What to watch for: IndyCar at Barber

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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.

Vinales takes Aragon MotoGP pole, Rossi P3 on return

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Maverick Viñales will start Sunday’s MotoGP race at Motorland Aragon from pole position after topping qualifying for Yamaha as teammate Valentino Rossi made a stunning return from injury.

Having broken his leg during a training accident at the end of last month, Rossi was cleared to race this weekend by MotoGP’s medical officials on Thursday, with the nine-time world champion gingerly returning to action in practice.

Rossi battled through to Q2 by finishing final practice 10th-quickest, before then producing a rapid final lap in the session to secure third place on the grid for Sunday’s race.

Teammate Viñales bagged his fifth pole of the season with a best lap of 1:47.635, lapping one-tenth of a second quicker than Ducati’s Jorge Lorenzo. Rossi was a further 0.08 seconds behind in P3.

Cal Crutchlow took fourth for LCR Honda ahead of Marc Marquez, who fell ahead of his final run and was unable to improve his initial lap time in Q2.

Marquez’s chief title rival Andrea Dovizioso will start seventh behind Dani Pedrosa, while Aleix Espargaro, Alvaro Bautista and Andrea Iannone completed the top 10 in qualifying.

McLaren ‘a little behind’ on 2018 F1 car plans after delayed engine call

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McLaren racing director Eric Boullier has conceded the team is “a little behind” in developing its Formula 1 car for next year after only finalizing its 2018 engine plans last week.

McLaren saw its long-running engine saga end in Singapore when it agreed a deal to end its current Honda supply and link up with Renault from the start of next season.

The move is expected to give McLaren a lift in performance and allow it to fight further up the field, but the delay in being finalized has put the team slightly behind schedule in developing its new car.

“We are flat out working on the 2018 car. There are a lot of changes in terms of layout of the engine, so we have to redesign some of the parts we already had in our mind,” Bouller told the official F1 website.

“We are a little behind in terms of decision. I would have loved this decision to have been made a couple of weeks ago.”

McLaren will no longer enjoy exclusive works status in 2018 as it has done with Honda, with Renault also supplying engines to Red Bull and its own factory team.

Boullier remains confident of a strong partnership between McLaren and Renault, though, and is sure it is the best path for the future.

“We are ‘privileged customers’ with Renault. We have the same engine and access to information as Enstone or Red Bull Racing, so this is a real partnership with Renault,” Boullier said.

“We also have the possibility to work with them – to put ideas in the box for the future that might be taken into consideration. That will allow us to influence in the future. But yes, a full works team is different from our situation in 2018.

“But it is like in school: you look at the plusses and the minuses, and looking at all the plusses and minuses we made our decision, which we believe will be the best one for McLaren for at least the next three years.”

Hulkenberg: Singapore DNF ‘tough to take’ after strong start

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Nico Hulkenberg has admitted his retirement from last weekend’s Singapore Grand Prix was “tough to take” after being in contention to end his long-running Formula 1 podium drought.

Hulkenberg entered the Singapore weekend ready to break the record for making the most F1 starts without recording a top-three finish, having tied Adrian Sutil’s tally of 128 races at Monza.

Hulkenberg qualified an excellent fifth for Renault and dodged the start-line chaos to rise to third, and even ran second for one lap before switching tires.

Hulkenberg settled into fourth place when the switch to dry tires was complete, only for an oil leak on his car to force him to make an unscheduled pit stop and ultimately retire from the race.

“Sunday was tough to take and left me feeling disappointed. We lost a good result, and it was a case of not having a good enough reliability; that’s the way this sport goes sometimes,” Hulkenberg said.

“We lost our fourth position which is a pity especially after all the hard work from the whole team. It would have been a nice bunch of points but that’s racing and it happens!

“The car is looking fast and we have to build on the positives and take it forward now to Malaysia.”

IndyCar points by circuit type: 2017

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After separate reviews of the street and oval portions of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season – led by Josef Newgarden and Helio Castroneves, respectively – the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma season finale was of course, the final road course race of the year as well.

And a third different driver topped the charts in those six permanent road course races this year, in the form of Scott Dixon.

Dixon had one win (Road America) and three runners-up finishes in the six races, with other finishes of fourth (Sonoma) and ninth (Mid-Ohio) which brought him 261 points in these races. That was two points clear of Newgarden, who won at Barber and Mid-Ohio and finished second at both Road America and Sonoma, while losing points at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and Watkins Glen.

The top six drivers in permanent road course points – Dixon, Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Castroneves and Graham Rahal – were also the top six drivers in the overall points, albeit not in that order.

For the year, it was interesting to note how being consistent across all three phases of circuit netted the best results.

The two biggest outliers were Power – who was only 14th in street course points but second in oval and fourth in road course points – who ended fifth in points overall and Kanaan, who overcame 16th (street course) and 18th (road course) points positions with third place in oval points, trailing only Castroneves and Power.

That oval haul brought Kanaan up to 10th in points in a year where several others – notably James Hinchcliffe, Max Chilton and Ed Jones – all occasionally staked their claim to the final spot in the top-10.

Otherwise, consistency across all circuits was key to securing your overall points position for the year.

The breakdown of points per driver by circuit type is below.

P # Driver Street Road Oval Total
1 2 Josef Newgarden 185 259 198 642
2 1 Simon Pagenaud 147 256 226 629
3 9 Scott Dixon 159 261 201 621
4 3 Helio Castroneves 126 220 252 598
5 12 Will Power 86 244 232 562
6 15 Graham Rahal 162 191 169 522
7 98 Alexander Rossi 126 171 197 494
8 26 Takuma Sato 115 112 214 441
9 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 105 178 138 421
10 10 Tony Kanaan 79 97 227 403
11 8 Max Chilton 91 141 164 396
12 27 Marco Andretti 103 119 166 388
13 5 James Hinchcliffe 155 99 122 376
14 19 Ed Jones 88 99 167 354
15 21 JR Hildebrand 78 90 179 347
16 14 Carlos Munoz 85 109 134 328
17 83 Charlie Kimball 72 135 120 327
18 4 Conor Daly 68 120 117 305
19 7 Mikhail Aleshin 77 68 92 237
20 20 Spencer Pigot 75 114 29 218
21 18 Sebastien Bourdais 93 89 32 214
22 20 Ed Carpenter 169 169
23 88 Gabby Chaves 98 98
24 22 Juan Pablo Montoya 20 73 93
25 18 Esteban Gutierrez 43 23 25 91
26 7 Sebastian Saavedra 19 61 80
27 16 Oriol Servia 21 40 61
28 7 Jack Harvey 40 17 57
29 29 Fernando Alonso 47 47
30 63 Pippa Mann 32 32
31 13 Zachary Claman DeMelo 26 26
32 77 Jay Howard 24 24
33 24 Sage Karam 23 23
34 40 Zach Veach 11 12 23
35 18 James Davison 21 21
36 18 Tristan Vautier 15 15
37 44 Buddy Lazier 14 14
38 7 Robert Wickens 0 0