IRL: Barron looking for Michigan repeat

It's been a tough year, once again, for Chevrolet drivers but at least one of them is looking forward to the 400- mile Indy Racing League IndyCar Series race at Michigan Speedway this weekend. Alex Barron, driving the ...

It's been a tough year, once again, for Chevrolet drivers but at least one of them is looking forward to the 400- mile Indy Racing League IndyCar Series race at Michigan Speedway this weekend.

Alex Barron, driving the #51 Red Bull Cheever Racing Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone challenger is primed to succeed in the Michigan Indy 400. Barron won this race last year with a last lap pass on Sam Hornish Jr. that surprised everyone but the race winner. True, he was driving with a different package at the time, but Barron is known as an intelligent racer, first and foremost and one who can take a car that might not have qualified best to the front of the field.

He showed just that at Texas Motor Speedway this June, coming from 22nd and last on the grid to take third at the close of the night race. It wasn't an anomaly as Barron came from 15th to seventh this past weekend on a totally different type of oval, the flat, one-mile Milwaukee Mile.

The 34-year-old Californian, who looks way younger than his years came up through the karting ranks and, in his second year driving cars won his first championship in Toyota Atlantic competition. It seemed he was on a fast track to success, but working with Dan Gurney's All American Racers and developing both the Toyota engine and Eagle chassis in CART competition put Barron's reach for the top rung of competition on hold.

When Gurney exited the CART scene, there was Alex Barron without a ride. He did a couple of races with Dale Coyne and took a top result of eighth at California in 2000 and then hooked up with Sam Schmidt Motorsports a year later at Gateway for his IRL debut.

The following season was a landmark year for Barron and Blair Racing, as he shared Rookie of the Year honors with Tomas Scheckter at the Indy 500 and earned his - and the team's - first victory in Nashville. The money ran out at the end of 2002, though, leaving Barron on the sidelines again.

Like so many others, he served as a substitute driver in 2003, working in relief of Gil de Ferran for Marlboro Team Penske at Twin Ring Motegi, with Meijer Mo Nunn Racing at the Brickyard in place of Arie Luyendyk and for Hollywood Mo Nunn Racing for Felipe Giaffone. It was with the latter group that Alex Barron won the Michigan race last year.

Eddie Cheever watched Barron's progress and, when the team owner decided to part company with Buddy Rice he hired Barron to drive the final three races of 2003 and lead a two-car charge this season. To date, it appears the laconic Barron and the mercurial Cheever are getting along just fine.

"Eddie is great to be around," Barron acknowledged. "His attitude is similar to my own in that both of us want to win races. He pushes the team really hard," he said of Cheever, who has been known to hire and fire drivers nearly at will.

Barron admitted the Menards A.J. Foyt Indy 225 on the Milwaukee Mile was "a long day. Milwaukee is different from most IRL races because it's a flat track. I've raced there in the past and know the line changes around the track. We made some changes to the car after warmup and we're pretty happy with our result," he said in his typically self-deprecating manner.

"The track changed considerably during that race and it really is a temperamental circuit. Changes in the temperature and sunlight changed it a lot." He noted, "Halfway through turns 3 and 4 guys with more rear grip got into a lot of trouble."

Now it's on to Michigan Speedway, a two-mile circuit that typically produces exciting racing and breathtaking finishes as drivers swap position multiple times per lap. Engine maker Chevrolet had a recent private test at the circuit in anticipation of the Michigan Indy 400 this weekend and Barron noted, "We'll try new things with Chevrolet at Michigan this week. We tested there and things look really good."

There's no added pressure with General Motors just down the road, though. "We'll go about it the same as any other track," Barron explained. "We think we have a good baseline but that will depend on the weather. Whoever makes their car efficient runs up front in this type of race because you're flat all day" on the Michigan oval.

"The format is a bit different this year with the power drop and aerodynamic changes. We'll have a different power band and we'll be wide out. Of course," Barron said, "the guys who are quick week-in and week-out will swap places every lap.

"We're struggling a bit right now and playing catch-up, so we don't really know where we'll be until we get there. With a bit more power, I think we'll be competitive," he noted.

As the most recent IRL winner at Michigan, Alex Barron is getting a bit more publicity than he ordinarily might. "There is more publicity for the team because I'm a winner there and that's good, but I intend to do what I did the year previous. I had a lot of good stuff at the end of the race and I hope to do it again."

Because his Red Bull Cheever Racing team is based in Indianapolis, Barron has taken a secondary residence in the area. He goes to the shop most days to confer with the team and check on activities and has since settling into Indy in late March or early April. As the Indy Racing League has limited testing to manufacturer dates in-season, teams have to conduct "outside development programs. Without testing, your speed has to be shown on the tracks.

"There's a lot of development work here, in the UK and in Torrance [by Chevrolet and partner Cosworth] and I notice bright things coming. But we won't really know how it all works until we start practicing on Friday," Barron insisted. "At Michigan we are flat-out all day and the speed of the car plays a big part.

"At the end of the race we hope to put ourselves in a position to win. You've got to move around in the draft and it makes it exciting with all of those lead changes," both for driver Alex Barron and for the fans in the stands. Can he make it two in a row in the Michigan Indy 400 this Sunday? Barron hopes to be in the driver's seat when it counts most - the final lap.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Felipe Giaffone , Eddie Cheever , Arie Luyendyk , Gil de Ferran , Alex Barron , Sam Schmidt , Dan Gurney , Buddy Rice , Dale Coyne , A.J. Foyt , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske