By: Tanner Watkins
May 11, 2019 | 10:00 AM
When the green flag drops on today’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the drivers will have about as good a sense on who will win the race as any fan sitting in J Stand. Translation: Anything can happen on this Saturday.
While the INDYCAR Grand Prix has been a race traditionally dominated by Team Penske and front-row starters, this sixth edition of the race feels a little different. We will have a rookie polesitter leading the field into an always-disastrous Turn 1, a sizable crop of veterans that will be racing to the front from poor qualifying positions, and there is even the threat of rain in the forecast today.
Believe us, this isn’t your grandfather’s INDYCAR Grand Prix. Well, we are hoping it isn’t.
The last four INDYCAR GP’s were won by the polesitter – three times it was Will Power, who starts 6th today, and in 2016 it was Simon Pagenaud. Power and Pagenaud are the only winner’s in the race’s five-year history, so something has to give soon, right?
Today just might be the day for Sweden’s Felix Rosenqvist to find his first NTT IndyCar Series victory, which would come in short succession with his maiden pole award earned on Friday. The first-year driver was quick on Friday with practice finishes inside the top five of the two sessions on yesterday.
Save for a 23rd-place finish at Circuit of the Americas when he and James Hinchcliffe got together, Rosenqvist has averaged an 8th place finish – safe and solid for a rookie in this series. He is building the foundation to contend for race wins in IndyCar and with a little luck, Rosenqvist could continue that streak of pole-sitter-winners in 2019.
Here are some other headlines to follow through today’s 85-lap event.
Dixon looks to IMS once again to conjure championship push
Last season, Scott Dixon and his No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing team limped into the INDYCAR Grand Prix searching for any sort of consistency they could find on road and street circuits. During the first weekend in May 2018, Dixon and his team found what they were missing and finished runner-up to Will Power – jump-starting a run that would culminate in a championship at Sonoma in September.
While Dixon isn’t in as deep of a hole as last year – he currently sits third in the INDYCAR points chase, 33 points back of Josef Newgarden – the New Zealand native will be on the lookout for a podium finish (or better) in today’s INDYCAR Grand Prix.
Yesterday, Dixon qualified just two hundredths of a second behind his pole-winning teammate in Rosenqvist, so he will have a good look at the first corner while chaos will certainly unfold behind him. Dixon knows how close the field is on speed, and starting the weekend on the right foot was paramount for a chance at gaining points on Saturday afternoon.
“I think our setups are pretty close,” said Dixon after qualifications. “I think all weekend it’s just been kind of who pieced a lap together a little bit better. In that scenario, I think the start of my first lap was really good and I didn’t do well in the second half, and then on the second lap I kind of messed up Turn 2. I think it’s just one of those things.
“Both (Chip Ganassi Racing) cars were very close, and we’ve been pretty close throughout the weekend, but I’d say they’re almost identical, which is nice. It’s nice to work with someone that has a very similar feel (for the car) and (driving) likeness, too. I’m looking forward to a strong race tomorrow with the PNC Bank car.”
Harvey riding wave of momentum into 2019 month of May
Aside from Rosenqvist taking his first career NTT IndyCar Series pole, the most exciting story to come out of qualifications was found in Jack Harvey’s third-place run for Meyer Shank Racing.
In his third year as a part-time driver for Meyer Shank Racing, Harvey has steadily improved en route to a two top-ten finishes in 2019 and his best career race start on Saturday. The British driver lost over 20 pounds during an offseason workout regimen that was aimed at, in his own words, giving back to his team that works so hard for him.
It is easy to see that Harvey is enjoying the ride in 2019, and will be looking to follow that upward trajectory he has set for himself and MSR in the first few months of this 2019 campaign.
“I feel like we have been on the brink of a Firestone Fast Six result and now qualifying in the top of the Fast Six will be the momentum we need to replicate it more often,” said Harvey.
“I was so focused on trying to get a good lap in that I didn’t even know we had gone P1 there for a second. This gives us confidence and what we are doing is headed in the right direction. Of course, we will continue to work at it to continue to get better.”
Veterans left with no choice but to storm from back of the grid in INDYCAR Grand Prix
An alarming amount of race-winning drivers qualified in the back half of the grid on Friday afternoon, leaving the last two rounds of INDYCAR Grand Prix qualifying to immense uncertainty.
The list of drivers that missed advancing out of the first round yesterday is a who’s who of IndyCar: Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti and Tony Kanaan. Each of those drivers has won races in the NTT IndyCar Series, there are six Indianapolis 500 race wins in that group and three championship-winning pilots among the list of seven.
For Rossi and his No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts team, the balance and pace was off from the get-go.
“We were just missing overall grip and pace all day. I don’t know that we can pinpoint it to one thing,” said a puzzled Rossi. “We tried a whole new package for qualifying and it didn’t quite work out, and it wasn’t entirely different from (Practice 2) from performance and balance standpoint.
“We have some homework to do overnight. We’ve seen in the past that the guys who have an extra set of (Firestone alternate) reds – because they don’t advance out of Q1 – have a pretty good race day. Hopefully that’s the case tomorrow for the NAPA Racing team, the reds are a pretty big step ahead of blacks in terms of performance and hopefully, we can use that and put on a show tomorrow.”
For Newgarden, a member of the Team Penske group that has won each of the last four INDYCAR Grand Prix events, his team was just as lost as Rossi’s when trying to diagnose their speed shortcomings.
“The Fitzgerald car feels really good out there, we are just six-tenths off,” Newgarden reported bluntly. “I felt like I did a good lap, but for whatever reason, we are all back there. I am not sure where we are missing it. But I can promise you we are going to go to work and figure it out.
“Unfortunately, we just aren’t that close. So now you just go to work and try and figure out where you can do better. If you can’t get the speed completely, you just make the most of the race, and that’s all we can do. This Fitzgerald USA team is the best, so we will make the most of it. And it might rain, so it could be a crapshoot either way.”
What is exciting for fans and experts alike is that somebody is going to put on a show and come from the back with a special performance today. It will be a little more challenging this afternoon than it was for Rossi in last year’s Indianapolis 500, but one of these teams will hit the nail on the head overnight and it will be must-see TV.
The weather as of writing (updated: 2:45 PM Eastern) is a bit dodgy. What started as a sunny, cool day has now turned into a chilly overcast afternoon with winds gusting in and out. There is rain on the horizon, creeping in from Terre Haute and the western Indiana border.
It appears that rain will play a part in this race at some point, but so far it has escaped the Speedway – save for a few sprinkles around 1:00 PM.
Today’s INDYCAR Grand Prix will be shown live on NBC with coverage beginning at 3:00 PM Eastern. It will be the first race shown on NBC in the history of the NTT IndyCar Series and the green flag is expected to fly around 3:50 PM Eastern.
You can also catch the race on the Advance Auto Parts IndyCar Radio Network by visiting RaceControl.IndyCar.com – there is even timing and scoring there!
Header image by James Black/INDYCAR.
Open-Wheels coverage of the 2019 month of May at Indianapolis is presented by Driven 2 Save Lives. Driven 2 Save Lives, an entity of the Indiana Donor Network, is a program that utilizes motorsports as a platform to encourage race fans to become organ donors. Currently, there are 114,000 individuals that are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Register as an organ, tissue, and eye donor at Driven2SaveLives.org/register and follow Driven2SaveLives on Facebook and Twitter.