Post-race headlines for 2019 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama may emphasize Sato’s win from pole, perhaps making it easy to characterize this year’s Barber Motorsports Park race as a follow-the-leader affair, but the on-track action and results tell a different story.
The level of NTT IndyCar Series competition remained fierce during the series’ third round of the season at the Birmingham, Alabama track, with a record number of lead changes combining with a significant amount of passing throughout the field.
Even though the track was originally designed and built for motorcycle racing, Barber tends to race well each time the series visits and this year’s event was no different. Eleven lead changes among six drivers surpassed the previous record of 10 from the first year of manufacturer aero kit differentiation in 2015.
While position changes at the front were prevalent, Takuma Sato’s 23 competitors proved unable to deny him his fourth career victory. The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver led 74 of the race’s 90 laps, clinching the two bonus points on offer and increasing his weekend points haul to 54, vaulting him to third in the championship standings.
Despite Sato’s dominance, or perhaps because of it, passing occurred throughout the field as drivers jostled for position both before and after the yellow-flag period that began on Lap 58.
Josef Newgarden executed 13 passes, the most of the drivers who finished in the top six. The number was matched by Patricio O’Ward, whose 16th-place finish — two places better than where he started — contradicts his on-track effort.
Overall, there were 147 passes and 121 position passes, equating to 0.031 passes per mile (PPM) and 0.025 position PPM. The statistic compares favorably to the first two races of the session, with position PPM down 17% from Circuit of The Americas but up 32% compared to the St. Petersburg season opener.
The competitiveness was borne out not just in passing numbers but in the results as well, with drivers from six different teams finishing in the top six positions. Behind Sato’s RLL Honda, Scott Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais completed the podium, adding Chip Ganassi Racing and Dale Coyne Racing to the group.
Josef Newgarden’s fourth-place finish ensured Team Penske was represented in the top six despite the team missing the Firestone Fast Six for its first time in half a decade. Andretti Autosport seemed to be off the mark for much of the weekend but Alexander Rossi’s finish of fifth added the team to the top six.
Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe made his team the sixth unique one in the group — notable because he led two of the weekend’s three practice sessions as well as Round 2 of knockout qualifying.
With lead changes, passing and varied results quickly becoming a hallmark of IndyCar racing, the series’ high level of competition will continue with the second street circuit race of the season April 12–14 in Long Beach.