RHR comes up with perfect response
It's never good to start the season in a big hole, and that's what reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay was facing after being sidelined with mechanical issues in the season-opener at St. Petersburg. But the American racer delivered when he had to last weekend at Barber Motorsports Park, winning from pole and holding off a game Scott Dixon to do it. The title defense is back on track with the win in Alabama, and furthermore, it allowed RHR to erase what he felt was one of his team's bigger weak spots: Results on natural-terrain road courses.
"Several times in the offseason I said our biggest weaknesses were the permanent road courses like Barber and Sonoma, and the big superspeedways like Texas and Fontana," he told ESPN.com's John Oreovicz. "The guys gave me a great car today. The biggest pressure was bringing a car home that I knew was capable of winning."
Indeed, RHR's victory on Sunday was his first on a true road course since his win at Watkins Glen back in 2008. All of his wins from that point to this past weekend had been on either temporary street courses or shorter ovals.
Kimball continues his progression
Scott Dixon finished second and Helio Castroneves moved into the top spot in the standings with a third-place run in the race, but for my money, the best drive of the race outside of Hunter-Reay belonged to Charlie Kimball, who qualified fifth and stayed toward the front all race long en route to a fourth-place result. We started to notice progress for him last season (particularly when he earned his first IndyCar podium at Toronto), and he made another step forward with a gutsy drive at Barber that was punctuated by his pass of Will Power for P4 in the track's high-speed sector.
Now comes the tough part: How does he continue that momentum on a week-to-week basis? That's the next priority for the third-year driver.
Penthouse to outhouse for Hinch
No doubt a lot of folks were disappointed about the first-lap contact that eventually forced James Hinchcliffe out of the hunt, especially after he delivered a breakthrough victory in St. Petersburg. The Canadian was forced to sit in his car for the bulk of the race, as he was towed off-track and couldn't get another lift to pit road since the rest of the race ran caution-free. The extended wait even briefly triggered a #PizzaForHinch hashtag amongst some IndyCar fans on Twitter.
When the race ended, Hinchcliffe handled the situation with his usual humor ("I wish I could have taken a nap, but these race cars are going around making all this noise — It's really rude of them," he said) but he also called the whole weekend one to forget. Sometimes, racing deals you one of those and all you can do is shrug and prepare for the next one. Let's see how he responds at Long Beach.
Barber on through 2016
Kudos to the series for their new three-year pact with Barber, which has proven to be one of the best tracks attendance-wise in the series. This year's Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama attracted the biggest weekend crowd since the inaugural running in 2010, and that's a credit to both race promoter Zoom Motorsports and the knowledgeable race fans within the Heart of Dixie. We can't call it "NASCAR country" anymore. They love racing of all stripes, which is great to see. Now, let's hope that Birmingham city funding issue for the race can be settled eventually.