INDIANAPOLIS – After a full month off, the NTT IndyCar Series is back in action this weekend on the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway grounds. Saturday’s IndyCar Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET/NBC/IndyCar Radio Network) will mark the fifth race of the 2019 season and sixth of the events’ history.
Here are five storylines to watch for Saturday’s 85 Lap race.
Will Power celebrates in victory lane after winning the 2018 IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – IndyCar Media Site
Penske Power But Will They Win?
Parity has rang king in the series lately. 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.
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).
But, I have a feeling this weekend may be a bit different. See, it’s Indy and it’s the time of year when Team Penske turns up the wick a little more.
Last year, Penske swept the month with Will Power winning both races at IMS. Power’s win in the IndyCar Grand Prix was his third in five tries as Penske has won all but one year in this race. Even in that one year (2014) that driver (Simon Pagenaud) drives for them now.
Can Penske keep a stranglehold on this event with another win on Saturday? So far, it looks like no. Penske only qualified 6-8-13-15. They look down in speed compared to the Honda’s and are puzzled. I think their reign ends on Saturday.
The first lap of the 2018 IndyCar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – IndyCar Media Site
Starting Position Matters Again
Yes, the series produces parity and close racing, but over the first 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.
Want to win on Saturday? Better at least make the Fast Six. Penske only has one driver in this.
Simon Pagenaud spins on the first lap after contact with Jordan King in the 2018 IndyCar Grand Prix. This was the 4th time in 5 years that we’ve seen a 1st lap crash in this race – IndyCar Media Site
1st Lap Caution?
In four of the five races run in this event, we’ve seen a first lap crash occur. The only year we didn’t was in 2017 when the entire race went caution free. Last year, Jordan King and Simon Pagenaud were involved in an opening lap crash in Turn 2. Will that happen again this Saturday?
Trends say, yes.
When 80-percent of the races run on the 2.39-mile road course for the IndyCar Series results in a first lap crash, odds are we will see one on Saturday too. The key is, starting position.
For obvious reasons, you want to start up front. But, if you start in the back few rows, you can gap yourself enough to avoid any carnage that may occur.
Will Power leads the field in the 2018 IndyCar Grand Prix – IndyCar Media Site
Tire Strategy Race?
This race overall has seen two or fewer cautions in the last four years. When three of those four races had a first lap incident, you can see that this race has been run clean for a majority of the way.
That makes this a tire strategy race. The question then becomes, when to put on the alternates and do you use two sets or one?
With 85 Laps, some drivers can run the Firestone Blacks and use a two stop strategy. They’re in fuel save mode but know the tires can last until the end of their stints. Can they keep the speed though?
On the other side, you can start on Firestone Blacks and go with the Firestone Reds and use a three stop strategy too and use the alternate tire on the final two stints.
See, Indy doesn’t produce a lot of tire wear. You can use the Firestone Reds for faster lap times with minimal fall off here than like other places. Yes, the Firestone Blacks will last even longer and keep consistent lap times throughout a run, but the Firestone Reds will be faster at the start of a stint and not fall off as severe as the run goes on.
Saving sticker sets of Reds are going to be key this weekend so you can have them in the race itself. But, does that risk messing up qualifying?
Alexander Rossi heads into Turn 1 during the 2018 IndyCar Grand Prix. Honda drivers have won 3 of the 1st 4 races of the 2019 season – IndyCar Media Site
Will Honda Shine?
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. But, a Honda driver has only won this race just once and that was with Pagenaud in 2014.
Penske and Chevrolet own this event. Can a Honda driver keep their recent hot streak going into the biggest race of the year after?
Honda had nine of the top 13 speeds in the first practice and eight of the top nine in session No. 2. In qualifying, they swept the top 2 Rows and put eight cars in the top 11.