We’ve all been dreaming if May. Here in Indiana, it’s been a long winter filled with cold dark days. Now it’s May and cars are finally on track at the IMS. Before we get to the biggest race in the season, we have to get IndyCars streaming across the road course at the IMS. It is, as I alluded to in our latest podcast, the amuse-bouche of May. Held two weekends before the Indianapolis 500, it wets the appetite for racing at the Speedway in May. And – it’s a lot of fun (it also is the first topic we ever covered in a podcast – be warned it’s our first episode so it’s very rough).
There’s almost dichotomy with the IndyCar Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. Within the same month, at the same track, you have the oldest race and the newest race (the IndyCar Grand Prix has only run since 2014). The IndyCar Grand Prix resurrects both the old Formula 1 track from the United States Grand Prix held in Indianapolis and the Moto GP. The two races are reminiscent in the set of up the track. It’s a flowy and fast track, one that would have favored Formula 1 cars (I did read an article that indicates one of the reasons that F1 left the IMS is because the smaller F1 cars didn’t look as good on our track whatever *insert hair flip emoji*).
I think the biggest thing anyone coming to the event has to wrap their head around is – the cars run in the opposite direction then what they do during the Indianapolis 500. Typically when you hear someone talk about Turn 1, they mean the Turn 1 of the Indianapolis 500 when the rows of three cars scream towards it at the beginning of the race. Friday and Saturday when you hear Turn 1, it’s really a turn right before what most people know as Turn 4. Turn 1 though, Turn 1 is tough. Last year was the first year they didn’t have to throw a caution flag on Lap 1, for 2016 and 2015 that Turn 1 was the culprit (for 2014 it was the standing start that did not work). Everyone’s coming down the front straightaway ready to get the race started and will try and go more than 2-abreast in a corner that can only handle 2-abreast.
Besides Turn 1 the track offers a few other good racing areas (and I think there are mounds that will facilitate views at these areas too for those of us going General Admission to this race). Following Turn 1, the drivers need to have a great line coming off Turn 4 when they’ll hit the back straight away. It also hosts my favorite picture area, the cars all lining up behind each other as they go through the back straight away and under the pedestrian bridge. Then the cars go through a series of very technical and flowy turns with Turns 7 – 10. They have to get the Turns right, and they have to hit Turn 10 right to exit that series of Turns into the final set that will lead them back into the front stretch.
Reviewing the past races, a few things I’ve noticed. First and foremost is that Turn 1 on starts and restarts is when everyone collectively holds their breath. After that, the biggest thing is the domination that Penske has at this race. The IndyCar Grand Prix has only ran four years, and only two drivers have won, both of them Penske drivers: Simon Pagenaud (2014 and 2016) and Will Power (2015 and 2017). Both of those drivers have not had the best year so far, Indy is a place your luck can turn around, and the IndyCar Grand Prix is a good place to restart that momentum.
In 2016, there was a great moment when Alexander Rossi, who was a rookie and had not yet won the Indianapolis 500, baited Will Power into a cat and mouse game which ended with Will Power spinning off into the grass without any contact between the two cars. Reminiscent of the end of the Long Beach race when Rossi had to play a similar game to get Power to waste his Push2Pass.
The following year, Spencer Pigot put on a hell of a race. This was his year of being Ed Carpenter’s Road Course Buddy ™. He started sixteenth, ended up ninth and had a great session of passes. He even had a stall in the pit and ended up ninth. 2017 was a good race for Spencer.
2017 was not a good race for Sebastian Bourdais. His car retired after three laps due to a mechanical issue. Of course, he followed his performance at the 2017 IndyCar Grand Prix with his violent crash during qualifying at the 2017 Indianapolis 500. Actually, 2016 was also not a good race for Bourdais. Following contact with Tony Kanaan (on you guessed it Lap 1, Turn 1) his car retired after 20 laps. Fingers crossed it’s a better race for Bourdais. He’s been solid so far this year.
I think 2018 is going to be a good race. The new cars are demanding of the drivers, and this track favors technical drivers. I think Will Power (who likes technical tracks) to do well. Also drivers with Formula 1 experience (such as Takuma Sato and Alexander Rossi) should also succeed on this fast and flowy Formula 1 inspired track. Robert Wickens pulls from a wealth of DTM experience, and that requires technicality in driving. Plus he’s been licensed to drive at Nürburging and that requires a lot of skill.
Another driver to watch – Spencer Pigot. He did great last year. This year he’s nearly placed fifteen in each race (in Phoenix he was fourteenth). As has been discussed, he’s got a bit more maturity in him it seems and I think he’ll at least put on a good technical show if he doesn’t crack the top 10.
The last thing to watch is the track itself. Lap 1/Turn 1, everyone will be silent for a minute watching the cars squeeze through. 2018 has been a season of inconsistency. Great drivers have gotten out early. Rookies have done exceedingly well. The new car has some drivers still struggling. It’s going to be a show at the IMS on Saturday. I can’t wait.