What Drivers Are Saying about Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix in Indianapolis


Here’s what drivers are saying about Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “It’s been really great to have some time off before Indianapolis, but we’ve definitely been hard at work still. My team put together a really strong car at our last road course event at Barber, which won us the race. Now, we’re headed to the INDYCAR GP and the guys have put together what I’m sure will be another super-fast No. 1 Verizon Chevrolet. I’m feeling really good about it. Really, I’m excited for the whole month of May in Indianapolis. There’s really nothing like it and I know the whole team is ready to put on a great show at our next two races.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I’m back! I’m so excited to be back with Team Penske at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in INDYCAR. I’ve been really enjoying my time with the team’s IMSA program, but I’m really excited to jump back into the No. 3 Verizon Chevrolet. We have a great team of guys put together for both the INDYCAR GP and the Indianapolis 500. I’m ready to kick off the month with a road course race and get some time in the car with the new aero kit. More importantly, I’m excited to go out there and put on a great show for the fans there.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “I’m excited for my first month of May in INDYCAR. It’s a pleasure to be here and I’m looking forward to the month. I’m happy with the performance of the car so far and I think we have great potential here at the Indy road course. We had a tough qualifying in Barber, but the race was pretty good, so I think we had a decent pace there. We’ll try to carry the momentum to Indy and have a great month here. Personally, the Indy road course is a track I really like, last year I got my first podium in Indy Lights here (finished third) so I’m looking forward to the race.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “Like I’ve kind of been saying all year, we’re going to every racetrack for the first time with these new kits, and obviously, the INDYCAR GP is no different. We kind of had a half test day here earlier in the year – kind of hampered by weather a little bit – that didn’t go super well for us. We’ve seen that before this year, and as a team, we’ve managed to fight back, so we’re just going to try and do what we’ve been doing: stay focused, keep our heads down and deal with whatever issues come up on a race weekend. At the end of the day, it’s May; we’re excited to finally be kicking off the month on track in the Arrow Electronics car. Fingers crossed we can keep up the level of performance, if not raise it another level.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “I’m really excited to get the month of May started. It’s going to be my first! First, we have to get through the INDYCAR GP. I wasn’t able to do the test here a few weeks ago because of an (off-track) injury, but I think we’ve made some good steps after the testing James (Hinchcliffe) had. I think, if everything runs smoothly, we’ll score some good points in the Lucas Oil car and try to keep this momentum we have going.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “The (INDYCAR) Grand Prix is becoming a really cool tradition here in Indianapolis to start off the month of May. Any time you can add a race, especially when you don’t have to leave home, it’s a win, I think. The focus is definitely on the road course this weekend, but with the recent delayed testing on the oval we did last week, I think everyone is also thinking about the big one, as well, later this month on Memorial Day weekend. I don’t think we’ve had the start to the season we’d hoped for in the PNC Bank car, but it’s a great time to get a strong result and get things going the right direction this weekend.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I’m really looking forward to the INDYCAR Grand Prix. It’s going to be quite a bit warmer there this weekend than when we were last here. A few of the first races haven’t gone our way this season, but there is a lot of potential and I’m excited for us putting a whole race together. The whole team at Chip Ganassi Racing has done a great job so far this season with pit stops and strategy and everything. We are on the right track and hope to start getting the results soon.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 INDYCAR Grand Prix winner): “After a couple weeks off, I’m ready to get back at it. We had a rough go of it at Barber, but we’re putting it behind us. The month of May is such a special time in Indianapolis and I’m really excited to go back there. Last year we won the INDYCAR GP in the No. 12 Verizon Chevy and I see no reason we can’t do it again. Historically, it’s been one of our better tracks as a team, and I think we will be really strong and I know we’re going to have a good shot at winning there again.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “There is always a big anticipation for the Grand Prix because it is the race just before the (Indianapolis) 500. I love the road course and I’m excited to be back and expecting good things. You’re at the Speedway so it’s always a cool race. In the past, we used to stay here the whole month, but then they shortened the month of May, and now by adding the Grand Prix, the month of May came back in my opinion. I’m really excited to be back.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda): “I always think that the INDYCAR Grand Prix is one of the more important races of the year, just to get the momentum going for May and the Indy 500, and I certainly think that will be the case this time around as well. We have had a good start to the year. I have been pleased with the performance of our team on race day. Obviously, we need to keep working on that and I need to work on making less mistakes myself in qualifying. It will be really important for the United Rentals team to have a strong May and collect a lot of points and then carry on from the Grand Prix into the Indy 500 and then on to Detroit. Normally Detroit is where we really start getting good. Hopefully, we can start that process a little earlier this year. I have always loved this place. It is definitely unique. I think we are going to be pretty strong. It’s got long straightaways, a flowing section of corners and this track allows you to go race for sure and make a lot of passes so it’s an ideal track.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “This will be my fifth INDYCAR Grand Prix and I have to be honest, the first couple of years, finishing fourth, I was a bit disappointed. The last two years we had decent cars, but things just didn’t go our way. I like the design of the circuit. There are a couple of good passing zones, but like all road and street courses, qualifying will be very important. The SealMaster Honda No. 18 has shown good pace the first four races of the season and we’re in the championship hunt, but we know we have our work cut out for us.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “I feel confident going into the INDYCAR Grand Prix this weekend and there is definitely a bit of buzz around Indianapolis about it, as well. This is the first circuit I have been able to spend a day testing at prior to the race weekend, so I am sure that will help. We were really quick at the test and we are looking to continue where we left off with the Fuzzy’s Vodka car.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet): “It is always the best time of the year when we get to race around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Obviously we have the Indianapolis 500, but first, we get to race the road course for the INDYCAR Grand Prix. Ed Carpenter Racing is really excited to go back to the GP where we had a really strong race last year. Hopefully, we can have similar pace and competitiveness this year in the Preferred Freezer Services car and start off the Month of May strong.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s the Month of May in Indianapolis. What more can you say? The whole series really rallies around the month and INDYCAR does a great job of really giving the fans a lot to do with two races. The INDYCAR GP is always a lot of fun and it’s a race myself and the No. 22 Menards Chevrolet team are really comfortable with. We won that race a few years ago and are ready to do it again. My team has been working hard to prepare great cars for the month and we saw a lot of really great speed at the recent test at Indianapolis. I really just can’t wait to get back on track in Indiana.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Fiasp Chevrolet): “As much as we look forward to 500 miles at the end of May, I always enjoy the challenge of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course to kick off the month. I’ve had three fifth-place finishes and strong qualifying sessions here for the INDYCAR Grand Prix, and I hope to move up to the podium this weekend for Carlin’s debut. I think the entire Carlin team has been rolling with some momentum the past few weeks, from a strong finish for the No. 23 team in Long Beach to close qualifying lap times in Barber. Of course, this is an entirely different animal, but I know we’ll all be working hard to start the month on a high note.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): “The month of May is finally here! The INDYCAR GP is always special as it’s the final race before the Indy 500. We had a great test here about a month ago and I’m very excited to see what we can accomplish this weekend. The last two races have been personal bests for me in one aspect or another and I hope to keep that progress going for our whole Group One Thousand One team.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “The month of May is finally here! I am so excited to kick it all off with the INDYCAR GP as it is one of my favorite tracks on the calendar. We had a very successful test there last month and I’ll be looking to translate that into a strong result to get the month off to a positive start for the NAPA Racing team.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “The INDYCAR GP kick starts the month of May at IMS, so it’s important to get the momentum rolling for the Indy 500. Coming off our P2 finish at Barber, the No. 28 DHL team is headed in the right direction. We’ve finished this race in second and third, so we’ll be working hard to get on that top step of the podium.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “The INDYCAR GP is quite fun. The long straight and the heavy braking areas provide a lot of opportunities for drivers to overtake, so it is usually a very exciting race. We had a productive test day on the road course in March, and look forward to the opportunity to have a strong race and make up some ground in the championship. Obviously, it is an important race for the 500, so we want to have a good, strong event to have good momentum for the month of May. The section from the main straight, which is the opposite direction that we use for the Indy 500 is something that reminds me of my Formula One days. Going from the speedway to the road course is always unique, so that’s my favorite part.”

KYLE KAISER (No. 32 NFP / Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “I’m glad the INDYCAR Grand Prix weekend is here. I’ve been itching to get back to racing since Long Beach. Last year, we had success in Indy Lights winning the Indy GP, so this is a track I’m very familiar with and enjoy driving. The team has continued to work very hard and improve the car and I’ve been working hard to improve on the progress we’ve built after our previous races. I’m ready to get back behind the wheel and continue to enjoy this incredible opportunity.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “I love the month of May and getting back out on track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I think the INDYCAR Grand Prix is such a great way to kick off the month before we all switch into 500 mode. My first year on the IMS road course, I finished mid-pack and by last year we’d worked our way into the top 10 with a seventh-place finish, so it’s definitely turned into a track that I really enjoy and one that suits my driving style. It’s really exciting to be a part of Carlin’s first month of May Indy car experience and I’m really hoping we can have some good results for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “The GP is a very important race for us because it helps to set the momentum for the big one – the Indy 500. We had a decent test on the Indy road course; we look to qualify in Firestone Fast Six and get a podium finish. I think so far this season, we’ve had the pace to do that.”

‘It’s gnarly, bro’: IndyCar drivers face new challenge on streets of downtown Detroit

IndyCar Detroit downtown
James Black/Penske Entertainment

DETROIT – It was the 1968 motion picture, “Winning” when actress Joanne Woodward asked Paul Newman if he were going to Milwaukee in the days after he won the Indianapolis 500 as driver Frank Capua.

“Everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indianapolis,” Newman responded near the end of the film.

Milwaukee was a mainstay as the race on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 for decades, but since 2012, the first race after the Indy 500 has been Detroit at Belle Isle Park.

This year, there is a twist.

Instead of IndyCar racing at the Belle Isle State Park, it’s the streets of downtown Detroit on a race course that is quite reminiscent of the old Formula One and CART race course that was used from 1982 to 1991.

Formula One competed in the United States Grand Prix from 1982 to 1988. Beginning in 1989, CART took over the famed street race through 1991. In 1992, the race was moved to Belle Isle, where it was held through last year (with a 2009-2011 hiatus after the Great Recession).

The Penske Corp. is the promoter of this race, and they did a lot of good at Belle Isle, including saving the Scott Fountain, modernizing the Belle Isle Casino, and basically cleaning up the park for Detroit citizens to enjoy.

The race, however, had outgrown the venue. Roger Penske had big ideas to create an even bigger event and moving it back to downtown Detroit benefitted race sponsor Chevrolet. The footprint of the race course goes around General Motors world headquarters in the GM Renaissance Center – the centerpiece building of Detroit’s modernized skyline.

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Motor City is about to roar with the sound of Chevrolet and Honda engines this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series is the featured race on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile temporary street course.

It’s perhaps the most unique street course on the IndyCar schedule because of the bumps on the streets and the only split pit lane in the series.

The pit lanes has stalls on opposing sides and four lanes across an unusual rectangular pit area (but still only one entry and exit).

Combine that, with the bumps and the NTT IndyCar Series drivers look forward to a wild ride in Motor City.

“It’s gnarly, bro,” Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said before posting the fastest time in Friday’s first practice. “It will be very interesting because the closest thing that I can see it being like is Toronto-like surfaces with more of a Long Beach-esque layout.

“There’s less room for error than Long Beach. There’s no curbs. You’ve got walls. I think very unique to this place.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Speeds from the first session

“Then it’s a bit of Nashville built into it. The braking zones look really very bumpy. Certain pavements don’t look bumpy but with how the asphalt and concrete is laid out, there’s undulation with it. So, you can imagine the cars are going to be smashing on every single undulation because we’re going to go through those sections fairly fast, and obviously the cars are pretty low. I don’t know.

“It looks fun, man. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s going to be learning through every single session, not just for drivers and teams but for race control. For everyone.

“Everybody has to go into it knowing not every call is going to be smooth. It’s a tall task to ask from such a demanding racetrack. I think it’ll ask a lot from the race cars as well.”

The track is bumpy, but O’Ward indicated he would be surprised if it is bumper than Nashville. By comparison to Toronto, driving at slow speed is quite smooth, but fast speed is very bumpy.

“This is a mix of Nashville high-speed characteristics and Toronto slow speed in significant areas,” O’Ward said. “I think it’ll be a mix of a lot of street courses we go to, and the layout looks like more space than Nashville, which is really tight from Turn 4 to 8. It looks to be a bit more spacious as a whole track, but it’ll get tight in multiple areas.”

The concept of having four-wide pit stops is something that excites the 24-year-old driver from Monterey, Mexico.

“I think it’s innovation, bro,” O’Ward said. “If it works out, we’ll look like heroes.

“If it doesn’t, we tried.”

Because of the four lanes on pit road, there is a blend line the drivers will have to adhere to. Otherwise, it would be chaos leaving the pits compared to a normal two-lane pit road.

“If it wasn’t there, there’d be guys fighting for real estate where there’s one car that fits, and there’d be cars crashing in pit lane,” O’Ward said. “I get why they did that. It’s the same for everybody. I don’t think there’s a lot of room to play with. That’s the problem.

“But it looks freaking gnarly for sure. Oh my God, that’s going to be crazy.”

Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing believes the best passing areas will be on the long straights because of the bumps in the turns. That is where much of the action will be in terms of gaining or losing a position in the race.

“It will also be really easy to defend in my opinion,” Palou said. “Being a 180-degree corner, you just have to go on the inside and that’s it. There’s going to be passes for sure but its’ going to be risky.

“Turn 1, if someone dives in, you end up in the wall. They’re not going to be able to pass you on the exit, so maybe with the straight being so long you can actually pass before you end up on the braking zone.”

Palou’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, was at the Honda simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana, before coming to Detroit and said he was shocked by the amount of bumps on the simulator.

Race promoter Bud Denker, the President of Penske Corporation, and Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix President Michael Montri, sent the track crews onto the streets with grinders to smooth out the bumps on the race course several weeks ago.

“They’ve done a decent amount of work, and even doing the track walk, it looked a lot better than what we expected,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad. I hope not. That’ll be something to take into account.

“I think the track layout doesn’t look like the most fun. Maybe not the most challenging. But I love these types of tracks with rules everywhere. It’s a big challenge, and you have to build up to it. That’s the types of tracks that I love to drive. It’s a very much Marcus Ericsson type of track. I like it.”

Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in the opening session, has competed on many new street circuits throughout his legendary racing career. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing likes the track layout, even with the unusual pit lane.

I don’t think that’s going to be something that catches on where every track becomes a double barrel,” Dixon said. “It’s new and interesting.

“As far as pit exit, I think Toronto exit is worse with how the wall sticks out. I think in both lanes, you’ve got enough lead time to make it and most guys will make a good decision.”

It wasn’t until shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Friday that the IndyCar drivers began the extended 90-minute practice session to try out the race course for the first time in real life.

As expected, there were several sketchy moments, but no major crashes during the first session despite 19 local yellow flags for incidents and two red flags.

Rookie Agustin Canapino had to cut his practice short after some damage to his No. 78 Dallara-Chevrolet, but he was among many who emerged mostly unscathed from scrapes with the wall.

“It was honestly less carnage than I expected,” said Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who was third fastest in the practice after coming off his first career IndyCar victory in the most recent street race at Long Beach in April. “I think a lot of people went off in the runoffs, but no one actually hit the wall (too hard), which actually surprised me. Hats off to them for keeping it clean, including myself.

“It was quite a bit less grip than I think everyone expected. Maybe a little bit more bumpy down into Turn 3 than everyone expected. But overall they did a good job between the two manufacturers. I’m sure everyone had pretty much the same we were able to base everything off of. We felt pretty close to maximum right away.”

Most of the preparation for this event was done either on the General Motors Simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina, or the Honda Performance Development simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana.

“Now, we have simulators that can scan the track, so we have done plenty of laps already,” Power told NBC Sports. “They have ground and resurfaced a lot of the track, so it should be smoother.

“But nothing beats real-world experience. It’s going to be a learning experience in the first session.”

As a Team Penske driver, Power and his teammates were consulted about the progress and layout of the Detroit street course. They were shown what was possible with the streets that were available.

“We gave some input back after we were on the similar what might be ground and things like that,” Power said.

Racing on the streets of Belle Isle was a fairly pleasant experience for the fans and corporate sponsor that compete in the race.

But the vibe at the new location gives this a “big event” feel.

“The atmosphere is a lot better,” Power said. “The location, the accessibility for the fans, the crowd that will be here, it’s much easier. I think it will be a much better event.

“It feels like a Long Beach, only in a much bigger city. That is what street course racing is all about.”

Because the track promoter is also the team owner, Power and teammates Scott McLaughlin and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden will have a very busy weekend on the track, and with sponsor and personal appearances.

“That’s what pays the bills and allows us to do this,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500