Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Track Walk: 3rd Grand Prix of Indianapolis

IndyCar heads to Indianapolis
The month of May is here and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis opens the action at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the third consecutive season. After a thrilling finish at Barber Motorsports Park, Simon Pagenaud enters the fifth round of the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season looking for his third consecutive victory and he would be the first driver to win three consecutive races since Scott Dixon in 2013. The Frenchman leads the New Zealander by 48 points with Juan Pablo Montoya 52 points behind his Penske teammate. Brazilians Hélio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan round out the top five, 70 and 82 points back respectively. Graham Rahal is sixth on 100 points, 88 behind Pagenaud.

Time: Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday May 14th. Green flag at 3:50 p.m. ET.
TV Channel: ABC.
Announcers: Allen Bestwick, Scott Goodyear and Eddie Cheever in the booth with Rick DeBruhl, Dr. Jerry Punch and Jon Beekhius working the pit lane.

IndyCar Weekend Schedule
First Practice- 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m. ET (75-minute session).
Second Practice- 3:00-4:15 p.m. ET (75-minute session).
Third Practice- 11:00-11:45 a.m. ET (45-minute session).
Qualifying- 3:00 p.m. ET.
Warm-Up- 11:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m. ET (30-miunte session).
Race- 3:50 p.m. ET (82 laps)

Rolling Into May
Four drivers have top tens in all four races. Another three drivers have been in the top ten for 75% of the races and one other driver has multiple top five finishes.

Simon Pagenaud enters the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on a career year. The Frenchman had never had two consecutive podium finishes in his IndyCar career at the start of the 2016 season. Now he has four consecutive podiums, including two consecutive victories. His 48-point championship lead puts Pagenaud a great position to be the championship leader entering Indianapolis 500 qualifying next week. He won the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis in 2014 with Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Motorsports but a gearbox problem caused Pagenaud to be the first retirement in last year's race.

Scott Dixon is second in the championship with a victory, a second, a seventh and a tenth from the first four races. This is the first time Dixon has had four top tens to open a season since 2007. Going back to last season, Dixon has seventh consecutive top ten finishes, his longest stretch since the end of 2014 when he had eight consecutive top tens. Dixon's two Grand Prix of Indianapolis starts have been ruined by contact with Penske drivers. Will Power spun him in 2014 and all Dixon could manage was 15th. Castroneves spun him in the first turn of last year's race and Dixon recovered for tenth.

Juan Pablo Montoya finished third in last year's Grand Prix of Indianapolis. While Montoya has four top tens from the first four races and three top fives from four races, he has not led a lap since his flat tire at Phoenix dropped him from contention for victory. Montoya's 2016 season has been mirroring his 2015 season through four races. Last year, he entered the Grand Prix of Indianapolis with three top fives from the first four races and outside of the first two races of the season Montoya had led only one lap. Montoya did not lead a lap in last year's Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Hélio Castroneves' best finish through four races is third at Long Beach and his worst finish was 11th at Phoenix after he suffered a flat tire. He finished third in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis and went on to finish second by 0.0600 seconds to Ryan Hunter-Reay. Last year, Castroneves finished sixth in last year's race after starting third. Castroneves has not entered the Indianapolis 500 with a victory since 2012. Six times has Castroneves entered the Indianapolis 500 with a victory under his belt including in 2001 and 2002. Five of the six times he has finished in the top ten.

Tony Kanaan rounds out the top five of the championship but has yet to stand on the podium. Kanaan has not entered the Indianapolis 500 in the top five of the championship since 2009 when Kanaan was leading the championship by a point over Scott Dixon. In 2013, he was 17th in the championship entering the Indianapolis 500. Kanaan's only victory on a natural-terrain road course was at Sonoma in 2005. His last podium on a natural-terrain road course was at Sonoma in 2008. He has finished tenth and seventh in the previous Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

Last year, Graham Rahal finished second at Barber Motorsports Park and followed that up with a second at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis after leading nine laps. It was the first time Rahal had successive podiums since 2011, when he finished second at São Paulo (ironically to Will Power, whom he finished second to last year) and third in the Indianapolis 500 behind Dan Wheldon and J.R. Hildebrand. Rahal has four podiums and five top tens in the six natural-terrain road course races of the aero-kit era.

Will Power has jumped to seventh in the championship after being 22nd with one-point after sitting out the St. Petersburg season-opener due to concerns of a concussion and an inner-ear infection. Power won last year's Grand Prix of Indianapolis from pole position. Thirteen of Power's 25 IndyCar victories have come from pole position. Power is on his longest winless drought since going 25 races between victories at São Paulo in 2012 and Sonoma in 2013. Power has only two podiums since his last victory, both on ovals (second in the Indianapolis 500 and third at Phoenix).

Josef Newgarden has jumped to eighth in the championship after a mechanical issue forced a retirement St. Petersburg and left him 21st in the championship. He has finished in the top ten in the last three races and finished third at Barber Motorsports Park two weeks ago. Newgarden has never finished on the lead lap at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He finished two laps down in 17th two years ago and was a lap down in 20th last year. His best starting position was 12th last year. 

Last Chance Saloon Before the "500"
Four drivers entered for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis have yet to score top tens through the first four races.

Marco Andretti scored his best finish at Barber Motorsports Park. Despite Andretti's struggles, he has completed all but two laps this season. Andretti has not entered the Indianapolis 500 without a top ten since 2012. He would not score his first top ten that season until he finished second at Iowa in June. Andretti has finished 14th and 16th in his previous two starts on the IMS road course.

Alexander Rossi makes his first appearance at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 2007 when he ran in Formula BMW USA during the United States Grand Prix weekend. He finished fourth and sixth in his only two starts on the track. Rossi, like his teammate Andretti, he finished in the top fifteen in three of the first four races, has completed all but two laps and his best finish this year is 12th.

Conor Daly has two 13th place finishes to show for his 2016 season so far. His only lead lap finish was at Long Beach. Daly has yet to make it to the second round of qualifying. His best starting position was 13th at Long Beach. He has been out-qualified by his then-Dale Coyne Racing teammate Luca Filippi at all four races this season but Daly has finished ahead of Filippi in three of four races.

Jack Hawksworth has started all three road and street course weekends strong and his teammate Takuma Sato has been getting results but Hawksworth has struggled on Saturdays and Sundays. His average start through four races is 15.0 and average finish is 17.5. Arguably Hawksworth's breakout race was the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, where he started second, led 31 laps and finished seventh, his first career top ten.

The Rookie and The Returnees
The IndyCar grid grows by four entries from the previous round at Barber Motorsports Park. One driver makes his debut while four drivers return to IndyCar.

Matthew Brabham makes his IndyCar debut in the #61 PIRTEK Team Murray Chevrolet. The team is partnered with KV Racing. The American Wallaby has 47 starts in the Road to Indy and has 18 victories, including a victory on the IMS road course in Indy Lights in 2014. Brabham won the 2012 U.S. F2000 championship and the 2013 Pro Mazda championship. Brabham could become the first Florida-born driver to win an IndyCar race.

Spencer Pigot returns for his second IndyCar race in the #16 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. Pigot made his debut at St. Petersburg where he started 21st and finished 14th. Pigot has made four starts on the IMS road course but his track record has been dismal. He finished eighth in both in Pro Mazda starts in 2014 despite starting on pole position in each race and finished seventh and 12th last year in Indy Lights, retiring after an accident three laps into race two. 

J.R. Hildebrand has not be in an IndyCar since finishing eighth in the 99th Indianapolis 500. He is back in the #6 Preferred Freezer Services Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. Hildebrand ran last year's Grand Prix of Indianapolis and finished a lap down in 21st after a mechanical issue. He has not had a top ten on a natural-terrain road course since finishing eight at Sonoma in 2012. Hildebrand's only other top ten on a natural-terrain road course was seventh at Motegi in 2011.

Alex Tagliani makes his Grand Prix of Indianapolis debut in the #35 Alfe Heat Treating A.J. Foyt Racing Honda. This is Tagliani's first non-oval race since finishing tenth in Toronto 2 in 2013. This is his first natural-terrain road course race since Barber 2013 where he finished 11th. He finished 17th in last year's Indianapolis 500 driving for A.J. Foyt Racing and 13th in the 98th Indianapolis 500 driving for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

Gabby Chaves will return to IndyCar this weekend as he will drive the #19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and Indianapolis 500. The Colombian replaces Luca Filippi, who had started the first four races of 2016. Fillipi had advanced to the second round of qualifying twice this season and his best finish was 16th. Chaves completed all 282 racing laps last May between the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500. Chaves finished 15th in the grand prix and 16th in the "500."

The Other Eight
Takuma Sato is ninth in the championship with 90 points. Sato has finished ninth in both editions of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He has started outside the top fifteen both years.

Ryan Hunter-Reay is three points behind Sato in the championship. After finishing second in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis, he finished 11th last year.

Charlie Kimball has never started better than 14th in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, yet he has finished fifth in both editions. He led one lap last year.

James Hinchcliffe suffered a concussion in the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis after being hit by debris. He led four laps last year during a pit cycle but finished 12th.

Mikhail Aleshin returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time since 2014. He failed to complete a lap in the inaugural race after being in the start line accident with Sebastián Saavedra and Carlos Muñoz. He started and finished 25th.

Sébastien Bourdais has the best average finish among all drivers in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. He has started seventh and finished fourth in each race. He led one lap in 2014.

Carlos Muñoz's average starting position in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis is 20.0 and his average finish is 18.5. Muñoz has failed to score a top ten finish in the last three races. He has never finished outside the top ten in four consecutive races in his IndyCar career.

Max Chilton will make his IndyCar debut at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Last year, he finished fourth and third in the Indy Lights races on the IMS road course. 

Road to Indy
Five different drivers have won the first five races of the Indy Lights season. Carlin's Ed Jones took the championship lead after he won race one and finished second at race two at Barber Motorsports Park. He also finished second at the previous round at Phoenix. Jones has 108 points and is six points ahead of Juncos Racing's Kyle Kaiser. Kaiser retired from race one at Barber but rebounded for a sixth in race two. Félix Serrallés finished second in race two at Barber but a spin in race two cost him the championship lead and he trails his Carlin teammate by 14 points.

Santiago Urrutia scored his first IndyCar victory in race two at Barber and is fourth in the championship, 19 points behind Jones. RC Enerson is seven points behind his Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate. Zach Veach has 75 points and is a point ahead of his Belardi Auto Racing teammate Felix Rosenqvist. Dean Stoneman is the top Andretti Autosport driver after picking up his first Indy Lights podium with a third in Barber 2 with 72 points. André Negrao has 70 points and Shelby Blackstock rounds out the top ten with 60 points.

Team Pelfrey's Scott Hargrove is 11th with 57 points and is a point ahead of fellow Canadian Zachary Claman De Melo. Juan Piedrahita is four points behind his teammate Hargrove. Dalton Kellett is a point behind Piedrahita. Neil Alberico has 43 points and Scott Anderson has 39 points.

Last year, Jack Harvey and Sean Rayhall split the races on the IMS road course.

Indy Lights will race at 4:30 p.m. ET on Friday and 1:18 p.m. ET Saturday.

Thirteen drivers are entered in Pro Mazda; four are in the National class. Pato O'Ward has won three of four races and leads the championship by 12 points over his Team Pelfrey teammate Aaron Telitz. Telitz has finished in the top ten in all four races this season. O'Ward finished second to Telitz in the second St. Petersburg race. Garett Grist finished third in both Barber races but trails O'Ward by 50 points. Cape Motorsports w/ WTR's Nico Jamin is two points behind Juncos Racing's Grist. Team Pelfrey's Weiron Tan rounds out the top five with 69 points.

Cape Motorsports' Jake Eidson has 64 points and is one ahead of Juncos Racing's Will Owen. Jake Parsons is ten points behind his teammate Owen and Nicolas Dapero has 50 points.

The four National class drivers are Bobby Eberle in the #13 JDC Motorsports entry, Jay Horak in the #37 M1 Racing entry, Kevin Davis in the #44 JDC Motorsports entry and Bob Kaminsky in the #57 Kaminsky Racing, Inc. entry.

Last year, Tan, Neil Alberico and Santiago Urrutia split the three Pro Mazda races at Indianapolis. A third was added to the weekend to make up race for a rain out at NOLA.

Pro Mazda races at 1:55 p.m. ET on Friday and 10:20 a.m. ET Saturday.

Parker Thompson took the championship lead in U.S. F2000 after sweeping the races at Barber. The Canadian has 91 points and the Cape Motorsports driver is 11 points clear of Luke Gabin of JAY Motorsports. Gabin has finished in the top five of all four races and was second in Barber 2. After each picking up a victory and a second at St. Petersburg, Pabst Racing Services drivers Jordan Lloyd and Yufeng Luo are third and fourth respectively in the championship with 78 points and 73 points. Lloyd finished fifth and 20th at Barber while Luo failed to finish in the top ten in either race. Anthony Martin rounds out the top five with 71 points.

Robert Megennis of Team Pelfrey has two third place finishes this season and 66 points, five ahead of Victor Franzoni. Nikita Lastochkin has 57 points, ten ahead of Ayla Årgen. Garth Rickards rounds out the top ten with 42 points, one ahead of Jordan Cane.

Twenty-seven cars are entered in U.S. F2000. Five are National class entries. Nico Jamin swept the U.S. F2000 races on the IMS road course last year on his way to the championship.

U.S. F2000 will be the first race of the weekend at 1:00 p.m. ET Friday. Race two will be at 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday.

Fun Facts
This will be the first IndyCar race to ever take place on May 14th. 

Simon Pagenaud and Will Power are the only two winners of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. 

Pagenaud won from fourth in 2014 and Power won from pole position last year. 

Pagenaud could become the eleventh driver to finish on the podium in the first five races and first since Sébastien Bourdais in 2006. Of the previous ten, only one didn't win the championship. That was Bill Holland in 1949. 

Power has not led a lap this season. This is the first time Power has not led a lap through the first four races since his rookie season in 2006.

The only drivers to have won on both the oval and road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are Alex Lloyd and Jack Harvey. Lloyd won the Liberty Challenge in 2006 and the Freedom 100 in 2007. Harvey won the race one of the Indy Lights weekend and the Freedom 100 last year. 

Juan Pablo Montoya, Hélio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Josef Newgarden, or Ryan Hunter-Reay could join Lloyd and Harvey as winner on both the IMS oval and road course.

Marco Andretti or Matthew Brabham could become the first driver to win in both Indy Lights and IndyCar on the IMS road course. Andretti won the inaugural Liberty Challenge in 2005. Brabham won race one of the 2014 Indy Lights weekend. 

Chevrolet has won the last 24 pole positions in IndyCar. The last Honda pole position was Simon Pagenaud at Houston 1 in 2014.

The first two editions of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis have had 12 lead changes and 11 lead changes respectively.

The first two editions of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis had four cautions for 19 laps and one caution for two laps respectively. 

Possible Milestones:
Should Hélio Castroneves take the green flag, he will make his 316th IndyCar start, moving him passed Johnny Rutherford for sixth all-time. 

Should Tony Kanaan take the green flag, he will make his 315th IndyCar start, tying him with Johnny Rutherford for seventh all-time.

Tony Kanaan needs to lead 41 laps to reach the 4,000 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs to lead 70 laps to reach the 3,000 laps led milestone.

Sébastien Bourdais needs to lead 67 laps to reach the 2,500 laps led milestone.

Marco Andretti needs to lead 10 laps to reach the 1,000 laps led milestone.

Simon Pagenaud needs to lead 28 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Takuma Sato needs to lead 64 laps to reach the 500 leads led milestone.

James Hinchcliffe needs to lead 76 laps to reach the 500 laps led milestone.

Will Power needs one podiums to reach 50 career IndyCar podiums.

Juan Pablo Montoya needs one podium to reach 25 career IndyCar podiums.

Honda gets on the board before the Indianapolis 500 and Graham Rahal will be standing on the top step of the podium. Chevrolet takes at least six of the top ten finishers. Scott Dixon will not be hit by a Penske driver. Andretti Autosport finds some fortune and gets two cars in the top ten. Wet-weather tires will be used for at least a portion of this race. There will be no more than seven lead changes. At least eight different countries are represented in the top ten finishers. One Penske finishes in the back half of the field. Sleeper: Charlie Kimball.