What to watch for: IndyCar at Barber

Leave a comment

Bounce-back for RHR, Power?: IndyCar’s two main championship contenders from a year ago make up today’s front row for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, but polesitter Ryan Hunter-Reay (pictured) and defending Barber champion Will Power had dismal results in the season opener last month at St. Petersburg. They know that they can’t afford another early “mulligan” today.

AJ Allmendinger returns: The former Champ Car racer is returning to open-wheel action on one of IndyCar’s most physically demanding tracks. He’s been working hard to prepare for the rigors of battling Barber, and got in some test time there during the “Spring Training” sessions in March. But testing is one thing and racing a full field – and a very deep one, at that – is another. A Top-10 finish would be a solid result for him to work from as he heads toward Long Beach and the Indianapolis 500.

Get a grip: A newly-resurfaced track at Barber has played a big role in the higher speeds we’ve seen this weekend, but so have modified Firestone Firehawks. Compared to the tires used in last year’s race at Barber, this year’s versions of both the primary blacks and alternate reds have a softer compound. It’ll be interesting to see which drivers can protect their tires (especially their rear ones) along the course of a stint and stretch them out a little further.

Caught in the web: The main “hot spot” for passing at Barber Motorsports Park is Turn 5 (Charlotte’s Web), which is a left-hand hairpin that is the slowest part of the course. Drivers have two chances to make up ground here with an inside pass at either the apex of the corner or coming off of it at Turn 6. Even with the emergence of new passing zones in last year’s race, Charlotte’s Web remains the signature corner at Barber and you can expect a lot of action here all day long.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”