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.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”