INDIANAPOLIS – With Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach now behind us, the full focus on the NTT IndyCar Series now turns to the biggest month of the year – the Month of May. We’re four races into the 2019 campaign and have no more “official” on track events until the IndyCar Grand Prix on May 11 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The only thing between now and Indy is a big test on the IMS oval on April 24, which is still Indy.
That’s all you’re going to hear for the next 6+ weeks in the Indy Car world is Indy. Rightfully so too.
Here are the main trends heading into the Month of May.
We’re four races into the season and we’ve already seen four different race winners from four different race teams. Josef Newgarden (Team Penske) won the season opener on the streets of St. Pete while Alexander Rossi (Andretti Autosport) won the most recent race on another street course in Long Beach on April 14. Sandwiched in between them were two natural road courses which were won by Colton Herta (Harding Steinbrenner Racing) in COTA and Takuma Sato (Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing) at Barber.
That’s a great start to the season if you ask me.
The last time we headed into the Month of May with four different race winners from four race different teams was back in 2015 with Juan Pablo Montoya (Penske) winning in St. Pete, James Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) being victorious in NOLA, then followed by Scott Dixon (Chip Ganassi Racing) and Josef Newgarden (Ed Carpenter Racing) winning at Long Beach and Barber respectively.
The last three years we’ve still had parity to start the year off too. 2018 saw four races, three winners from three separate teams. 2017 saw four races, four new winners from three different teams again. 2016 saw four races, three winners and two teams.
If you go back to Gateway last August, the series has produced six different race winners in the last seven overall races held. The only repeat winner is actually Takuma Sato (Portland, Barber).
So, with the Month of May coming up, will we continue this trend?
Also, we have four different teams represented in the top four of the points standings heading to Indy and six different teams in the top eight overall.
To start the 2018 campaign, Chevrolet looked like the clear cut favorites in the early battle between them and Honda in this new universal aero kit era. Chevy drivers won four of the first six races including a Month of May sweep at Indy. Over the final 11 races of last season though, Chevy won just two times with Honda winning the other nine races.
To start 2019 off with, Honda has won three of four events and have taken 12 of the last 15 checkered flags first.
In the points standings, they have four of the top five drivers currently and eight in the top 10.
Once again, this is looking like a Honda year.
Can Chevy close the gap and remain on top at Indy though?
Starting Position Has Mattered
Yes, the series produces parity and close racing, but over the four races to kick off 2019, all four race winners have come from a starting spot in the first 2 Rows. In fact, three of the four have come from the front row actually.
Newgarden, started second in St. Pete while Sato (Barber) and Rossi (Long Beach) each won from the pole. Herta, has the furthest starting spot for a race winner this season with a fourth place starting position in COTA.
If you go back to last year, three of the last five races were won from the pole. Furthermore, nine of the last 10 races and 10 of the last 11 have been won from a starting spot of fourth or better.
With Indy coming up, the pole sitter has won four straight years in the IndyCar Grand Prix and all five years has seen the race winner come from the top 2 Rows.
Championship Race Already Becoming Clear
I know I have talked a lot about parity, but despite that, the championship race is actually becoming clearer. That’s just how talented the group of drivers up front are right now.
Newgarden, currently leads Rossi by 28 points and Dixon by 33. Takuma Sato is next best in fourth but 50 points back while Hunter-Reay is 70 points out. That’s a pretty good advantage after four races already.
The reason though is because Newgarden hasn’t finished worse than fourth yet. In fact, he has three top two finishes in four tries. If you go back to his win in Road America last June, he has 12 consecutive top 10 finishes. That’s a tough driver to beat.
Rossi, is doing his best though. The Andretti driver has three top five finishes in four tries this season and 11 straight top 10 finishes himself.
Dixon, has three podiums in four tries this year and while has hasn’t won a race since last July in Toronto, he does have six top three finishes in his last eight starts overall. He also has 16 top 10 finishes in his last 18 tries with 15 of those being results in the top five. That’s why he’s always tough to beat because even if he doesn’t win, he’s around the top five.
Sato, is looking more and more like a threat too. The Japanese driver has three straight top 10 finishes and five in his last seven tries.
If Hunter-Reay in fifth can get any luck, then he will be too. Going back to last season, Rossi’s Andretti teammate has five top 10 finishes in seven tries including four of those being in the top five itself.
If you need to make up 70+ points and have to do so on these drivers, good luck.
Sebastien Bourdais would be a candidate to do so though. He’s eighth in the standings and enters Indy with six top six finishes in his last nine starts.
James Hinchcliffe is one spot better than Bourdais in the standings and has three top 10 finishes in four starts this season. The only reason those aren’t better is because of bad luck in qualifying. If they can get some luck on Saturday’s watch out for him on Sunday’s.
Four of the top five finishers in Long Beach were American’s. Also, three of the four races have been won by American’s this season too. The series has been searching for the next great American star and here we are with several.
Currently, we have three American’s in the top five of the standings and five in the top 10.