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What Indy fans can look for from Barber

On paper, this week’s open test for the IZOD IndyCar Series might seem to have little consequence to the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500 in May.

But sometimes paper is wrong.

When action begins Monday at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Ala., it’s our chance to get accustomed to what might happen in May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Oh, sure, Barber is a road course, and it’s only a test session, but it’s the official start of the preseason activity, and it’s the unofficial barometer of what’s bound to happen at Indy.

Here are some of the questions we’ll be asking ourselves during the two days of practice in Alabama:

  • Will Dario Franchitti be able to repeat as the winner of the Indy 500 – and win it for the third time in five years?
  • Will Helio Castroneves win his fourth 500, tying A.J. Foyt, Rick Mears and Al Unser for most 500 wins?
  • Can Will Power breakthrough at Indy after his first full season with Team Penske in 2010?
  • Is this the year that Tony Kanaan, now with KV Racing Technology, finally wins the race in which he’s been so strong recently?
  • Does the domination of Penske and Target Chip Ganassi Racing continue? They’ve combined to win eight of the last 11 500s; only Andretti Green and Rahal Letterman have interrupted them. Is this the time that another team steps up?

After Sunday’s media day events at Barber Motrosports Museum, 24 cars are expected to take to the 2.38-mile road course for two days of testing. Among the drivers expected are four-time Champ Car champion Sebastien Bourdais and Oriol Servia.

For most drivers, the two days are a chance to shake off the winter rust and perfect road- and street-course setups. But it also sets the stage for the remainder of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season, including the Indianapolis 500 on May 29.

“I know that track well and I know what the car should feel like, so any things we need to develop we should get a read on it,” says Power, who raced Franchitti for the 2010 championship into the final race of the season. “The circuit itself is one of the most technical tracks we go to. With a smooth, fast line and the complexes of corners, you have to give some to get some somewhere else. It can be tough to pass, but we proved last year you can pass.”

The test is also a good indication of where teams are in their pre-season preparation. Look for Penske and Ganassi to be strong – after all, Castroneves won the inaugural IZOD IndyCar Series race at Barber last April, with Ganassi’s Scott Dixon right behind him.

Servia, who recently signed with Newman/Haas Racing, is looking forward to the opportunity.

“I am really happy that spring training is taking place here so I will have chance to learn before we come back for the race,” Servia said. “We do have a lot to accomplish at this test. The season gets really busy quickly and it will be important to find the best car setup to ensure we can be competitive right away. I haven't raced in a year so the more miles I can do the better. This year, there are more cars and it will be more competitive than ever. It will be great for the fans and extremely challenging for all of us. I expect the tightest field we have ever seen in the IZOD IndyCar Series. After having a year off, I have never been so ready to work as hard to achieve our goals.”

But when the cars fire up for the first time on Monday, our minds might wander back to the Brickyard. It’s more than just how well they do at Barber, you see. It’s how well they do at Indy. 

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