Will fifth time be the Barber charm for Scott Dixon?

Leave a comment

Ever have that ‘so close, yet so far away’ feeling? So annoying. So frustrating.

Now put yourself in the racing shoes of Scott Dixon, who’s had to deal with that feeling – a lot – at Barber Motorsports Park.

It’s not just that the serpentine road course – site of this weekend’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama (Sun., 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra) – remains one of a handful of tracks on the current Verizon IndyCar Series schedule that he’s yet to win on.

It’s that he’s come as close as he can get to scratching Barber off that list for each of the last four seasons.

The series’ inaugural race there in 2010 saw him finish second to Helio Castroneves. Then in 2011 and 2012, he was led home each time by Will Power.

Last year saw him push Ryan Hunter-Reay to the very end, but he ultimately lost out to the American by six-tenths of a second – prompting Dixon to quip that he needed to “buy a bridesmaid’s dress tonight.”

The four consecutive runner-ups at Barber mark just the second instance since 1956 that an IndyCar driver has done that at the same racetrack.

The other instance came when Dixon finished second from 2006-2009 at the 1.5-mile Chicagoland Speedway – although he likely didn’t mind the 2008 runner-up as it helped him clinch the second of his three IndyCar championships.

So what does Dixon make of Barber? He certainly doesn’t like all the near-misses, but he also knows that he’s remained one of the bigger threats there.

“I think a couple of the races where we finished second or one of them, we gave it a pretty hard-fought battle to get there,” Dixon said recently. “But I know two for sure…Last year, we kind of went off-strategy, got caught up in some traffic and that really hurt us – and I think we had the fastest car.

“And then the year before that, with Will, [he] got us on a pit stop exchange. We stayed out a lap longer and got caught behind a slower car, so those ones are tougher to sort of leave behind. Yet the fact that we’ve been able to be on the podium every time we’ve been there is still something good.

“We just need to work on that one extra spot.”

Dixon has earned 162 points at Barber in his career, which puts him second only to Power’s 167. The Iceman’s efforts in last year’s doubleheaders may have gotten him Title No. 3, but going P2 for a fourth time in the Heart of Dixie didn’t hurt him either.

As for the here and now, Dixon could use a good result after his pit stop for fuel with two laps to go at Long Beach not only enabled Mike Conway to score the upset win, but knocked him to a 12th place result.

It wasn’t a big hit to his early championship hopes. He’s a tolerable 42 points behind Power in sixth, and after turning a 49-point deficit into a 25-point edge going into last year’s season finale at Fontana, his current deficit should feel like nothing to him.

But he’s also been around long enough to know that in a series this tightly competitive, it’s never good to leave points on the table.

And that ought to give Dixon an added sense of motivation this weekend.

Not that finally getting rid of that ‘so close, yet so far away’ feeling wasn’t enough.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Sage Karam

Sage Karam
1 Comment

MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver. Ending in 20th was Sage Karam, who generated a lot of headlines despite missing a handful of races in his first full season in the big leagues.

Sage Karam, No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 9th place at Indianapolis 500; several starts in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship
  • 2015: 20th place (12 starts), Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 12 Laps Led, 14.5 Avg. Start, 15.8 Avg. Finish

Few drivers generated as much ink as Karam did during what as an ultimately race-by-race rookie season that saw him active in 12 of 16 races. It was an overall rocky campaign that featured any combination of brilliance, controversy and heartache depending on the weekend.

Karam was on the back foot to begin with anyway with limited preseason testing, following a wrist injury sustained in a crash at Barber Motorsports Park. The fact he was out of a car for Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis owed to financial reasons but also served as a wakeup call that he needed to improve off the back of several ragged races to open the season. The speed was there for the Indianapolis 500 but the result wasn’t, with a first-lap crash and the following debacle of a doubleheader weekend at Detroit a week later ultimately Karam’s nadir.

Luckily for the 20-year-old, he had Dario Franchitti as a tutor, mentor and coach, and a post-Detroit “come to Jesus” meeting might have been the biggest impetus for change. Karam then surged in the second half of the year – primarily on ovals – and worked his way into the headlines courtesy of his driving and take-no-prisoners aggressive approach, particularly with Ed Carpenter at Iowa. In a single sentence, he was worth the price of admission almost on his own while also putting himself in contention for series “black hat” status.

Karam was on track for what would have been a dream weekend at home in Pocono, leading with 20 laps to go, when he lost control and crashed out – the debris from the car ultimately striking Justin Wilson’s helmet. It was a tragic end to the race but it was no fault of Karam’s that what happened, happened.

For as much as the community is rallying around Wilson’s family, it needs to do the same for Karam. At 20, he’s a talented driver with a bright future ahead of him, who continued to mature over the course of the season. You just don’t want Pocono to be the race that affects him psychologically, and prevents him from fully realizing his undoubted potential.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Stefano Coletti

Stefano Coletti
1 Comment

MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series driver-by-driver lineup. In 19th place and the second-ranked rookie this season, was KV Racing Technology’s Stefano Coletti.

Stefano Coletti, No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

  • 2014: GP2
  • 2015: 19th Place, Best Finish 8th, Best Start 8th, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 18.9 Avg. Start, 18.6 Avg. Finish

Coletti struggled in his rookie season, which was a bit surprising after an impressive preseason testing period that helped him secure the second KV Racing Technology car alongside KVSH Racing lead driver Sebastien Bourdais.

The GP2 graduate produced early season excitement where he was a passing star, but that only seemed to deceive for the rest of the year. The only time he started ahead of Bourdais was at Iowa, when Bourdais crashed in qualifying.

Similar to other drivers KV has had in previous years Coletti was often hard on equipment, with a frequent number of either full-on accidents or less damaging spins, although not all were his fault. A trouble-free weekend for him rarely occurred, and eighth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis marked his only top-10 result of the year.

It was a year that paled in comparison to Sebastian Saavedra’s difficult 2014, which paled in comparison to Simona de Silvestro in 2013, which… well you get the point. The lack of consistency for the team’s second car probably doesn’t help, but Coletti offered few moments of brilliance in a deep field where he needed to stand out.

Given the resources at his disposal, ending 78 points behind rookie-of-the-year Gabby Chaves seemed a fairly substantial margin. If he returns for 2016, he has a big jump to make.