PREVIEW: INDYCAR Grand Prix from IMS road course

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The INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway isn’t necessarily an afterthought but it’s very much the casual, laid-back appetizing atmosphere to kick off May’s proceedings by contrast to the rich, delicate full main course that is the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

And as the final dress rehearsal for the Verizon IndyCar Series before the ‘500, it presents one last shot at big points before the massive amount of points – and glory – on offer on the oval.

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

2017 INDYCAR Grand Prix – Talking Points

Pagenaud’s proper, yet quiet, title defense

If it’s possible to have a quiet, yet stealthy title defense, Simon Pagenaud is doing that and then some in 2017.

What was a freakishly fast start in 2016 was punctuated by Pagenaud’s romp to victory at the artist formerly known as the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. It capped off his dream run of three wins and two runner-up finishes – and the last time he won three races in a row prior to that, he won an American Le Mans Series championship in 2010.

Now, in 2017, Pagenaud still has four top-five finishes out of the gate, and a career-helping win at Phoenix last time out to prove he can win on an oval as well. He’s also leading the standings by 18 points over Scott Dixon, who also has four top-five finishes in as many races.

Pagenaud has jokingly referred to himself as Sacha Baron Cohen’s Jean Girard in the past from Will Ferrell’s infamous/famous NASCAR spoof Talladega Nights, but it’s actually the title character of Ricky Bobby whose Pagenaud’s record at the Grand Prix most resembles: If you ain’t first, you’re last.

In the three prior Grands Prix, Pagenaud won in 2014 (led 6 laps), finished 25th and last in 2015 with a gearbox issue, and won last year after leading 57 of 82 laps.

So will it be boom-or-bust again for the driver of the No. 1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet this year? Only time will tell.

Dixon looking for a rare first at this race

Rare can you go to a race and not find Scott Dixon having had success, but the Grand Prix is that for the four-time series champion. Finishes of 15th, 10th and seventh are forgettable for Dixon – of course getting hit by Helio Castroneves at the first turn a couple years ago here did him no favors – but this and Gateway, where he’s only competed once (15th in 2003) are the only two tracks on the calendar where the 40-time race winner and driver of the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing does not have a single top-five finish.

Teammate Tony Kanaan is also 0-for-3 in scoring top-fives this race, while another teammate Charlie Kimball is the only driver in the field who’s a perfect 3-for-3 in top-fives at the Grand Prix, having finished fifth each year.

Occasionally unpredictable Firestone Fast Six qualifiers

From the moment Sebastian Saavedra took the 2014 inaugural race’s pole on a wet track for KV/AFS Racing with Jack Hawksworth alongside for Bryan Herta Autosport, it was apparent this race would enter into INDYCAR lore as INDYCAR’s “bizarro world.” And that’s no knock on either driver, but few would have bet on it. Three years later, KV is no longer a team, BHA has partnered with Andretti Autosport, and neither driver is in the series full-time (although Saavedra was announced for a comeback this week at the Indianapolis 500 with Juncos Racing).

Here’s been the Fast Six qualifiers in the three previous Grands Prix:

  • 2014: Saavedra, Hawksworth, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud, Will Power, Dixon
  • 2015: Power, Dixon, Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Pagenaud, Tony Kanaan
  • 2016: Pagenaud, Charlie Kimball, Graham Rahal, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden, Hawksworth

Some of those names are not shall we say, Fast Six regulars. Last year’s Fast Six was made even more complex by the fact both Rahal and Newgarden were penalized following post-qualifying technical inspection and sent to the rear of the field.

Noteworthy though is that both polesitters have won this race the last two years.

The Juan and only extra entrant

One of the cool parts about this race in its three-year history has been the extra entries added to the full field rundown. But none has been as well-prepared or already well-rounded as Juan Pablo Montoya, who makes his first IndyCar start of the year in the No. 22 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevrolet in Team Penske’s first race as a five-car team.

With no disrespect to the other extra one-off entries – Franck Montagny, Martin Plowman, JR Hildebrand, Matthew Brabham and Alex Tagliani – Montoya’s is the first extra car that could be considered a realistic spoiler this weekend.

Four of the previous five drivers were making their return to IndyCar after lengthy stints outside the cockpit. Brabham was making his debut with the KV technically affiliated PIRTEK Team Murray, and actually acquitted himself well in his first weekend in the championship.

Montoya, though, remains recently race sharp, is integrated to his team and has already had two solid tests this year to prepare for the race. Both at Barber Motorsports Park and Gateway Motorsports Park, Montoya’s had a chance to jell with the new fifth car entry. A win may be too much to ask; but a points-stealing podium run is more than possible. Key for him is how he goes on Firestone’s alternate red tires this weekend, as that’s a sticking point for part-season drivers – even ones with Montoya’s staggering level of experience and skill set.

Other pre-race notes

  • There’s been seven podium finishers here in three years. Besides Pagenaud and Power, Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe, Graham Rahal, Juan Pablo Montoya and Ryan Hunter-Reay have also made trips to the podium.
  • Sebastien Bourdais finished fourth here in 2014 and 2015 but got caught up in a first-lap accident here last year, the same problem as applied to him last time out at Phoenix. The Dale Coyne Racing crew has been working overtime repairing the car from Phoenix.
  • Alexander Rossi had one of his most impressive drives of his rookie season here last year. Race pace at Barber was enough to lift from 18th to fifth and if he qualifies better, his first non-Indy 500 win or podium is achievable.
  • Josef Newgarden’s worst finish in four races this season is ninth. His best Grand Prix finish in three races is 17th. Something will have to give there this weekend.
  • Conor Daly’s leading this race last year was a race highlight, following his overtake of Helio Castroneves on a restart. He finished sixth. Daly is one of two drivers (Max Chilton) without a top-10 finish yet this season.
  • Spencer Pigot returns after one race out of the cockpit at Phoenix, and the Pigot/JR Hildebrand road and street course pairing is back together at Ed Carpenter Racing for the first time since Long Beach.

The final word

From Montoya: “I’m so excited to get back on track with the Verizon IndyCar Series. I’ve run a few tests but will run my first race since last season at the INDYCAR Grand Prix. Indianapolis is one of those special places in motorsports. The buzz surrounding the whole city for the month can be felt. I guess I should feel a little behind, but I don’t. The guys on the Fitzgerald Glider Kits team have been in tune and mixed in with the other teams all season, so we have all the data and those tests went really well. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”

Here’s the IndyCar weekend schedule:

At-track schedule (all times local):
Friday, May 12
9:15-10 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice 1, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
12:25-1:10 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series practice 2, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
1:15-1:30 p.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series pit stop practice
4:20 p.m. – Qualifying for the Verizon P1 Award (three rounds of Verizon IndyCar Series knockout qualifications), streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)

Saturday, May 13
11-11:30 a.m. – Verizon IndyCar Series warmup, streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com (Live)
3:30 p.m. – ABC on air
3:43 p.m. – “Drivers, start your engines”
3:50 p.m. – INDYCAR Grand Prix (85 laps/207.3 miles), ABC (Live)

Here’s last year’s top 10:

1. Simon Pagenaud
2. Helio Castroneves
3. James Hinchcliffe
4. Graham Rahal
5. Charlie Kimball
6. Conor Daly
7. Scott Dixon
8. Juan Pablo Montoya
9. Ryan Hunter-Reay
10. Alexander Rossi

Here’s last year’s Firestone Fast Six:

1. Simon Pagenaud
2. Charlie Kimball
3. Graham Rahal*
4. James Hinchcliffe
5. Josef Newgarden*
6. Jack Hawksworth

*Assessed post-qualifying penalty; sent to rear of grid

Eli Tomac wins Houston Supercross: Hunter Lawrence takes early 250 East lead

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With his 47th career victory and third of the 2023 season in Houston, Eli Tomac closed to within one win of tying Ricky Carmichael for third on the all-time Monster Energy Supercross list.

Tomac rebounded from last week’s crash by earning the holeshot in both his heat and the Main. At the start of the big show, he couldn’t shake Aaron Plessinger in the first four minutes and actually was in the process of losing the lead as a red flag waved for a crash involving Tomac’s teammate Dylan Ferrandis when he overjumped an obstacle and landed on Ken Roczen’s back fender as they raced for eighth.

“That was a tough race,” Tomac told NBC Sports’ Will Christien, referencing his loss to Chase Sexton in the heat. “And honestly, I was just beat down after that heat race and was searching quite a bit and was basically losing speed everywhere. I just rode better, straight up in the Main. I felt better.”

In their heat, Sexton passed Tomac at the two-minute mark and then simply rode away from the field. At the end, he had an almost eight-second gap on Tomac.

“It wasn’t great by any means,” Sexton told Jason Thomas. “I feel like the strengths I had all day, I really lagged in the Main event between the whoop and the sand section. I think I could have walked through it faster. It was still a good ride; it wasn’t great. I expected after the heat race he would be fired up.”

RESULTS: How they finished for the 450 Main in Anaheim 2

Jason Anderson scored his second consecutive pole, but he was not happy to finish third behind the two points’ leaders.

“We should be thankful every time we get to be up here,” Anderson said. “They’re making it tough on me, but all I can do is give my best.”

Tomac had to withstand a red flag and the distant second place finish in his heat to win the Houston Supercross race. In the post-race conference, he indicated that he did not make any changes to the bike and simply rode better.

Aaron Plessinger and Cooper Webb rounded out the top five.

Ferrandis was fitted with a neck brace, but still able to walk to the medical cart. He was still being evaluated by the medical staff as the night came to a close.


In 250s Hunter Lawrence entered the 250 East opener as the consensus favorite to win the championship this year with Christian Craig making the move into 450s and his brother Jett Lawrence in the West division. He answered quickly with a huge lead in Heat 1, but it almost went awry in the Main.

Lawrence got a good start, but he was passed early in the race by two-time MXGP champion (2020, 2022) Tom Vialle, who was making his Supercross debut this week. Vialle passed Lawrence on the first lap. When Lawrence tried to pass him back, Vialle scrubbed speed off a jump and pushed Lawrence wide, over the Tuff Blox.

Championships are made out of Lawrence’s response. He kept his composure and did not overcorrect before methodically working his way to the front.

“We had a little off track excursion. I wasn’t sure how hard across Tom was coming so I thought I’ll just go left, but then saw that was the side of the track. Thankfully I didn’t hit the Tuff Blox and got back on track safely. … Good start; put myself in position.”

Click here for full 250 East Main Results

Making a move from the 450 class to 250s, Max Anstie had immediate success. He finished second in his heat behind Jordon Smith and lined up with a great gate pick. He had to overtake Vialle in the opening laps and lost ground on Lawrence, that cost enough time to keep him from pressing Lawrence. This is Anstie’s first podium in the United States

“Honestly, I’ve dreamed of this for a long time to come up on these steps and man it’s a great feeling. I’ve really enjoyed the day and being on this 250, I feel like an 18-year-old kid. Everyday I’m learning.”

Smith backed up his heat win with a podium finish.

“It feels good to be back up here again,” Smith said. “It’s been a long time; a lot of injuries.”

Haiden Deegan proved the hype surrounding his debut in the 250 class was not unfounded. He finished fourth in his heat to advance to directly into the Main. During the early laps, he was circling the track in a podium position until a minor mistake sent him off the box. In the closing laps, he narrowly made an aggressive pass on Jeremy Martin and narrowly missed the podium with a fourth-place finish.

Martin held on to round out the top five.

Vialle was running in a podium position when went down with a 1:30 left on the clock. He ended his night seventh.

Chance Hymas was also making his 250 debut and scored a top-10 in eighth.

2023 Race Recaps

Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Tomac wins opener for the first time

Houston coverage

Houston by the numbers
Supercross unveils 16th edition of a Ricky Carmichael designed Daytona track
Power Rankings after week 3
Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
Seth Hammaker to miss Houston with wrist injury
Jo Shimoda joins Seth Hammaker, Austin Forkner on injured list