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IndyCar Grand Prix Preview

Simon Pagenaud leads the field during the IndyCar race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Angie's List Grand Prix. [Andy Clary Photo]

Simon Pagenaud leads the field during the IndyCar race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 2016 Angie’s List Grand Prix. [Andy Clary Photo]

Verizon IndyCar Series : Race 5 of 17
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course

by Paul Gohde

They sometimes call the course a “Roval”, and for the fourth time since 2014 the Verizon IndyCar Series will race in the IndyCar Grand Prix on the roval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday, May 13.

Indy Grand Prix Facts: The combined road course and oval hosted racing for the first time in 2000 when the Formula One circus invaded the U.S. for what turned out to be an eight-year run. The course has changed slightly over the years and now races to 2.439 miles with a tight first- turn entry that has provided action as the cars enter the road course after a run down the main straight. Saturday’s 207.3-mile event will cover 85 laps; three longer than in the past. The qualifying record for the present course (1:08.67) was set by Team Penske driver Will Power in 2016, while 2015 race-winner Power set the event record (1: 42:42.09). Simon Pagenaud has won here twice, (2016 for Penske and the 2014 inaugural for Schmidt Peterson). The race became the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis for two years (2005-16) but lost that title sponsorship this season.

Past Indy Car Indy Grand Prix Races: The 2014 inaugural featured a scary crash after the standing start that eliminated front-runners Mikhail Aleshin, Carlos Munoz and Sebastian Saavedra. Pagenaud’s Schmidt Peterson Honda was chased to the finish by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Helio Castroneves, having just enough fuel to secure the win before running out on the cool-down lap. 2015’s start resulted in another melee involving Castroneves, Josef Newgarden and others as the pack entered turn one. Dixon started fourth and led 65 of 82 laps. Pagenaud won Penske’s second Indy GP, leading 57 of 82 laps for his third consecutive season victory on his way to the 2016 Verizon championship.

2017 So Far: With his win at Phoenix at the end of April, Pagenaud moved into the top spot in points (159) after sitting in fourth prior to the Arizona event. Dixon remains second (-18) with Newgarden third (-26). Sebastien Bourdais led the standings going into Phoenix, but was involved in the first lap crash fest there and dropped to fourth in points (-31). Hinchcliffe remains in fifth (-39) as the series moves to Indy for the month of May. Honda won the first two street course runs at St. Petersburg and Long Beach, but Chevrolet has come back strong, winning at Barber and the Phoenix oval.

The Field: We add a car this week (22 total), as Roger Penske brings Juan Pablo Montoya out of semi-retirement to run both Indianapolis races. Spencer Pigot returns to the Ed Carpenter/Fuzzy’s Vodka cockpit as the team’s road-course specialist.

Notes: TV: ABC network, 3:30 p.m. ET…Following a recent entry for Buddy Lazier, the field for the Indianapolis 500 looks like a full grid of 33 could be achieved depending on a few “iffy” possibilities. The Juncos entry presents perhaps the biggest question mark. The team has been successful in lower open wheel classes in Europe and North America, but has entered the 500 with no background on the Indy Car level other than some support from former KV Technology entrant Kevin Kalkhoven. Two cars are entered, but no drivers have been named as of now…The Indy Car Grand Prix races on a Saturday to give IMS a day to convert the roval back to an oval before practice opens for the 500 on Monday…Marco Andretti won the Indy Lights race on the roval course back in 2005 as a support race for the F1 Grand Prix… Back in 1909, when the Indianapolis track was being built, original plans apparently called for a five-mile course that was to feature both an oval and a road course. Plans were supposedly scrapped due to cost and the road course portion was dropped.

Our Take: Honda’s two wins this season have come on street courses, while Chevrolet has placed first on a natural road course and a high-speed short oval. Chevy runs well on ovals but this is a roval. If you like Hondas, pick from Dixon or Hinchcliffe. If the Bowtie is your choice go for Pagenaud or Newgarden. If there’s another first turn demo derby and the first three rows are knocked out, the returning Juan Pablo Montoya might win your fantasy league for you and The Captain.

The Final Word: JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “Indianapolis is a second home to me, and I am just so excited to head back for the month of May. Last year, we didn’t have the best finish at the INDYCAR Grand Prix, but I felt like I learned a lot that I can apply this year. Our No. 2 hum by Verizon Chevy team has been really strong this year and we have proved that we can win on a road course. Qualifying is really important and we have been working on a few things we learned at Barber (Motorsports Park) that could apply to getting a good starting spot at Indy. I just know I can’t wait to get back on the track and race in front of the great Indy race fans.”

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Paul Gohde heard the sound of race cars early in his life.

Growing up in suburban Milwaukee, just north of Wisconsin State Fair Park in the 1950’s, Paul had no idea what “that noise” was all about that he heard several times a year. Finally, through prodding by friends of his parents, he was taken to several Thursday night modified stock car races on the old quarter-mile dirt track that was in the infield of the one-mile oval -and he was hooked.

The first Milwaukee Mile event that he attended was the 1959 Rex Mays Classic won by Johnny Thomson in the pink Racing Associates lay-down Offy built by the legendary Lujie Lesovsky. After the 100-miler Gohde got the winner’s autograph in the pits, something he couldn’t do when he saw Hank Aaron hit a home run at County Stadium, and, again, he was hooked.

Paul began attending the Indianapolis 500 in 1961, and saw A. J. Foyt’s first Indy win. He began covering races in 1965 for Racing Wheels newspaper in Vancouver, WA as a reporter/photographer and his first credentialed race was Jim Clark’s historic Indy win.Paul has also done reporting, columns and photography for Midwest Racing News since the mid-sixties, with the 1967 Hoosier 100 being his first big race to report for them.

He is a retired middle-grade teacher, an avid collector of vintage racing memorabilia, and a tour guide at Miller Park. Paul loves to explore abandoned race tracks both here and in Europe, with the Brooklands track in Weybridge England being his favorite. Married to Paula, they have three adult children and two cats.

Paul loves the diversity of all types of racing, “a factor that got me hooked in the first place.”