The fourth round of the 2023 season for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES takes place in the Deep South on the picturesque Barber Motorsports Park for the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix.
Romain Grosjean became the first two-time NTT P1 Award winner of the season with a stout effort in qualifying, pushing the No. 28 Delaware Life/DHL Honda to a best lap of 1 minute, 5.8396 seconds around the 2.3-mile, 17-turn road course. The Swiss-born Frenchman was the only Andretti Autosport driver to make the Firestone Fast Six, let alone also be the organization’s lone challenger in the top 10 – teammates Kyle Kirkwood, Colton Herta and Devlin DeFrancesco will start 12th, 14th and 18th, respectively.
Coverage for the 90-lap contest will begin at 3 p.m. ET on NBC and Peacock; 2:30 p.m. on the INDYCAR Radio Network.
While the weather to start the weekend was crisp and ideal for racing, rain rolled in and hit the track overnight but stopped by early morning. Conditions at the time for green flag (3:30 p.m. ET) are expected to be vibrant and sunny, with temperatures hovering around 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
If there are any concerns about the overnight rain, it would be with the rubber put down on the track over the weekend getting washed away. Additionally, it could make any off-track excursions troublesome for drivers.
It is astonishing to say six-time INDYCAR SERIES champion Scott Dixon “deserves” a win after capturing 53 victories during his illustrious career, but at this point one must wonder what it will take for him to finally get one at Barber Motorsports Park.
The New Zealander has nine podiums, with six of those being runner-up results, in 12 starts at the “Augusta National of Racing.” Surprisingly, he also hasn’t started better than third, and that has only happened on three occasions. That said, it’s hard to argue a 3.5 average finish and wondering if he can turn a fifth-place starting spot into a breakthrough win today at Barber.
Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou only has two starts at Barber Motorsports Park, but that is enough of a sample size to already call it his playground. The Spaniard has led 60 of 180 total laps over that span, with a 1.5 average finish complimented by his maiden NTT INDYCAR SERIES win in 2021 – that helped launch a run to the title – along with a runner-up result last year.
He also came within .0734 of a second of winning the pole for today’s race after a thrilling qualifying bout on Saturday, too.
“I know where I missed that,” said Palou. “It was just driving. But I'm sure that every lap from every single driver has some issues here and there, and you start to add up.
“Yeah, at the end my lap with my issues was just slower than (Romain) Grosjean's with issues, as well. It is what it is. It's tight, so I prefer to start on the front row being so tight than start on the front row being like three-tenths off.”
This year marks the largest field to ever race at Barber Motorsports Park, with 27 cars besting the previous best mark of 26, which happened on four occasions (2011, ’12, ’13 and ’22).
The pole sitter has won five times in 12 races, and only twice has the winner come from outside a top-five starting spot. The farthest a driver has come from to claim victory is ninth, which came by virtue of Will Power in 2012.
A big emphasis is put on qualifying and track position deciding who ends up in Victory Lane because the racing surface is a narrow 45 feet, with an accompanying rollercoaster of elevation change that spans 80 feet, and because of minimal cautions to shake up strategy. The last seven races (2015-22) were relatively straightforward, with a maximum of two cautions in four of those events and only one caution in the other three.
The lack of yellow flags hasn’t stopped the action at the front of the field, though, with anywhere between four to 11 lead changes in the races over that span.
Lastly, the only starting position in the top five to not win at the Alabama circuit is fourth, a drought that Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin will attempt to end today.
Previous Barber Winners
There are six drivers in the 27-car field that have visited an NTT INDYCAR SERIES Victory Lane at Barber Motorsports Park, including defending race winner Pato O’Ward. The rest of the list features Helio Castroneves (2010), Will Power (2011, ’12), Josef Newgarden (2015, ’17, ’18), Simon Pagenaud (2016) and Palou (2021).
Among the previous winners, Palou starts the highest, with his No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda positioned on the outside of the front row in second. O’Ward begins his quest to go back-to-back from third in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. Castroneves has the farthest climb of the six, with his No. 06 SiriusXM/AutoNaton Honda for Meyer Shank Racing lining up 21st.
Rossi Paces Warmup
Alexander Rossi qualified 10th, but his No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet has race pace, as he led the morning warmup at 1:06.6677. Herta also rebounded from a disappointing qualifying session by ending up second in the 30-minute session at 1:06.7922 in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.
SEE: Warmup Results | Starting Lineup/Tire Choice
NTT P1 Award winner Grosjean finished 23rd in warmup at 1:07.9639.