be shown Sunday beginning at 2:00 PM.

Other coverage options include Sirius XM radio (Sirius:209, XM:212). Timing and scoring can be found at www.indycar.com and fans can keep up with all of the action on the IndyCar Mobile app provided by Verizon Communications.

Image: Joe Skibinski/INDYCAR

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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,

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