Photo: Brian L. Spurlock/ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: 2023 Children’s of Alabama Indy GP Preview

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

Following last week’s open test session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the drivers shift their focus to Barber Motorsports Park, the final site before “The Month of May” kicks into high gear.

Although the race has a new name with Children’s of Alabama replacing Honda as the event title sponsor, the same action and intensity folks love about the road course remains the same.

A popular venue amongst drivers and fans, Barber is a venue where some competitors never forget if things fall short. Among those are Rinus VeeKay, who won the pole a year ago and was the class of the field.

But being held up by traffic on pit road allowed Pato O’Ward to catch him and ended up winning the race. Something he hasn’t forgotten to this day as he’ll look to get back to the top step of the podium.

When asked what’s bothered VeeKay from last year’s shortcoming at Barber, it’s “fuel for nightmares.”

“I’ve not been as close to winning all last year and since that moment,” said VeeKay.

“We had all the ingredients to win, and I didn’t make it happen when it mattered most. Really sucked. Also it’s a mistake I’m never going to make in the rest of my career.

“Mistakes happen for a reason. They’re good mistakes if you learn from them. I’m really, really sure I’m going to really not make the mistake any time any more.”

Like most INDYCAR races, all elements of a race must click. Otherwise, a competitor will fall behind and be out of contention for a win or a strong points day.

Especially, when the next venue is Indianapolis with the grand prix and 500-mile race in May.

By the Numbers

What: Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 4 of 17

Where: Barber Motorsports Park – Birmingham, AL (Opened: 2003, first INDYCAR event was 2010)

When: Sunday, April 30

TV/Radio: NBC 3:00 p.m. EST / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channels 85 & 160)

Track Size: 2.3-mile road course

Race Length: 90 laps, 207 miles

2022 Race Winner: Pato O’Ward – No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet (Started second, 27 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Pato O’Ward – No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet (65.5019 seconds, 126.409 mph – April 17, 2021)

From the Driver’s Seat

Rinus VeeKay – No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

“I like the track layout. I like fast, flowy corners. But you need to have a car that does well. You can drive 100% and nail every corner and be 10th with the car. That’s not good.

“As a team, we have to nail the driving because the talent in the IndyCar Series is so high. Also compared to all these other teams, everyone is working day and night to be the fastest. You’ve got to make the good decisions and get it right.”

Last Time at Barber

Front row starters Rinus VeeKay and Pato O’Ward became the headliners at Barber as they led a combined total 84 of 90 laps.

While both were at a league of their own, the action became chaotic behind him as Andretti Autosport’s Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean fought aggressively for 20th on Lap 15.

Herta ended up going wide in turn one after going low to make the pass.

A lap later, Herta successfully passed Grosjean without any further excursions. Grosjean ultimately bested Herta as he wound up eighth, two spots ahead of his teammate.

One driver who appeared to be on his way towards a breakthrough weekend was Callum Ilott.

All went good until the 32nd lap when a driver error sent the Juncos Hollinger Racing driver into the gravel. Ilott went on to resume, but lost two laps and finished 25th out of the 26-car field.

Back up front, VeeKay was the man to beat until O’Ward outsmarted the Dutch racer on Lap 62. Both frantically battling for the provisional lead after making their pit stops, VeeKay braked into turn five very early.

It allowed O’Ward to quickly cut the gap and passed VeeKay for what proved to be the race-winning pass.

Once the cycle of stops were completed, O’Ward had won the battle and went on to score his first win of the season over Alex Palou by over a second.

VeeKay had to settle for third, over 12 seconds back after dominating for much of the afternoon.

“I got held up a little bit before getting into my second pit stop, so Pato was on me, really on me. I did beat him out of pit lane,” said VeeKay.

“Coming into turn five, I just took it a little bit too conservative, and he got around me. Yeah, he drove away basically. Lacked a little bit of pace on the last set of tires. Pato and Alex were a little bit too fast for me to hang with.”

O’Ward commented that patience and making most out of any opportunity to catch VeeKay was crucial all race long. Knowing how strong VeeKay was throughout the weekend.

“t was a great day for us. I think it was a very slow-paced race, at least where we were at,” said O’Ward. “It was a bit different in terms of really seeing where these tires would take us in terms of blacks to reds, reds to blacks.

“But it was good. I think we managed it. We stayed very patient. Rinus was very quick. Alex was, as well. I think it was definitely kind of like a follow-the-leader type of situation.

“When the opportunities came, we were able to take advantage of that, yeah, challenge these guys for the lead of the race.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, April 28

  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (3:40 p.m. to 4:55 p.m. – Peacock)

Saturday, April 29

  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 2 (12:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. – Peacock)
  • NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (3:00 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. – Peacock)

Sunday, April 30

  • NTT IndyCar Series Warmup (12:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. – Peacock)
  • Indy NXT Race (12:55 p.m. – Peacock)
  • NTT IndyCar Series Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix (3:00 p.m. – 90 laps, 207 miles – NBC/INDYCAR Radio Network)

Tags : , , , , , , , , , , ,

From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a three-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.