The box score of Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama features a tantalizing mix of veteran racers and rookies with varying levels of experience, yet the finishing order favored the veterans while most of the rookies failed to reach the front.
Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, Josef Newgarden, Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe shared between them a combined 954 starts entering the Barber Motorsports race weekend and ended it as the top six drivers.
Within the group, experience levels range from Dixon’s 306 races at one extreme to Rossi’s 52 races at the other. At the other end of the experience spectrum, the six rookies competing at Barber had 16 starts between them prior to the weekend.
Starts and the library of knowledge they grant only tell one part of the success story. Age also appeared to be a factor for the drivers who found the most success in Alabama: Three of the field’s four oldest drivers are included in that top six.
With so much experience up front, rookies fared poorly in Birmingham, combining to achieve an average finishing position of 16th. Drivers in the field who have won series championships, comparatively, attained an average finishing position of eighth.
In a weekend where tires entered the conversation and lap times were significantly off last year’s first Barber visit with the debuting universal aero kit, additional miles of experience for multiyear veterans proved beneficial.
“I think the experience in races like this where you’ve been there before — you’ve had to manage those tires and you know the fuel game and you know the place and you know the feel, when it starts to give you the little indication that the left rear is kind of starting to give up — you know what to do and you’ve been there before and you take counteractive measures and you just wheel it out,” said third-place finisher Sebastien Bourdais.
Further benefiting the veterans in the field, Barber isn’t the only puzzling track on the series schedule.
“Definitely experience in this series is very important, and it’s just the beginning,” said Bourdais. “We’re going to go to places that are just as tricky as this one, and then you get to Iowa and Pocono and places like that, and then hang on to your pants if you have never been there.”
While the grizzled veterans that finished on the podium at Barber — with an average age of 40 — younger drivers were nipping at their heels, including 28-year-old Newgarden in fourth, 27-year-old Rossi in fifth plus rookies Marcus Ericsson in seventh and Felix Rosenqvist in 10th.
“The field is extremely tough,” said Dixon, who reached the Barber podium but didn’t win for his eighth time in 10 starts. “It’s great to see the young talent coming through. It’s very important for the sport.
“There’s such diversity, which is really important, especially in the growing times of the series.”
The diversity seen on today’s NTT IndyCar Series entry list will be seen next on the Long Beach street circuit on the weekend of April 12–14.