PREVIEW: Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis

Photo: IndyCar

The final dress rehearsal before the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil takes place this weekend, with the third Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

The much younger and significantly more casual brother of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” has perhaps suffered a lack of buildup this year but should be decently interesting nonetheless.

Here’s some of the nuggets heading into the weekend:

2016 Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis – Talking Points

Weather woes?

At present it’s looking like a mid-50s high for Saturday’s race day, and intermittent rain mixed in throughout practice and qualifying. The three road and street races thus far have run under near ideal, picture perfect conditions and it will be fascinating to see whether the forecasted cooler weather makes a big impact on the racing thus far. Teams are allotted seven sets primary and three sets of Firestone’s alternate tires, with an eighth primary set available to any car running five laps on one set in the first 20 minutes of first practice.

Power vs. Pagenaud vs. 23 others

Thus far Simon Pagenaud and Will Power are the only two winners of the Grand Prix, and neither has been able to complete a month of May double dip sweep. Pagenaud rides the crest of momentum as he’s on the hottest streak of his career into this weekend’s race; Power, meanwhile, looks for his first win since this race last year.

“Yeah it does feel so long,” Power told reporters at the Team Penske headquarters in Charlotte earlier this week, including NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan.

“We were so quick last year (overall) but it didn’t work out. It becomes frustrating. This year, Phoenix, I made a mistake in the last pit stop. Dixon won. Long Beach, I screwed up in qualifying. Definitely was gonna be right there. Barber was just an average race. I’m determined to have a good month and put me back in position.”

Turn 1 tilt

The start line accident from a standing start in 2014 and last year’s cluster in Turn 1 have made the first lap of the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis the standout moments for the highlight reels. Considering how difficult passing has been with this year’s closer aero kits, look for Turn 1 and the rest of Lap 1 to be a key factor in the outcome once more.

Rahal and Honda’s hopes

After his and the team’s near miss in Barber, and a runner-up finish here last year, Graham Rahal will be keen to put the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda in victory circle for both his and Honda’s first win of 2016. Provided they can qualify a bit better like they did in Barber, it’s certainly possible.

The one-off wild cards

Expect the GPI to be the biggest and most notable race in terms of additional one-off entrants, besides the Indianapolis 500 later this month. In rookies Spencer Pigot and Matthew Brabham, the latter of whom makes his series debut, and veterans JR Hildebrand and Alex Tagliani, there’s an extra variable here with cars and drivers that aren’t in the usual battle.

Meanwhile, there’s also the last-minute change at Dale Coyne Racing with Gabby Chaves replacing Luca Filippi at least for the month of May. Both drivers are close on experience levels but Chaves, who’s a bit more experienced at Indy, should be able to provide a boost to the lineup.

The final word

One of the sneaky good drivers at the GPI has been KVSH Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais, who has back-to-back top-five finishes in the race. Here’s the pre-race quote from the driver of the No. 11 Team EUROPA – KVSH Chevrolet:

“I like the design of the Indy road circuit. There are a couple of good passing zones, but like all the road and street courses on the schedule, qualifying will be very important. We have finished fourth in the Indy Grand Prix the last two years and last year it was our first top-five finish of the season. Hopefully we can at least do that again this year.

“The EUROPA – KVSH Racing team has shown good pace, but we haven’t achieved the results we wanted so far this season. We just have to keep working and have a good race this weekend for the team and our sponsors.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

Thursday, May 12    

11:00-12:15 Practice 1 
3:00-4:15   Practice 2    

Friday, May 13    

11:00-11:45 Practice 3  
3:00-4:15   Qualifying 

Saturday, May 14    

11:30-12:00 Warm-up  
3:30        TV coverage starts (ABC)  
3:43/3:50   Drivers Start Your Engine/Est. Green Flag

All times local and ET.

Here’s last year’s top 10:

1. Will Power
2. Graham Rahal
3. Juan Pablo Montoya
4. Sebastien Bourdais
5. Charlie Kimball
6. Helio Castroneves
7. Tony Kanaan
8. Stefano Coletti
9. Takuma Sato
10. Scott Dixon

Here’s last year’s Firestone Fast Six:

1. Will Power
2. Scott Dixon
3. Helio Castroneves
4. Juan Pablo Montoya
5. Simon Pagenaud
6. Tony Kanaan

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.