INDIANAPOLIS – The NTT IndyCar Series is back in action this weekend for the sixth annual INDYCAR Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET/NBC/IndyCar Radio Network). The race is the fifth of the 2019 season but first in nearly a month.
See, the last time the drivers were in “race mode” was back on April 14 on the streets of Long Beach. That has all 24 drivers competing in Saturday’s race eager to get back behind the wheel of their cars on Friday.
“It’s been crap for me,” said rookie phenom Colton Herta on his month off between races. “I crashed at Long Beach. It’s a long time not to be in a car in between, having two kind of back-to-back bad results.”
Herta, 19, became the youngest IndyCar race winner ever by virtue of his victory on March 24 at COTA. Unfortunately, he’s had back luck since.
“We did get a lot of testing in,” Herta continued. “We got to do a test here on the speedway. Then Honda engine manufacturing day on the road course. I think a lot of the Honda cars will be very well prepared for this weekend.
Will Power celebrates after winning last year’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at IMS – INDYCAR Media Site
Speaking of Honda, can they challenge Chevrolet and Team Penske this weekend? This annual race has become Penske’s playground. In fact, their rival drivers have dubbed Saturday’s 85 Lap race in Penske’s honor.
“It’s the Penske Grand Prix, isn’t it (laughter),” said Dixon? “I don’t know, how many years has it been? Four, five years.”
When Dixon was told that Penske drivers Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have combined to win all five races, albeit Pagenaud’s first was with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in the inaugural race in 2014, Dixon replied “grand.”
Dixon, may be the best option to defeat the Penske’s. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver 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. In this race, he’s finished in the top 10 the last four years including two straight runner-up finishes to Power.
With a similar aero package this year compared to last, Dixon should be a favorite right? I mean he started in Row 9 and charged up to a runner-up result.
“The goal is to be quick right out of the gate always,” said Dixon. “Yeah, last year was very interesting. We found most of the problem that we had in qualifying was a simple thing that we kind of overlooked.
“But, yeah, things have changed. Even our setup from what we raced at some of the road courses last year has evolved a ton and in a very different direction. Plus the tire for this weekend is totally different from what we had last year with the reds and the blacks.
“I think we seem to be in a happier window at a lot of the road courses this year. We haven’t got a pole yet, but we’ve been in the Fast Six for each race. I think we’re a little bit better there.
“You can never tell. The competition is so tight right now. If you give up a little bit, you’re going to be back. Hopefully not in 18th or 19th where we started last year. Definitely makes for a fun race, if you can come through, got a quick car.
“But Will (Power) was extremely fast last year and dominated the race.”
Will Power wins the 2018 INDYCAR Grand Prix – INDYCAR Media Site
Honda, has won three of four events and have taken 12 of the last 15 checkered flags first in the series overall. With the history of this event though, you can see why Honda has a steep hill to climb still despite their test last week.
Power’s won this race in three of the last four years in dominating fashion. He led 65 laps in a win in 2015 and 61 and 56 respectively in his wins the last two years. Also, Power has four top five starting spots in this race including three poles. He swept both races during the Month of May last year which helps take the pressure off heading into this year’s edition.
“Yeah, definitely.” said Power on if he’s more relaxed this year. “Although last year I was actually quite relaxed during the month. I had a comfortable car. Obviously winning the Grand Prix always makes you feel very positive, the team as well around you.
“But, yes, great satisfying feeling. I have to say it probably does take some pressure off, but definitely doesn’t take any of the determination away. You understand how good it feels to win. If anything, it adds a bit more determination.”
No matter what happens, the drivers say that nearing the sixth year of the event it’s one that they hope remains on the schedule for the foreseeable future. The race is a great kickoff for the month which showcases to the racing fans that these cars are more than just the Indy 500.
“I think it’s really good. It’s a fun way to transition into the month of May, and also for the community here,” said Dixon. “I think for almost a hundred years they thought we only turn left. It’s nice to have that mix.
“It’s definitely a nice event where it’s not as hectic as the 500, too. I think it’s much more suited to families, sitting on the banks. Hopefully the weather is decent this weekend. Looks like it should hold out for the race, which would be great.
“It’s a lot of fun. This track plays out to be a very good race. We saw that last year, especially with the difference between the tires. Yeah, try and win here. It’s tough. Try to do what Will did last year and sweep both races.”