NTT IndyCar Series: IndyCar Grand Prix Preview

Will Power leads Robert Wickens - INDYCAR Grand Prix, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [John Wiedemann Photo]

Will Power leads Robert Wickens – INDYCAR Grand Prix, Indianapolis Motor Speedway. [John Wiedemann Photo]

by Paul Gohde

Prior to 2014, the racing season at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway began on a usually chilly Monday, with a “race” to see which team could be the first to have a car on the track to open weeks of practice; not a very dramatic start to an exciting “Month of May”. But beginning in 2014, the idea of a road course race inside the historic oval became the present IndyCar Grand Prix; an opening weekend event that has become more exciting than that former sprint down pit lane to be first on track. This Saturday’s NTT IndyCar Series Grand Prix, now in its sixth running, has begun a new May “tradition” at a track filled to overflowing with history.

Race Facts: The sixth IndyCar Grand Prix runs for 85 laps (207.315 miles) on the combination road/oval course. Much of today’s 2.439-mile, 14-turn track was once used for the long-gone US Grand Prix Formula One race. Last season’s winner, Will Power, has won here three times for Team Penske (2018, ‘17 and ’15) while Simon Pagenaud has captured the other two (once for Penske and the other for Schmidt Peterson Hamilton). Power holds both the race record (1:42: 57.610…120.813 mph-2017) and the qualifying mark (1.07.704…129.687 mph-also 2017).

Past Races at Track: Power’s win here last year was his 33rd in Indy cars and Team Penske’s 200th in the series. He led 56 of 85 laps in his Chevrolet, holding off the Hondas of Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi) and rookie Robert Wickens (Schmidt Peterson) .

2019 So Far: The four previous series’ events have all been run on street or natural road courses, so one could figure that those four winners would have an advantage coming to the somewhat similar IndyCar Grand Prix circuit.  Standings: 1) Josef Newgarden (1 win, Chevrolet , 166 points),  2) Alexander Rossi (1 win, Honda, -31),  3) Scott Dixon (0 wins, Honda, -33)  4) Takuma Sato (1 win, Honda, -50)  5) Ryan Hunter-Reay (0 wins, Honda, -70).  The other winner: Colton Herta (Honda).

The Field: Helio Castroneves returns to the NTT IndyCar Series for both May races at IMS, taking time from his Penske Audi duties in the WeatherTech IMSA series. Patricio O’Ward has a 13-race IndyCar schedule that includes both IMS races for Carlin. Jack Harvey is also at the Grand Prix for Meyer Shank Racing. In all, 24 drivers will line up for the IndyCar Grand Prix on Saturday.

Notes: In an article that appeared this week in Autoweek magazine, McLaren chief executive Zak Brown noted that the team, returning for the Indianapolis 500 with Fernando Alonso, will likely field a full-time, two-car NTT Series IndyCar team in 2020 with an experienced driver and a young teammate…Castroneves is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in every Indy Car race held on the IMS road course…The IndyCar Grand Prix hasn’t had a title sponsor since 2017. It was the Angie’s List Grand Prix in 2015-16…TV: Qualifying- NBCSN, Friday, May 10, 4:30 p.m. ET (Live)…Race-NBC, Saturday, 3:00 p.m. ET (Live)…Green Flag, 3:50 p.m. ET.

Our Take: Chevrolet has won four of the first five IndyCar Grand Prix races at IMS, but just two drivers (Power and Pagenaud) were driving. Team Penske is batting .800 with four of those wins. How could you not pick a Team Penske Chevy? Given that, let’s choose a “storybook” winner in Helio Castroneves, a now part-timer who made his Indy career with Penske and “took one for the team” by leaving IndyCar (except for these two races) to run Audis for The Captain in IMSA.

Final Words: Felix Rosenqvist (No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) “We had a test at the IMS road course a little while ago and managed to find a few interesting things, notably in the area of tire management. I view this as our main priority at the moment; getting the tires to   last over a racing distance and improving our long-run pace…The track has at least two proper overtaking zones. It’s all about getting both qualifying and the race together on the same weekend.”



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