By Steve Wittich
Setting up today’s 35 lap INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix Of Alabama
Christian Rasmussen is the overwhelming favorite to win this afternoon’s INDY NXT by Firestone race at Barber Motorsports Park. Fourteen of 17 series winners at the 2.3-mile, 17-turn natural terrain road course have come from the pole. Pato O’Ward won from an outside front-row starting position in 2018. Santi Urrutia (2016) and Nico Jamin (2017) won from the third starting position.
The worst finishing position by a pole winner at Barber Motorsports Park is second.
INDY NXT by Firestone races at Barber Motorsports Park average 0.8 cautions and 1.8 caution laps, with seven races having no cautions. There have only been four first-lap cautions.
Favorable schedule and qualifying change
To better prepare drivers for the cadence of an NTT INDYCAR SERIES weekend, the INDY NXT by Firestone series is mimicking the schedule of their big brothers, with Friday practice, Saturday practice and qualifying and a Sunday race.
It also includes a pressure-packed eight-minute qualifying session to familiarize drivers with the pressure they will face during Firestone Fast Six qualifying in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
The consensus from the drivers, engineers and team owners is overwhelmingly positive, with their only concern is finding space to lay down a flyer with the larger grids this season.
That’s a positive problem, and the solution might be to split the field into two, giving them each six minutes and then taking the top four from each group to form an eight-car pole shootout in another six-minute session.
Honoring a friend
Andretti Autosport INDY NXT by Firestone driver James Roe is honoring his friend and Irish rally legend Craig Breen at Barber Motorsports Park.
The Irish driver traveled back home last week to attend the ceremony, posting the following on Twitter:
Tough day at home today,said good bye to one of the best in many years, he did so much for our island and always wore his heart on his sleeve.
Flying back to the 🇺🇸 in the am, headed for @BarberMotorPark
Let’s do it for Breen & In Breen style – Flat out!
Rest Easy CB ❤️🇮🇪James Roe on Twitter
Roe is also running a decal on the side of the Topcon-sponsored No. 29.
Missing in action
Unfortunately, Rasmus Lindh is not racing at Barber Motorsports Park this weekend. The USF2000 and USF Pro 2000 vice-champion piloted the No. 10 from the HMD Motorsports w/Dale Coyne Racing stable at the first race of the year but ran into funding issues.
“Sad to say, as some of you have heard, I will not be racing at the Grand Prix Of Alabama this weekend because of backing issues,” said 21-year-old Swede on Instagram. “Good luck to the whole HMD Motorsports squad this weekend.”
GarageXYZ, the sponsor of the No. 10 at the season-opening race, posted the following message on social media.
“Following the exciting debut of the #10 Garage XYZ with HMD Motorsports entry at the St. Petersburg Grand Prix, funding efforts fell through, resulting in the car being ineligible to race this weekend. We remain fully committed to supporting Rasmus Lindh in INDY NXT and will continue working tirelessly to give him the opportunity to compete in this exciting series.”
TSO note: This is unfortunate for Lindh and HMD Motorsports. I (Steve) believe the driver has the talent to be an NTT INDYCAR SERIES, but he can’t catch the break he needs. HMD Motorsports loses a fast driver that gives them another competitive driver to help develop set-ups for the IL-15 with the new Firestone tires.
Toby Sowery, an INDY NXT by Firestone race winner at Portland International Raceway in 2019, returns to the series for the first of five races in relief of Josh Pierson, while the Ed Carpenter Racing development driver is busy competing in the World Endurance Championship. Note: Pierson along with his United Autosport teammates Tom Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis stood on the second step of the LMP2 podium at the six-hours of Spa-Francorchamps.
“I am incredibly excited to return to Indy NXT with HMD Motorsports,” said Sowery. “The team helped me achieve my first American win back in 2019, and together, we went on to take six podiums and third overall in the championship. It’s been fantastic to watch them grow and develop over the last three years, and I am honored to be back representing them on track. I was really impressed with the set up at St Petersburg, and I am eager to get to work with the entire team for these five races. I am confident we can return to our winning ways!”
The 27-year-old’s last open-wheel race was at World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway in 2021. Still, the Brit kept busy driver coaching and being named the first Radical World Champion against competitors from across the globe.
Sowery made his American debut at Barber Motorsports Park, contesting a pair of USF2000 races in 2017 with an impressive fifth-place finish. He also made a pair of INDY NXT by Firestone starts, finishing fourth in both races to start the 2021 season.
The 2.3-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park natural terrain road course is the most physically demanding track that the INDY NXT by Firestone series will visit this year, meaning this was always going to be a challenging weekend for rookie Jamie Chadwick. We know she’s been training hard, but this weekend’s visit, the three-time W-Series champion will have a real-world idea of what she needs to work on in training.
The DHL-sponsored driver has made good progress, starting the weekend 1.8 seconds off the top lap in the first practice and ending qualifying within a second of the pole.
“I’m a bit disappointed,” explained Chadwick after qualifying. “I think from practice we made a good step, but it’s obviously super close. I didn’t feel like we quite got the tire, everything in the window for those five, six laps, so a bit disappointed, but I’m glad we’ve made a step and hopefully we can fight tomorrow on the race.”
Previous INDY NXT by Firestone winners at Barber Motorsports Park
|2022||Linus Lundqvist||HMD Motorsports|
|2021 Race #2||David Malukas||HMD Motorsports|
|2021 Race #1||Linus Lundqvist||Global Racing Group w/HMD|
|2018 Race #2||Patricio O’Ward||Andretti Autosport|
|2018 Race #1||Patricio O’Ward||Andretti Autosport|
|2017 Race #2||Colton Herta||Andretti Steinbrenner Racing|
|2017 Race #1||Nico Jamin||Andretti Autosport|
|2016 Race #2||Santi Urrutia||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
|2016 Race #1||Ed Jones||Carlin|
|2015 Race #2||Spencer Pigot||Juncos Racing|
|2015 Race #1||Spencer Pigot||Juncos Racing|
|2014 Race #2||Gabby Chaves||Belardi Auto Racing|
|2014 Race #1||Zach Veach||Andretti Autosport|
|2013||Carlos Munoz||Andretti Autosport|
|2012||Sebastien Saavedra||Andretti Autosport|
|2011||Victor Garcia||Team Moore|
|2010||JK Vernay||Schmidt Peterson Motorsports|
You can catch today’s race at 11:55am (central) on Peacock, INDYCAR LIVE!, INDYCAR Radio Network, SiriusXM.