IndyCar Grand Prix Preview

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This weekend marks the sixth time that Indy cars will run on the road course of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Since 2014, this “new” tradition has served as the annual kickoff for the Month of May at IMS. I’m old enough to remember when Opening Day for the Month of May took place on May 1. That was the first day that cars were allowed on track to practice for the Indianapolis 500 – which always took place on May 30, no matter which day of the week that date fell on. It didn’t matter, it was Memorial Day. The only exception to that was when that date fell on a Sunday. Then the race would be run on Monday May 31.

In this era when it seems all we do is talk about traditions that have gone away, most are too young to remember the Thirty Days in May. Now, I never went to practice in those days, but I remember getting reports of the goings on in the early days of the month.

It was more laid back then. There were few, if any, opening ceremonies for Opening Day. There was not a giant push to get out on the track and many of the teams were just starting to trickle into the track during the very first week. But as Pole Day neared, the intensity grew.

In the early seventies, Congress decided that Memorial Day would be observed on the last Monday in May, beginning in 1971. For 1971 and 1972, the race was scheduled for the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. For 1973, it was scheduled for Monday May 28, which served as the observed day fr Memorial Day. Due to the rainouts of 1973 track officials decided to abandon the long-standing tradition of never running the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday. The 1974 race was scheduled for Sunday May 26 and it has been scheduled to run on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend ever since.

At this same time, the country had experienced an energy crunch in the fall of 1973. Gas stations were running out of fuel. Cars were only allowed to fill up on every other day, depending if you license plate ended in an odd or even number, speed limits were lowered to 55 mph across the country and it was announced that the country would stay on Daylight Saving Time that winter. I was fifteen at the time and I remember it being dark when I got to school. That was a failed experiment that was only tried once before it was abandoned. Now there are some loons out there, who were either not alive at the time or have very poor memories that want to bring back this stupid idea, but I digress…

The result of the energy crisis of 1973 was that the first week of practice was lopped off of the schedule in 1974, and it never returned. That was the beginning of shortening practice, which keeps happening – as recently as last year, when the Monday of the week of practice was taken away. But if you think traditions started dying off just in the last decade or so, the Month of May started shrinking in the early seventies.

So that’s a long and exhaustive way of explaining how the Month of May officially begins on May 10 of this year. Technically, it began yesterday when the different ladder series in the Road to Indy program took to the track on Thursday. But today will be the first time that Indy cars will run at IMS this May.

As most of you are reading this, we are on our way to IMS for the first of our three weekends in a row at the hallowed grounds. The first practice was scheduled for 9:10 EDT. With us losing an hour due to changing time zones, we weren’t even going to try t make the first practice. Practice Two gets underway at 12:30 EDT this afternoon. We should arrive at the track sometime between 10:30 and 11:00 this morning, so Practice Two should be no problem for us.

If this race was not run at IMS in May, I’m not sure I would make such an effort to attend. It’s not the most scintillating race to watch. It probably doesn’t help that I usually sit on the front stretch, just north of the yard of bricks. By the time they get down to the first turn, they are just getting out of my sight. But there’s usually not a ton of suspense for this race, nor a lot of passing – but there is some. But like Long Beach, if you are expecting white knuckles while watching this race – you will likely be disappointed. Set your expectations low going in. If it’s a god race, look at that as a bonus.

This race has been run five times and won by only two drivers – Simon Pagenaud and Will Power. For the first four years, those two alternated winning this race. Pagenaud won the inaugural Grand Prix in 2014, while driving for Sam Schmidt. Will Power won the following year. By 2016, Pagenaud was now a teammate to Power at Team Penske and won his second Grand Prix in three years. But beginning in 2017; Will Power has won the last two. So if you’re keeping score at home, it’s Power 3 and Pagenaud 2. As for the teams, it’s Penske domination. After Sam Schmidt’s team won the inaugural in 2014, it’s been all Team Penske.

Power added a twist last year, by winning the Grand Prix and then the Indianapolis 500 – becoming the first driver to sweep the Month of May.

Can we expect any other team to win this year’s Grand Prix besides Team Penske? I think so, for a couple of reasons. First of all, Team Penske has not been great this season. I fact, they seem to be headed backwards. They won the pole and the opening race at St. Petersburg, and the pole at COTA. They were also in a position to win at COTA, but didn’t. They were off the pace at Barber and even further off the pace of Long Beach. Josef Newgarden has managed to salvage good finishes in races, but they have not been themselves for the past few races.

I think part of their problem is that Honda has been superior to Chevy. That may change at IMS for both races, but Honda has seemed stronger at most tracks this season – in my opinion, anyway.

I do think that Team Penske’s chokehold on this race comes to an end this year. That means that I think we will have a first-time winner at this race. There is always the chance that there is an unexpected winner like Colton Herta was at COTA. But I think that as much as he was underperforming in the first three races of the season, Alexander Rossi has found his rhythm. I predict that he will break the string of Team Penske and Chevy at this event, and he and Andretti Autosport will win their first IndyCar Grand Prix on Saturday afternoon.

Saturday’s race coverage begins on NBC (the main network) at 3:00 pm EDT, with qualifying Friday afternoon on NBCSN at 4:30 EDT. As always when we attend races in person, there will be multiple posts from the track throughout the day, for Friday and Saturday. Susan will also have a post up here at some point this weekend. In the meantime, please keep up with us by following on Twitter. You can follow me at @Oilpressureblog or Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Please check back later. It’s now officially the Month of May!

George Phillips

3 Responses to “IndyCar Grand Prix Preview”

  1. Hi George, after some years away I recovered your blog. I agree with you that Penske is maybe lacking a bit due to Chevy but it’s still Team Penske we’re talking about. And they have Newgarden!

    For a new winner. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Marco was to win, 50 years after granddad in a lightly different race?

    Hope he wins end of the month though

  2. billytheskink Says:

    If RLL has solved their qualifying woes, they’ll be as dangerous as any team in this race.

  3. Yannick Says:

    As the major annual event on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the Grand Prix of Indianapolis (as it should be called) is the direct continuation of the USGP of F1 held at the same track from 2000 to 2007. I was happy when this track returned as an IndyCar race, as it has tended to be one of the more exciting F1 GPs of that era. In fact, when the road course returned to racing, I was wondering why IndyCar had not tried it earlier. And the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis did not disappoint: the battle between Hunter-Reay and Pagenaud for the win at the end was very exciting.
    However, if IndyCar wanted to re-broadcast a race on this track that was truly historic, it would have to be the 2004 USGP. That is not possible for copyright reasons. Yet, this race is when F1 got a real taste of what Indianapolis is like. Here’s a recap of the race: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y-nopsyyVn4

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