We’ve used the hashtag #IsItMayYet for approximately three-hundred and thirty-six days. The Tuesday after the Indianapolis 500 feels like the day after Christmas. You’ve celebrated, the month is a crescendo to a perfect race and, if you’re lucky, a fun after party. Now we can hashtag out #ThisIsMay. A month that is full of activity and concerts and so many storylines. It’s thirty-one days, which includes two different races, two completely different types of qualifications, seven days of INDYCAR practice, and seven hours of practice each day. At the end of the month, there is but one goal: immortality.
The rookie class, which has done nothing but impress so far, challenges their first oval at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In prior years, rookies had at least one oval race before the Indianapolis 500. Not this year. This year the rookies are getting a baptism by fire. Prior to the first oval practice (May 14th) most rookies will have had private tests and their ROP program, but are they ready? Ben Hanley (DragonSpeed Racing), Colton Herta (Harding Steinbrenner Racing), and Marcus Ericsson (Arrow Schmit Peterson Motorsport) all tested at the Texas Motor Speedway in mid-. Ericsson said this about attempting to give the team feedback “I wasn’t really sure what was going on with the car! So many things to learn. So if they asked me, ‘How does it feel?’ all I could say was, ‘I don’t know. It just feels different.’” (Motorsport Article) Fellow Swedish Rookie Felix Rosenqvist held his ROP program earlier in the year at TMS and also was deferential “To do my rookie test at Texas was like…it made me nervous, but I treated it with respect”. (Racer article) On April 24, 2019, drivers in the INDYCAR series turned their first laps at the IMS for the 2019 season. The rookies only had approximately ninety minutes on the track, as Mother Nature decided to add her own test. Unsurprisingly, Colton Herta had the fastest times of the rookies running a 226 mph. Last year the track tried to burn a rookie three different times, we’ll see what it throws at this year’s group.
A rule change was added, the series changed how qualifications for the Indianapolis 500 happens. Last year, we welcomed back bump day (read how that went down HERE). We’re going to have bump day again. I write this at the beginning of May and the current car count is thirty-six which includes the unnamed Juncos and SPM car, but not a potential AJ Foyt Racing third car. For this year, qualifications are across two days. On Saturday everyone gets multiple chances and they will set spots 10-30. Saturday will also set the drivers who will compete in the Fast Nine Shoot Out and the Race to Last Place (spots 31-33). Sunday drivers will only get one attempt. They will all have one attempt, one last attempt, to get into the race during the Race to Last Place (or the Last Row Shoot Out). They will all have one attempt for pole position in the Fast Nine Shoot Out. (IMS has a good graphics page to explain – view that here ) This will be the first year of this format. I honestly don’t know what type of excitement it will bring. In prior bump days, there was a finality of the excitement of who is out on Saturday, and then Sunday a different type of excitement for Pole. This year, Saturday is anticipatory and Sunday is final. Plus, as many owners have started discussing a need for guaranteed spots, there is the #Fastest33 drama that will no doubt be present throughout qualification weekend.
This season, one thing I’ve continued to say is that watch for the Redemption of Hinch ™. The Track has a special relationship with James Hinchcliffe (Arrow Schimdt Peterson Motorsport). In 2015, the Track attempted to kill him during practice. In 2016, Hinch came back and clenched Pole position. Last year he failed to qualify…don’t be surprised if this year the Track chooses him. It’s said a lot on the Podcast, and even Doug Boles said it on our latest episode (which you can listen to HERE): the Track chooses the winner.
Quite a few drivers this year have different pressures on them. Helio Castroneves (Team Penske) is attempting to achieve his fourth Indy 500 win and join an elite group. This is the second year of Castroneves only running the May races. Last year Castroneves crashed out on Lap 145, and walked pit row to thunderous applause and respect from the entire crowd. Fernando Alonso (McLaren) is also attempting to join an elite group with this year’s Indy 500. Should he win this year, Alonso will be one of two men to have completed the Triple Crown of Motorsports (you can read more about the Triple Crown HERE). His first attempt was 2017 when he completed 179 laps, and even led twenty-seven, before engine failure. This year Alonso switched engine manufacturers and technical partnerships, partnering with Carlin Racing instead of Andretti Autosport, hoping for that win.
Outside of the race, the IMS is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Mario Andretti’s Indy 500 win in 1969. In the famed Andretti family, only Mario has won the Indy 500. Marco Andretti (Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco Andretti and Curb-Agajanian) is the active Andretti driver, grandson of Mario, and the pressure is on this year. He’s finished in the top ten eight out of thirteen races. It’s a perfect storyline for the grandson to win the race on the 50th anniversary. Marco’s Andretti Autosport teammate Conor Daly has, for the first time, elite level equipment for the Indianapolis 500. Daly is the one-off entry for Andretti Autosport for the 2019 race. He’s had years of one-offs with smaller teams. This is the put-up or shut-up year for Daly. He’ll have good equipment and a good technical team about him.
Perhaps Ed Carpenter (Ed Carpenter Racing) will finally win the race this year. Bridesmaid and never a Bride. The 500 is Carpenter’s white whale (as I’ve written about HERE) and everyone wants him to win.
While the focus tends to be on the Indianapolis 500. Don’t forget that the month kicks off with the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course. This will be the sixth year of the race, which has either been won by Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske) or Will Power (Team Penske). The Grand Prix is strikingly different from the 500. It’s more of a carnival atmosphere with fans spread out on mounds.
#ThisIsMay a month of excitement. A month of speed. A month to be remembered.