Three races into the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, and the focal point has been the speed shown by both Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing – along with a touch of strategy leading James Hinchcliffe and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to victory at NOLA Motorsports Park. Based on that fact, it’d mark no surprise if that trend continued this weekend.
In five events at Barber Motorsports Park, Team Penske has scored the victory on three different occasions with a pair of drivers. Helio Castroneves won the inaugural event in 2010, with defending series champion Will Power winning in 2011 and 2012. Castroneves enters the weekend with momentum on his side, having finished in the runner-up spot the past two weekends. He also has three top-fives and four top-10s.
“I really feel that a win is just around the corner for the No. 3 AAA Chevrolet team,” he stated. “We’ve started the season with three top-five finishes and have been in contention to win each weekend. As a driver, that’s really all you can ask for. Barber has been a very good track for me in the past. One of my favorite racing memories was winning the first race there in 2010. If we take care of business, like we have to start the season, we should be fine and have a real shot at winding up in Victory Lane again on Sunday.”
Power, meanwhile, is entering the weekend coming off a poor finish at the Grand Prix of Long Beach. He finished the event in the 20th spot after a poor qualifying effort, and then stalling as he came on pit road. This would be the perfect track for Power to turn things around, though, as he has never finished outside of the top-five at Barber Motorsports Park.
“After a weekend like we had at Long Beach, I want nothing more than to get back to the racetrack as quickly as possible,” Power said. “It’s never fun having to go through a weekend like that. Luckily for our No. 1 Verizon Chevy team, they don’t happen very often. We had back luck in qualifying and it just snowballed from that point. However, all that adversity makes me very motivated to make up for it over the next couple of weeks, starting with Barber this weekend. We know that we can run a quick pace and challenge for the win there because we have done that on multiple occasions in the past.”
The Team Penske driver to watch this weekend, though, maybe Juan Pablo Montoya. He enters this weekend as the points leader following a three top-fives to start the season, highlighted by a win in the season-opener. He’ll be certainly looking to improve on the 21st place finish that he had last year, and should based on the experience that he has under his belt since then.
“Honestly, I couldn’t be prouder of my No. 2 Team Penske Chevy team for the way we have started the season,” he commented. “We’re the only team to start the season with one win, two podiums and three top-five finishes in the first three races. Those stats are really a testament to the team and how hard they have worked since the start of the 2014 season. It’s one thing to go through a rough start to a season – like we did in 2014 – and not learn anything, but we definitely used those experiences to make ourselves much better. You saw that in the second half of the 2014 season and we have carried that over to this season. Hopefully we can see the same speed in the Hawk Performance car this weekend at Barber.”
On the flip side, Chip Ganassi Racing has yet to reach victory lane at Barber, but comes into the weekend with momentum after Scott Dixon scored a dominating win at Long Beach. Dixon is another driver that has yet to finish outside of the top-five on the 2.3 mile, 17-turn road course.
“We’ve had some great racing over the past few years at Barber,” he commented. “I think I’ve finished on the podium every time and never won there. I think it might be all second places and one third, so I think we are due for some success in the Coke Chevrolet this weekend. It’s a really crazy racetrack with lots of elevation and lots of high-speed grip. It’s very beautiful in terms of the landscape. Hopefully I can try to move up and to get to that top spot at Barber. I love going there and we’ve always qualified and raced well. Hopefully this year could be the year.”
Kanaan has been fast this year so far as well, but hasn’t been as consistent as his teammate through the years, posting three top-10s at Barber.
“I’m looking forward to heading to Barber this weekend, especially after getting some great data from the open test in March,” he said. “NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing has been really consistent so far this year and we have a lot of momentum coming off of our fifth-place finish at Long Beach. I always qualify fairly well at Barber, but I’ve never been able to finish higher than sixth. I’m definitely ready to make something happen this weekend, and with how well the car has been running and how great of a job my crew has been doing, I think this is the year to do it.”
While the focus is on these pair of teams, Andretti Autosport shouldn’t be counted out of the occasion despite only posting a single top-five in the first three events, with Simona de Silvestro at NOLA Motorsports Park. The organization has won the event the past two years with Ryan Hunter-Reay at the helm. Hunter-Reay enters this weekend after a solid start to the year that has featured top-10s. Perhaps this is the weekend that he finds that extra bit that has been missing to crack the top-five.
“The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama has certainly been a special event for me and the team,” he commented. “Bringing that No. 28 Honda to victory lane last year started the momentum we carried to Indy to win the 500. As back-to-back winners of the event, we’re looking to return with a strong result and continued progress on working with the new aero kit. We’re dealing with a completely different car this year, so we’ll face some new challenges in a relatively short race weekend, as a three-car team, we’ll be working closely together to make the most of the short amount of track time.”
Though while the big three look to steal the headlines, there is a pack of hungry dogs chasing them that may pull off another upset, just like Hinchcliffe did a couple weeks ago.