IndyCar Grand Prix Preview

As you read this, I am on my way to Indianapolis for the first of three weekends in a row at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; beginning this week with the IndyCar Grand Prix to be run on the IMS road course. I am driving solo. Once again, Susan’s company scheduled a mandatory training session late this week. She was able to get a cheap flight this evening when she gets back, so I’ll be picking her up in Indianapolis around 10:00 tonight. What is it with companies that schedule things in May? Don’t they realize the Month of May is going on?

The good thing is that I’ll be able to leave Nashville much earlier this morning, since I’m travelling alone. I won’t make it for Practice One for the Verizon IndyCar Series, which starts at 9:15 this morning. It’s a four and a half hour drive from my house to IMS and I lose an hour with the time change. As much as I’d like to be there, I’m not leaving at 3:45 am just for practice. But Practice Two is at 12:30, so I’ll be there in plenty of time for that. IndyCar Qualifying will be at 4:30 this afternoon and the IndyCar race will drop the green flag at 3:50 pm EDT Saturday. Coverage on ABC will start at 3:30 EDT.

This will be the fifth IndyCar Grand Prix; which is a lot easier to type out than the former name – The Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. There has been a pattern among the winners of the previous editions of this event. Simon Pagenaud won the inaugural Grand Prix in 2014. Will Power won the next one in 2015. Then it was Pagenaud again in 2016, with Power winning in 2017. Those that believe in cycles would assume it’s time for Pagenaud to win again. We’ll get to that later.

I know this is considered a sacrilege, especially in the Month of May – but this is not my favorite race in the world. In fact, if this race were not held where it is – I seriously doubt that I would make an effort to go. We’ve attended all four of the previous Grand Prix’s and I can honestly say that there have only been two memorable moments provided by those four races. They both came from the inaugural race in 2014 and neither is a shining moment.

The first was the start of the 2014 race. That was the year of the short-lived standing starts experiment. It did not go well. Sebastian Saavedra was a surprise pole-winner due to a downpour in qualifying the previous day. If memory serves me correctly, that was also the year of the new hand-operated clutches. Whatever the case, Saavedra stalled his engine on the standing start. I happened to be sitting in the stands just north of the start/finish line and caught a pretty good video of the stalled start and the resulting crash that ensued.

The other memorable moment was when James Hinchcliffe was hit in the head with a piece of debris that went flying after Justin Wilson hit it. Hinch was dazed and drifted harmlessly into a tire barrier. He was carried away on a stretcher and was diagnosed with a concussion. His participation in the “500” was in jeopardy, but he was cleared to drive a few days later for qualifications the following week.

The only other thing that stands out in my memory was the 2016 race, won by Pagenaud. There was nothing about the racing that stood out, but what I remember most about that race was how cold it was. I was at the infamous 1992 Indianapolis 500 that was 50° and windy with overcast skies. The 2016 Grand Prix felt every bit as cold.

Other than those three not-so-pleasant memories, there is no great racing moment that I can say came from the IndyCar Grand Prix. So why do I go, you might ask? Because it is now the official kickoff for the Month of May, that’s why. To me, there are few things in life that are as therapeutic as a weekend at IMS when Indy cars are on the track. I can have all kinds of real world things on my mind, but when I go through the tunnel to enter the track – those problems magically disappear.

But there is more to it than my sanity. This weekend and next weekend are, in a lot of ways, much more enjoyable than Race Weekend. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the actual Indianapolis 500, but Race Weekend is very crowded and intense – especially Race Day. The Grand Prix weekend are much more low-key affairs that let you take in all that IMS has to offer at a much more leisurely pace. Lines at concession stands are mostly non-existent and the gift shops are well-stocked but have far fewer customers.

Race Day is mostly non-stop with a very structured agenda. The first two weekends of track activity allow you to go at your own pace to do what you want to do. So if I gave you the impression that I don’t like this weekend – that would be wrong. I just don’t go to the IndyCar Grand Prix because I want to see great racing. I do it because it’s another weekend that I can experience IMS. And who knows, maybe this will be the race that gives as spectacular racing with the new body kits.

And there is also this…I’ll admit that I don’t regularly follow ladder series. I am a big proponent of the Mazda Road to Indy, but that doesn’t mean I follow it. But when I’m at a track, I do tend to watch them. I don’t know many of the drivers, but they do provide good racing. If you want to see cars on track, IMS will be the place for you this weekend. Both days, you will have cars from US F2000, Pro Mazda and Indy Lights for about eleven hours both days.

So, getting back to the pattern of winners here – I think this is the year that the Pagenaud/Power thing comes to an end. Some may look at the winners of the first four races and say that Team Penske has swept these races, but remember – Simon Pagenaud was driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports when he won in 2014. Still Roger Penske has won the last three consecutive Grand Prix races at IMS. He will get a fourth this weekend, but it won’t be from Power or Pagenaud. It will come from the hottest driver of the season – the driver who won the championship last season, the driver who is leading the points and has won two of the first four races of the season, including the one three weeks ago at Barber Motorsports Park. I’m talking about Josef Newgarden.

I should be arriving at the track around 11:00 EDT this morning. As I do whenever I’m on site, I will try to post two to three times a day throughout each day, and Susan will also have one of her posts up here on Saturday. You may also follow us on Twitter for many more photos, videos and comments throughout the weekend. Follow me at @Oilpressureblog or Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Check back later this morning.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “IndyCar Grand Prix Preview”

  1. BrandonWright77 Says:

    Love the GP weekend for the exact same reasons, the race isn’t that great but it’s a great weekend to just experience IMS. I’m bringing my bike this year and plan to do a lot of exploring. But first, breakfast at Charlie Browns!

  2. My boys and I have also attended every GP and I agree with your post exactly. It’s my favorite place to spend Mother’s Day weekend. We are driving down as soon as Matthew takes his Algebra test- didn’t his teacher know I planned to pull him out of school for the day 😉. Thankfully the test is second period so we can still have time at the track today. —Patti

  3. Has there been any discussion at IMS about making improvements to the infield part of the track that could make for a more interesting race? Are there any obvious changes that could be made?

  4. billytheskink Says:

    It appears that the LED panels are not working for the entirety of May. Should give teams a good place to put their numbers for increased readability, at least.

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