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

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images

Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.