Race Set-Up: INDYCAR Grand Prix of Indianapolis

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Jordan King

Well race fans, it is finally here!  The month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway kicks off officially this weekend as the cars and stars of the Verizon IndyCar Series visit the IMS road course of 85 laps of action.

There are no shortage of stories to follow as we enter the fifth round of the 2018 IndyCar championship.  Can anyone dethrone Team Penske in the INDYCAR Grand Prix?  How will Helio Castroneves fare in his first race back in an Indy car since the season finale in Sonoma last September?  Can Alexander Rossi continue his torrid start this season?

Check out some of the headlines to watch for below!

Team Penske’s dominance at IMS road course

It is no secret that Roger Penske’s crew is often heralded as the gold standard in motorsport, but his team of clean-cut professionals has been especially successful competing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The Captain has won 16 Indianapolis 500’s (more than any other car owner) and Team Penske has won three of the first four INDYCAR Grands Prix held in Indianapolis.

Additionally, Team Penske currently employs the only drivers to win the INDYCAR Grand Prix: Simon Pagenaud won the race in 2014 (with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports) and in 2016, while Will Power has won the event twice as well in 2015 and 2017.

Power also holds the race’s qualifying lap record with a time of 1:07.7044 (129.687 mph) set last May.

Riding the momentum from his win at Barber Motorsports Park, defending series champion Josef Newgarden could become the next Penske driver to take ownership of the event.  “It’s been really great to have some time off before Indianapolis, but we’ve definitely been hard at work still,” Newgarden said.

“My team put together a really strong car at our last road course event at Barber, which won us the race. Now, we’re headed to the INDYCAR GP and the guys have put together what I’m sure will be another super-fast No. 1 Verizon Chevrolet.  I’m feeling really good about it. Really, I’m excited for the whole month of May in Indianapolis. There’s really nothing like it and I know the whole team is ready to put on a great show at our next two races.”

Finally, love him or hate him, Helio Castroneves is back!  The Brazilian veteran will compete in both Indianapolis Motor Speedway races this month for Penske and brings the same energy and charisma he left us with in Sonoma.

Castroneves’ line of thinking doesn’t necessarily project him as a favorite for the INDYCAR Grand Prix, but rather explaining this as an opportunity for him to learn more about the new universal aero kit before Indianapolis 500 practice opens on Tuesday.

“I’m so excited to be back with Team Penske at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in INDYCAR,” Castroneves told INDYCAR.  “I’ve been really enjoying my time with the team’s IMSA program, but I’m really excited to jump back into the No. 3 Verizon Chevrolet. We have a great team of guys put together for both the INDYCAR GP and the Indianapolis 500. I’m ready to kick off the month with a road course race and get some time in the car with the new aero kit. More importantly, I’m excited to go out there and put on a great show for the fans there.”

Rossi looks to continue early season form

While many expected Andretti Autosport driver Alexander Rossi to take a step forward in his IndyCar Series development for 2018, the California native has done well to shoulder those expectations through the season’s first two months.

In the first four rounds of the championship, Rossi has a win at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and podium finishes at St. Petersburg and Phoenix.  The unpredictable nature of a rain race at Barber Motorsports Park last month placed him 11th in our latest IndyCar race, but Rossi still sits just 13 points behind Josef Newgarden for the points lead.

Rossi has fared relatively well in his two starts on the IMS road course, finishing 10th as a rookie in 2016 and 8th last year.  In fact, this is a track that the Honda driver appreciates and looks forward to on the IndyCar schedule.

“The month of May is finally here! I am so excited to kick it all off with the INDYCAR GP as it is one of my favorite tracks on the calendar,” Rossi exclaimed.  “We had a very successful test there last month and I’ll be looking to translate that into a strong result to get the month off to a positive start for the NAPA Racing team.”

Rossi’s Andretti Autosport teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay is another driver to consider for victory this weekend.  The 37-year-old finished runner-up in the inaugural Indianapolis Grand Prix in 2014, and has finishes of 11th (2015), 9th (2016) and 3rd (2017) in the years since.  Marco Andretti has finished 15th twice and 16th twice in his four starts on the IMS road course.

Claman de Melo takes over Coyne seat for Fittipaldi

Following the severe leg injuries Brazlian rookie Pietro Fittipaldi sustained in a crash at the Belgian race course Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, the 21-year-old’s highly anticipated Indianapolis Motor Speedway debut has been delayed by at least one year.

Dale Coyne Racing was left scrambling to find a driver over the past week and finally settled on an in-house option when they appointed fellow rookie Zachary Claman de Melo to be the replacement for this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix.

The team has yet to announce who will pilot the No. 19 Paysafe Honda in May 27’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500, though a fine result for Claman de Melo could at least help his case if he were to finish well on Saturday.  To date, Claman de Melo has not finished better than 16th in his four career Verizon IndyCar Series starts.

Look for a decision regarding the vacant Coyne seat by Monday morning.  Whoever is selected to drive for the Honda team will be required to participate in Tuesday’s Rookie Orientation/Veteran Refresher program before being cleared for practice for the rest of the month.

Names such as Tristian Vautier, Katherine Legge and Bruno Junqueira have all been alternates with traction thus far.  Stay tuned to Open-Wheels for the latest on these developments.

INDYCAR Grand Prix fast facts

Race weekend: Friday, May 11 – Saturday, May 12

Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course (clockwise)

Race distance: 85 laps / 207.315 miles

Entry List:  INDYCAR Grand Prix (PDF)

Push-to-pass parameters: 200 seconds of total time with a maximum time of 20 seconds per activation.

Firestone tire allotment: Seven sets primary, four sets alternate (Note: An eighth set of primary tires is available to any car fielding a rookie driver.)

Twitter: @IMS @IndyCar, #INDYCARGP, #IndyCar

Event website: www.ims.com

INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com

2017 race winner: Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet)

2017 Verizon P1 Award winner: Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet),1:07.7044, 129.687 mph

Qualifying lap record: Will Power, 1:07.7044, 129.687 mph, May 12, 2017 (Set in Round 3 of knockout qualifying)

ABC race broadcast: Saturday, May 12 (3:30 p.m. ET, live)

Allen Bestwick will be the play-by-play announcer for ABC’s broadcast of the INDYCAR Grand Prix alongside analysts Eddie Cheever and Scott Goodyear. Pit reporters are Rick DeBruhl, Dr. Jerry Punch and Jon Beekhuis.

Radio broadcasts: The Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network is led by chief announcer Mark Jaynes, with analyst Anders Krohn and historian Donald Davidson. Turn reporters are Jake Query, Nick Yeoman and Michael Young, with Rob Howden, Dave Furst and Ryan Myrehn reporting from the pits.

All Verizon IndyCar Series races are broadcast live on the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network, Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app. Verizon IndyCar Series qualifying is broadcast on Sirius 214, XM 209, IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com  and the INDYCAR Mobile app. Verizon IndyCar Series practices are broadcast on IndyCar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.

Video Streaming: All practice sessions and qualifying for the INDYCAR Grand Prix will stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com and on the INDYCAR YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/indycar).

At-track schedule (all times local):
Friday, May 11
9:15-10 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #1, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
12:30-1:15 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice #2, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
4:30 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of Verizon IndyCar Series knockout qualifications), streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, May 12
11:15-11:45 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series warmup, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3:30 p.m. – ABC on air
3:43 p.m. – “Drivers, start your engines”
3:50 p.m. – INDYCAR Grand Prix (85 laps/207.315 miles), ABC (Live)

Tanner Watkins

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