Verizon IndyCar Series driver Simon Pagenaud looks at the race track at Birmingham’s Barber Motorsports Park, with its numerous sweeping turns and occasional fast straightaways, and is reminded of the motorcycle course near his hometown in France.
This feeling of familiarity might be one of the reasons that Pagenaud performs so well during his annual trip to Birmingham to compete in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. He has piloted his race car to a top-10 finish all six times he has competed in this event, including a victory last year on his way to winning the IndyCar Series championship.
Pagenaud and the rest of the drivers in the IndyCar Series were at Barber Motorsports Park this week for a test session in preparation for next month’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The three-day event, which has consistently drawn total crowds in excess of 80,000 since debuting in 2010, will be held April 21-23 at the picturesque BMP complex off I-20 near Leeds.
Pagenaud is an ideal example of the diversity that exists on the IndyCar Series, both on and off the track. The Frenchman is joined in the race by drivers from nearly a dozen other countries, including the series’ first Russian-born competitor (Mikhail Aleshin).
Meanwhile, no other racing series in the world goes to as many different types of tracks as IndyCar. While NASCAR races primarily on ovals and Formula One sticks to the twists-and-turns of road and street courses, IndyCar has an intriguing mixture. The cars that will battle over the 2.3-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park track are the same ones that raced through the streets of St. Petersburg, FL, earlier this month, and that will take part in the famous Indianapolis 500 in May.
“That’s the beauty of IndyCar. It’s the only series on the planet that gives you this sense of diversity,” Pagenaud said. “ We race on superspeedways at 240 mph, we race on short 1-mile ovals, we race on road courses like Barber, and then we race on the street. Different skill sets are required at each one of these tracks, and we have to be good everywhere to win the championship.”
“Racing on an oval compared to racing on a road course is totally opposite. It’s completely different. I grew up racing on a track that was built for motorcycles, like Barber was. I had to learn what it took to race on an oval. And street racing is different, too. It’s very important to be good at all three things, and that’s what makes IndyCar so difficult and so interesting as well.”
Pagenaud is one of five drivers in this year’s field for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama who has captured the IndyCar Series championship. He is joined in that select group by Will Power of Australia and American Ryan Hunter-Reay (who have both won this race twice), along with Scott Dixon of New Zealand and Brazilian Tony Kanaan, who at age 42 is the oldest driver in the series.
In addition, Juan Pablo Montoya of Columbia won the old CART racing series championship as a rookie in 1999. Other drivers in the field include Brazil’s Helio Castroneves, who won the debut Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama in 2010, and Marco Andretti, grandson of racing legend Mario Andretti.
For more information about the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama and all the race-weekend activities, or to purchase tickets, visit BarberRacingEvents.com.