Here are some news and notes to watch going into the second round of the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season, at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama:
WILL'S WORLD – If he has the handling and balance right on his Verizon Team Penske DW12-Chevrolet, Will Power may be able to achieve a “grand slam” at Barber – as opposed to last year's mere triple sweep of pole, leading every lap and winning his first race of 2011. He only missed the fastest lap to Scott Dixon by some 0.0053 of a second a year ago. He's already got the first pole and fastest race lap of 2012 in the bag, and heads to Barber the outright favorite to repeat his victory of a year ago.
MARCO'S ROAD COURSE BREAKOUT? – Two-thirds of the Andretti Autosport contingent were even closer to nipping on the heels of Team Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing at St. Petersburg, and the third member, judging on past form, could be in line to do likewise this weekend.
Barber Motorsports Park has been one of Marco Andretti's strongest circuits in the two prior races. He's been in with a shout at victory at both; in 2010 he led 58 laps and finished fifth from fourth on the grid, and last year, he recorded his second-best road course finish of the season with fourth.
In his first 2012 RACER.com blog, Marco described his ability to exit the corners faster than teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay at Barber during testing – and launching quickly here is key with few straights and mastering the rhythm of corners one of the bigger keys to success. With an upgraded Chevrolet engine, and his prior history at the track, count Marco among the outright contenders this weekend.
SECOND TIME AROUND FOR PAGS, HINCH – Simon Pagenaud is classified as a rookie for 2012, although he has raced on a number of the current IndyCar circuits. Barber's among them as Pagenaud jumped at the deep end a year ago, subbing for Ana Beatriz at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in a car he'd never as much sat in before the weekend. All he did was qualify 23rd, ahead of Tony Kanaan for one, and finish eighth – the best finish of 2011 for DRR's now temporarily sidelined No. 24 car.
“I'm really looking forward to go there for the second time, and we'll see,” Pagenaud said. “I know in St. Pete we had a really good racecar. This time it's going to be a different beast. But I think we did good homework over the winter and you know, we're very optimistic about our chances there.”
Meanwhile, the true start of the sophomore season begins for James Hinchcliffe. The Canadian made his IndyCar debut at Barber a year ago and while he starred in qualifying, with eighth on the grid, he had a less than auspicious first race after retiring due to contact with E.J. Viso. On the other hand, that also marks the last time he has retired on a road or street course due to an accident.
SWITCHING UP THE LIVERIES – Barber marks not only the second race of the season, but for some teams, the second different paint scheme whizzing by.
Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves reprise their Clorox and AAA Insurance-adorned liveries this weekend, as last year, which means that two more cars with a shade of blue join the 11 others that have blue somewhere on the DW12.
Ryan Briscoe also has another season of revolving sponsorships ahead of him, as Hitachi will be on his No. 2 Team Penske car this weekend.