What to watch for: IndyCar’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis

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THE START

Today’s inaugural running of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis (3:30 p.m. ET, check local listings) will begin with a standing start.

After the first such start of the year at Long Beach went off clean, you hope that today’s start will go the same way.

But it will be interesting to see if front-row starters Sebastian Saavedra (No. 17 KV/AFS Chevrolet) and rookie Jack Hawksworth (No. 98 Integrity Energee/Bryan Herta Autosport Honda) are able to hold their positions going into the hard right-hander at Turn 1 or if the pack of veterans behind them (led by Ryan Hunter-Reay and Simon Pagenaud in Row 2) will gobble them up in the rush.

TRACK OF OPPORTUNITY

The revamped 2.4-mile road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway has garnered high marks, and it certainly feels like sincere praise instead of public relations.

There’s lots of grip everywhere and there’s three prominent passing zones: The aforementioned Turn 1 coming off the long front-stretch, the left-hand Turn 7 that comes off of the Hulman Boulevard straight, and Turn 12, which may see some incidents in addition to passing; as our man on the ground Tony DiZinno noted this morning, the entry to 12 can be tricky.

BRICKYARD BREAKTHROUGH?

Several drivers have shown lots of pace through the early stages of the Verizon IndyCar Series season, but haven’t been able to get the results they’ve deserved.

Most prominent in this group are Sebastien Bourdais (No. 11 Mistic/KVSH Racing Chevrolet) and Josef Newgarden (No. 67 Klipsch Audio/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda).

But with the IMS road course’s ample passing zones and long straights that works well for drafting, they’ve got an opportunity to finally break through; Bourdais starts seventh, while Newgarden is farther back in 16th.

NEW TRADITION

As the New York Times put it going into the weekend, there’s never been an IndyCar race quite like this one at the world’s greatest race course.

While some have not agreed with the series’ decision to have the Grand Prix kick off the Month of May activities, this honestly beats the heck out of a largely quiet Opening Day of practice.

Speedway president Doug Boles is hopeful for a crowd of 40,000 this afternoon, and while the gargantuan IMS will dwarf such a number, that would still be solid for this inaugural race.

Don’t look at the grandstands as much as the infield – if there’s a decent turnout in the latter, then IMS should feel good.

Lewis Hamilton comes home to Mercedes factory after fourth title

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On Monday, the Formula 1 schedule finally allowed teams to be in Europe before heading to Abu Dhabi for this weekend’s season finale.

And as such, that provided a window for now four-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton to return to the Mercedes AMG Petronas factories in Brackley and Brixworth to be celebrated for taking the driver’s title, as Hamilton an Valtteri Bottas delivered Mercedes its fourth straight constructor’s title.

Hamilton was at Brixworth, the home ofΒ Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains (HPP) and its highly successful Mercedes-Benz Power Units first before heading to Brackley, where he was welcomed with a “guard of honor” as the entire team came out to greet him.

The champion was overwhelmed at the response and the welcome.

“This a very emotional day. I was not expecting this, thanks everyone for the warm welcome,” he said. “Today is something that I will never forget, turning up at the front gate of the factory and seeing everyone out on the street to welcome me – I’m blown away.

“This has been an incredible year, it’s been an incredible journey together. There’s a huge amount of respect and appreciation I have for everyone. I’ve been in the sport for a long time now, but to see the work ethic in Brixworth and Brackley really inspires me. Every time I come around, I see everyone operating at 100%, which encourages me to bring my best performance.

“Thank you all for helping me achieve my dreams, it would not have been possible without you. This is the best championship year, because we’ve been fighting another team and because we’ve had the difficulties and challenges we’ve had – that just makes it so much greater.”

A social roundup of images and videos are below, all via Hamilton and the Mercedes team on social media.