This weekend will finally see the 2021 IndyCar season begin at Barber Motorsports Park after the calendar for this season was rescheduled on a few occasions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Grand Prix of Alabama is, at the time of writing, one of 17 rounds to be contested throughout the year. There are currently 11 road/street courses and three speedway venues with two races set to take place at Texas Motor Speedway, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course and Belle Isle Street Circuit.
At the moment there are five rounds before the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 which is currently in its traditional May slot, having been moved to August last season. Some of the drivers who are only focusing on attempting to race in the 500 this season include J. R. Hildebrand (A. J. Foyt Enterprises), Juan Pablo Montoya (Arrow McLaren SP), Simona de Silvestro (Paretta Autosport) and Santino Ferrucci (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing).
Scott Dixon enters the season as the reigning champion after securing his sixth IndyCar title. The New Zealander having managed to weather Josef Newgarden’s late season charge to finish 16 points ahead of the Penske driver.
Newgarden will once again be racing alongside Will Power and Simon Pagenaud at Penske. The trio are set to be joined for the season by Scott McLaughlin who makes a full time switch to the series from Australian Supercars.
The other two drivers, alongside McLaughlin, who will be eligible for Rookie of the Year, are Jimmie Johnson and Romain Grosjean. Johnson has moved over from NASCAR and will be driving alongisde Dixon, Marcus Ericsson and Alex Palou at Chip Ganassi Racing. Johnson won’t be contesting the whole season however, missing the speedways which will see him handover his #48 car to Tony Kanaan.
Grosjean meanwhile comes over from Formula 1 and will contest his maiden IndyCar campaign with Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing. Like Johnson, Grosjean won’t contest the full season as he too will miss the speedway rounds, the Frenchman handing over his #51 car to Pietro Fittipaldi.Embed from Getty Images
The 2020 edition of the Grand Prix of Alabama didn’t take place due to the pandemic, with 2019 being the last time the race was held, which was won by Takuma Sato ahead of Dixon and Sebastien Bourdais. Sato is once again racing alongside Graham Rahal at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing this season, while Bourdais is due to contest the full 2021 season with A. J. Foyt Enterprises.
Other previous winners at Barber Motorsports Park set to take to the grid this weekend include Newgarden (2015, 2017 and 2018), Pagenaud (2016), Hunter-Reay (2013 and 2014) and Power (2011 and 2012). Hunter-Reay is once again competing the full season with Andretti Autosport, alongside Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi.
It will of course be very interesting to see how the new season unfolds and who is able to challenge for the title. Dixon and Newgarden have won the last four championships, with an even split of two between them. Added to this is that a driver hasn’t been able to win back to back championships since Dario Franchitti, who won three in a row between 2009 and 2011.Embed from Getty Images
Outside of the championship battle there is the question of how many different drivers, and teams, are able to win a race this season. For comparison the 2020 season saw seven different race winners across four different teams.
Aside from the racing the other bit of intrigue will of course be the 2021 schedule, and whether more changes will take place throughout the year as, like every other series, IndyCar continues to navigate its way through the pandemic. All being well at the least 2021 IndyCar season will finally get underway this weekend.