What to watch for: IndyCar at the GP of Indianapolis

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INDIANAPOLIS – Here’s what to look for ahead of the fifth round of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season, the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis (3:30 p.m. ET, check local listings), which serves as the first of two races at the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway this month of May. Qualifying highlights are above.

TO RAIN OR NOT TO RAIN?

The weather forecast has been a moving target throughout the week, and now throughout the day in the run-up to todays race. Storms are expected to hit around 3 p.m. and may intensify later after that; per weather.com as of 12:30 p.m. ET, the chance for rain moves from 35 percent up to 70 percent, then to 100 by 5 p.m., then back down to 35.

The weekend at IMS has been dry thus far and there have been a decent number of fans on the mounds on the grounds. Rain would likely kill walk-up attendance, and it would also throw a monkey wrench into the setups for teams that are gambling that it will stay dry. If you’re setting up for a wet setup though, it may play to your benefit.

ALMOST HALF AND HALF SPLIT

Today’s grid order is not a good look for the series, and to be honest, from talking to folks on the ground at IMS, neither Chevrolet nor Honda officials like the way it looks.

In order, it goes 10 Chevrolets, 1 Honda, 1 Chevrolet, 1 Honda, 2 Chevrolets and then 10 Hondas to make up the balance of the 25-car field. Only Jack Hawksworth in 11th and James Hinchcliffe in 13th prevented a full top-13 sweep by Chevrolet aero kits.

Honda is struggling on overall lap pace and in particular, on top-end speed. Some 5 or 6 mph separate the top Chevrolets from the top Hondas on average.

It poses a major challenge to the teams at the IMS road course, which has two of the longest straights all season for the series.

Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, thus far, have provided Honda’s best hopes this year. They may be best positioned to do likewise today, but might need either rain, strategy or both to have their ultimate shot at success.

FIVE-FOR-FIVE?

Last year, the fifth race saw the first repeat winner of the year. And today, it may be possible for the Verizon IndyCar Series to have the first repeat winner of 2015.

Scott Dixon and Juan Pablo Montoya have the best shot of scoring their second wins thus far this year from second and fourth on the grid, respectively.

A win for Will Power (polesitter), Helio Castroneves (starts third) or Simon Pagenaud (fifth) would extend the streak to five winners in five races. Other 2015 winners Josef Newgarden and James Hinchcliffe start 12th and 13th, respectively.

HIGH TIRE DEGRADATION UNLIKELY IF DRY

Firestone has brought its hardest compound primary tire for this weekend’s race, and this year’s selection is the same primary and alternate specification used at this race and Mid-Ohio last year.

If the race stays dry, high levels of tire degradation are unlikely, as polesitter Power explains.

“The tire’s really consistent here,” Power said in Friday’s press conference. “You could still pump out good lap times at the very end of the stint. It almost evens itself out with fuel weight with a bit of tire degradation. The track takes rubber really well. At the end of the race, it just gets better and better and better. It just lays down rubber and sticks, too.

“Yeah, I don’t think there’s going to be any tire deg at all.”

Firestone will also utilize the same rain tire as in 2014, as the team works on a new wet tire.

OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE

  • Interesting times for JR Hildebrand, who returns to a Verizon IndyCar Series road course race for the first time since August 2013 at Sonoma in the No. 6 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet. Hildebrand qualified a respectable 15th, only a couple tenths off teammates Newgarden and Luca Filippi. But strangely, given the engine/aero kit disparity, Hildebrand is the lowest Chevrolet on the grid – ahead of 10 Hondas.
  • Among the Hondas is Justin Wilson, who makes his series return and will roll off 18th in his Andretti Autosport debut.
  • Stefano Coletti led the warmup session and also has a fastest race lap (Long Beach) to his credit this year. The KV Racing Technology rookie is in desperate need of a top finish after four tough results to open 2015.