Race Report: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama
Mike Conway’s Sunday drive proved to be tougher than expected at Barber Motorsports Park but he delivered the best race result there to date for the ABC Supply team with a seventh place finish in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
The strong performance vaulted him from 20th to ninth in the IZOD IndyCar Series point standings.
Conway qualified fourth for the race but a sticky throttle on the pace laps created a tense situation as the team tried to determine the source of the problem. With telemetry saying all was normal, Conway gambled and took the green rather than pit to check the car over. He never had the problem again with the electronic throttle but the team will investigate it thoroughly in their post-race teardown.
At the start, Conway filed in fourth behind Scott Dixon but the yellow came out for Alex Tagliani who stopped on track. When the race resumed three laps later, James Hinchcliffe and Scott Dixon made contact causing Dixon to run wide which sent Conway off track. By the time Conway gathered it up, he crossed the line in seventh.
“I was outside of Scott and he clipped Hinchcliffe and went wide,” Conway explained. “I was on the outside and had to drift out on the grass. As I pulled back onto the track, I got so much stuff on my tires, I couldn't get through turn 2. There was so much understeer, I would've run into people. I lost a bunch of positions but got a couple back. We just had to hang in there all day. Tough day.”
A small miscue on the second pit stop on lap 42 saw Conway drop to eighth when the pit stops cycled out, but he battled past Tony Kanaan to regain seventh by lap 52 of the 90 lap race.
For his final stop, Conway chose to go with a set of the harder compound primary tires instead of a set of slightly used softer alternate tires which the rest of the top runners had selected.
Three laps later, a full course yellow (which lasted seven laps) for Katherine Legge, who’d spun in turn 9, made that decision questionable, especially when Marco Andretti slipped past Conway on the lap 73 restart. But as the race wore on, Conway was able to pass Andretti and hold off a hard charging Rubens Barrichello.
“I’m happy we finished in the top 10 which is what we needed,” said Conway. ”We’re still struggling with a lack of a certain level of grip out there. We're getting there in qualifying but we just need to work on long tire runs. That’s never easy on race weekends but we'll just keep chipping away at it.”
Team director Larry Foyt was satisfied with the team’s performance.
“It was a tough race but a good race for us in some ways,” Foyt said. “We lost a few spots on the start from being pushed over in the sand but Mike did a great job to save it and not lose too many positions. I it’s hard to get it back. All the guys up front were very fast. Mike drove a great race, made some good passes but we didn’t quite have the speed to drive up to our qualifying position.
“Overall, really the whole weekend went well. You hate to lose spots from where you qualified, but the one thing that was reinforced today was how many good cars there are out there and just how tough it’s going to be this year. In the past I may not have said this but if you get a top 10 finish, it’s something to be proud of if you can do it consistently.”
Will Power won the race while Dixon was second. Power’s teammate Helio Castroneves finished third. Fourth through sixth were: Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud and James Hinchcliffe.
Prior to the race’s start, Grand Marshal Bart Starr, the Hall of Fame quarterback, stopped by the Foyt paddock to meet A.J. Foyt. The two men exchanged stories and posed for photos as both achieved pinnacle feats in their respective sports in 1967: Starr won the Super Bowl playing for Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers and Foyt won his third Indianapolis 500.
The ABC Supply team will be testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this Wednesday as each team is allowed just one car to attend the open test session.
The Long Beach Grand Prix, where Conway is the defending champion, takes place Sunday, April 15th. It will be televised live on NBC Sports Network starting at 3:30 p.m. ET.