Race Weekend Central

IndyCar Preview: Grand Prix of Indianapolis

What’s News?

The big news this week is… this race. It’s a first-time event that’s led to some strong opinions from various corners of the open wheel world. Our own Huston Ladner andMike Neff provided good arguments both for and against this event, taking into account what it means for the month of May at Indianapolis and what the value of tradition is.

No matter what observers think, though, the drivers have had nothing but stellar reviews for the revamped road circuit. Scott Dixon was the fastest of the day during Thursday’s practice session with a lap time of 1:10.4654. Sebastien Bourdais, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and rookie Mikhail Aleshin also made the top 5 for Thursday.

“The cars are on a knife edge,” Dixon said. “The straights are so long that you’re trimming the car out to levels that I think we’ve only seen once before in Brazil on a street course with another really long straight. That there makes it tough, the window of being on the edge and going for the quick time is uncomfortably small, but it’s a lot of fun. You’re constantly chasing the track, and the conditions, today it is very windy, tomorrow it might open up and rain, and then for the race, I hope everyone comes out for that, but I like it. They did a hell of a job with this track.”

The Track:

It’s Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it’s the road course instead of the oval. The course is 14 turns and 2.349 miles. Race distance will be 82 laps for 200 miles. No one is the defending pole winner and no one is the defending winner and no one holds the course record — because it is an all new event. This is a Saturday afternoon show, so tune in on your local ABC affiliate this Saturday, May 10, for live coverage starting at 3:30 p.m. ET. Radio coverage will also be available, as always, on IMS Radio Network and on XM 209/Sirius 213.

What’s the Points? Drivers

Will Power is off to a tremendous start, posting three top 5s to open the season and leading the points by 18 over Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner Ryan Hunter-Reay. Simon Pagenaud, defending champion Scott Dixon and Long Beach winner Mike Conway round out the top 5.

Will Power is off to a tremendous start this season, leading the points by 18 going into Indianapolis.
Will Power is off to a tremendous start this season, leading the points by 18 going into Indianapolis.

What’s the Points? Engines

Chevrolet continues to lead over Honda, 266 points to 229 points. So far on the season, Chevrolet won the first two races and Honda posted the most recent victory in the third.

Driver to Watch

Takuma Sato is among a handful of drivers who have raced on the old IMSroad course in the past, and while there were some changes made to the track for the Verizon IndyCar Series for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, it’s still familiar enough. Not only has Sato raced there before, but he also earned his first Formula 1 podium finish there in 2004.

“We are really enjoying the new layout. With the turns and the layout, the speedway did a really good job,” said Sato. “I think we’ll be OK with the standing start by this time. We did some last year and we had one at Long Beach this year. I do like a standing start, but we need to get it just right.”

Juan Pablo Montoya also raced in F1 there, although he never finished on the podium. Sebastien Bourdais won on the track in sports cars in 2012, and Marco Andretti won in Indy Lights in 2005.

Other News:

The formal Indianapolis 500 rookie orientation program was held this past Monday at the speedway. Carlos Huertas, Jack Hawksworth, Mikhail Aleshin, Martin Plowman and Sage Karam all participated in the session on the 2.5-mile oval. Participants run three speed phases set by INDYCAR, 10 laps at 200-205 mph, 15 laps at 205-210, and 15 laps over 210 mph. It’s designed to get competitors acquainted with their cars and also to give stewards a chance to evaluate the drivers.

All but Karam, who had mechanical issues, completed the program. Karam will be allowed to finish on May 11, the first day of practice.

Kurt Busch also made some laps during the orientation session. He’d already completed a refresher session on April 29.

INDYCAR also announced this week that it is exploring the possibility of a Verizon IndyCar Series race at NOLA Motorsports Park in Louisiana. The event would be known as the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Louisiana and would be organized by Andretti Sports Marketing. The state legislatures proposes funding the needed improvements for the facility and is excited about the prospect of the event which would also incorporate a three-day festival featuring live music, entertainment, and food showcasing the culture of Louisiana.

Who Ya Got?

The tricky thing with new races is there is no history, no patterns, and so really, it’s a complete and total guessing game as to who might prevail. I think the hot streak continues; the Captain is the man at Indy, even if it’s not the oval, and Will Power takes this one. Matt Stallknecht likes to play those longshots and where better to do so than at a race where no one goes in the favorite? He’s going with Josef Newgarden. Huston Ladner has been paying attention to the practice chart and is picking the man at the top, Scott Dixon.

What’s Next?

It’s the big show; the Indianapolis 500 is what’s next! Practice sessions begin on Sunday, May 11, and the first round of qualifying will be Saturday, May 17, to determine which 33 drivers will be in the race. Actual starting spots will be determined in the sessions on Sunday, May 18. With the field set, the main event goes down on Sunday, May 25.

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