INDYCAR Preview: 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500

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It’s finally upon us. After a month of build-up, featuring testing in early May, the INDYCAR Grand Prix in the middle of May, and then two weeks of practice, qualifying, and media promotions, it’s time for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

The 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 features a number of high-profile storylines. It’s Danica Patrick’s final car race. Ed Carpenter upset the Team Penske apple-cart by qualifying on the pole, stopping a Penske front row lockout.

Helio Castroneves is looking for his fourth Indy 500 triumph. Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal are still looking for their first “500” victories, ones that would add new chapters to their families’ legacies.

IndyCar champions Josef Newgarden, Will Power, and Simon Pagenaud all look to add Indy crowns to their championships for Team Penske.

A.J. Foyt Racing could see a return to glory with Tony Kanaan and Matheus Leist. And Dale Coyne Racing could complete its transition from underdog to full-fledged powerhouse with an Indy crown.

And, bumping was back…and claimed the hard-working and likeable Pippa Mann along with perhaps the Verizon IndyCar Series’ most popular driver James Hinchcliffe.

In short, the month has already been packed with drama and storylines…and the race hasn’t even been run yet.

All those talking points, and more, have been elaborated on in detail in the run up to the Indy 500. But, there may yet be more factors in play on Sunday.

A look at additional talking points for Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 are below.

If You Can’t Stand the Heat…

Sunday’s race could be a record-setting day for heat. The hottest “500” on record was in 1937, with an ambient of 92 degrees. The 1953 and 2012 races were just shy of that mark, at 91 degrees ambient.

Sunday’s forcast calls for temperatures of above 90 degrees, putting it well within reach of becoming the hottest “500” ever.

Regardless of whether or not it does hit that number, it will be incredibly hot, meaning the track will be incredibly slick. Expect handling to be at a premium all day, with drivers wrestling their cars at all times.

This fact is not lost on the drivers, as Scott helped explain following Carb Day practice. Dixon also mentioned that the heat means it’s hard to read just how strong of a car he’ll have in relation to others.

“I don’t really know if (Carb Day) told us too much about what the race will bring in the PNC Bank car,” Dixon detailed. “(It was really warm) and we think it could be even warmer on race day. The track temp was way up there as well. I’m not really sure what you can learn from the times. There were a lot of people throwing tires at it out there. Overall, the car felt good and we were comfortable. You just never know exactly what you’re going to have until you get into the race.”

The 2012 race, also above 90 degrees and the first one in the DW-12 era, saw 34 lead changes in a thriller of a race. But how the new aero package reacts to such heat remains a bit of an unknown.

Chevy With an Upperhand on Honda?

The 2018 Indy 500 front row features all Chevrolets. Photo: IndyCar

For the last two years, Honda has had a pace advantage over Chevrolet, thanks to both its engine and aero package.

This year, the tide seems to have turned in the favor of Chevrolet. Chevy-powered cars swept the front row, and seven qualified inside the top nine – Sebastien Bourdais (fifth) and Scott Dixon (ninth) were the only Hondas to make the Fast Nine Pole Shootout.

However, several Hondas, notably from the Andretti Autosport camp along with Bourdais’ No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing entry, have shown very strong race pace, and have looked particularly strong running in traffic. That much will be vital, as passing could be more difficult with the 2018 universal aero kits.

In terms of outright pace, though, Chevy may have the advantage.

Impact of the Aero Kits on the Show

Just how closely cars will be able to follow each other through corners will be critical in if we’ll see the amount of passing we’ve seen in recent years. Photo: IndyCar

Speaking of the aero kits, the introduction of the Dallara DW-12 in 2012 brought with it an annual slip-streaming shootout that made each year’s Indy 500 seemingly better than the previous.

However, the new universal aero kits for 2018 could see a drastic change in how the racing looks. While the downforce levels are roughly the same as they were last year, drag has increased, and many have experienced a great amount of turbulence as they run behind more cars.

And a number of drivers have said as much through practice.

“I think (running) first and second (in a group) is awesome. Anything beyond that is tough, tough,” said Graham Rahal after Day 3 of practice on May 17.

Marco Andretti and Scott Dixon discussed also discussed as much on the previous day.

“If you’re third or back in line, it’s going to be very tough. It’s going to take discipline to wait for the guy to have a go and have a big wash-up, then you get him. It will be tougher to pass. But I prefer that,” Marco Andretti detailed.

Dixon echoed similar sentiments. “The first two cars seem to be able to swap back and forth pretty easily. As Marco said, once you get third and back, especially if you’re fifth and back, the wash-out seems to be a lot more this year, which is kind of interesting,” said the 2008 Indy 500 winner.

As a result, passing on Sunday’s race could be full of intrigue, and it may require more work to set up a pass than in previous years.

Misc.

  • No driver has ever won the Indy 500 from the last row, but that’s the exact challenge facing Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi. Fast practice speeds went for naught in qualifying when a punctured tire hampered his run, and saw him qualify 32nd. But, his No. 98 Napa Auto Parts Honda has plenty of speed, so he should be someone to watch in the early laps.
  • Four rookies are entered: Robert Wickens, Matheus Leist, Zachary Claman De Melo, and Kyle Kaiser. Wickens has been the best of the 2018 rookies, which makes him likely the early favorite for Rookie of the Year honors, but all four of them have impressed all month long. Solid runs for Claman De Melp, Leist, and Kaiser in particular would do their young careers a world of good, while Wickens looks to help Schmidt Peterson Motorsports move past the difficulty of seeing star driver James Hinchcliffe fail to qualify.
  • As a double-points race, the Indy 500 can have an enormous impact on the championship standings. Case and point, last year, Takuma Sato entered Indy sitting 10th in the championship, and vaulted all the way up to third after winning the “500.” A race victory is at the forefront of everyone’s mind, but championship implications abound as well.

Coverage begins at 11:00 a.m. ET, with “Drivers Start Your Engines” set for 12:14 p.m. ET, and the green flag falling at 12:21.

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INDYCAR: What Drivers Are Saying about Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America

Helio Castroneves leads the field early at last year's IndyCar race at Road America. Photo: IndyCar.
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Here’s What Drivers Are Saying about this Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I’m not shy on saying that Road America is probably my favorite track. I really love racing there. It’s a fun road course with a lot of great INDYCAR fans, so what’s not to love? These cars with the new aero kit have been super exciting on road courses and this weekend will be no different. The entire No. 1 Verizon Chevy team and I are pumped to get on track there. I thought we were strong at Texas after not living up to our standards at Detroit, but we just ran out of luck. Myself and the entire team are ready to really come back strong to gain more points to continue our hunt for another championship.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Road America is a pretty cool track. It is one of my favorite tracks in the world and my favorite track in the U.S. Last year, I had a great weekend there in Indy Lights, winning the first race as well as the pole position. Each time we work together as a team, we are developing the car and getting quicker. I think we might have a great car for this weekend and I’m looking forward to it.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “Road America is one of the coolest tracks in North America. It’s the kind of track that lets you really stretch an Indy car’s legs and really push it. We had a solid test in the Arrow Electronics car there last week, but testing is one thing and racing a whole other, so I’m excited to get there and see what we’ve got.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “I’m really looking forward to Road America. I think, in the last few races, we’ve shown our potential. We’ve shown that we’re quick. Now we need to try to get back on the podium. Road America is always a fun track, and it’s where I got my first taste of INDYCAR with SPM so I can’t wait to actually race the Lucas Oil car here.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “Obviously I’m happy with where the team has been running these past few weekends, but we’ve been there the whole season. We just haven’t shown the results for one reason or another. While most had the weekend off, we had the opportunity to compete again at Le Mans, which is a very special deal. So now we’re back, and after a few short days at home, it’s Road America. We had a great car here last year picking up the win for the No. 9 team, and I’m hoping we can do it again this weekend with the PNC Bank car.”

ED JONES (No. 10 First Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I’m really looking forward to Road America. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule. It’s been a great last few races for the team, and it shows we have the speed in the cars we need in order to win and compete at the front. I hope we can keep up the momentum this weekend with the First Data car. It was nice having a weekend off in the schedule, and the team will be refreshed and ready to attack at Road America.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It was awesome to have some time off after the long stretch – especially to spend time with my wife and son on Father’s Day. It was really great for me and the rest of the team. It has been quite a whirlwind for everyone since Indianapolis, so it is nice to have the schedule calm down a bit. Texas was a tough one for myself and the No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team. It was disappointing but we are ready to bounce back. Road courses are always so much fun and this is definitely one of the most beautiful tracks on the circuit. The fans at Road America are such great INDYCAR fans and I really enjoy meeting them when we’re there. I always look forward to this race and am ready to get back on track there.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “I love going to Road America for a number of reasons. It’s a very cool, fast and challenging track. The fan experience is one of the best in America and it’s the closest INDYCAR race to ABC Supply’s headquarters, so I’m expecting to have a lot of support during the weekend.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 GEHL Honda): “We tested at Road America and it went well in the end. We didn’t start off the best, but I do think we found a few things that can really help us as we go forward. I am excited for this aero package on a long track like Road America. I think the passing will be great, the cars will look awesome and will be fast! I have spent a ton of time at Road America in my lifetime and just find it to be the best track in this country. I am excited to join my dad and all of my family up there this weekend to enjoy the races just like we always have done growing up! I have always enjoyed the race there and I think that’s why I have had some success. Having said that, a win would mean a ton to me. I would love to get it for my GEHL team this weekend! With GEHL and Manitowoc being so close by, it’s a huge race weekend for us too. I have high hopes for the next eight races. We have had a solid start to the season but no wins. We need wins, we need podiums, and I hope we can make that happen here very soon.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “Road America is one of my favorite tracks on the schedule. I have great memories racing there as it’s where I won my first Indy Lights race last season and it’s a circuit I’ve always done well at. We’ve made some great progress so far this year, but have not yet had the chance to show it with a good result aboard our No. 19 Paysafe car. Hopefully, we can change that this weekend and give the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing crew the top result that they deserve.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “I’ve been on the simulator twice now learning Road America, which was good as I learned what way everything goes. It looks like it might be quite a tough circuit. There are a couple of blind corners that will be difficult and also some elevation changes. Those always add another element of difficulty into the mix as you have to judge your distance by things other than being able to see where you’re going. It will be nice to get back on a road course after a bumpy street course. Overall, I’m looking forward to Road America. It should be a good challenge.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet): “Road America is always a track I look forward to going to. It’s one of the best venues on our schedule, for sure! I’ve always enjoyed it, ever since I started racing there in Skip Barber, and it’s a great place to drive an Indy car around. It’s the hometown race for our partner Direct Supply and we’re really excited to have them on board. Hopefully, we can get a good finish for them and the whole ECR team.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “We had a nice little break but now I’m fully focused and ready to head to Road America. After having a really great finish at Texas, the entire No. 22 Menards Chevrolet team and I are pumped to go to Road America. It’s one of the most beautiful tracks we get to visit and the racing is also great. I just love road courses. It’s also always great to see so many of our friends from Menards up there, so I’m looking forward to saying hello to a lot of folks. The fans at Road America are some of the best, and I know we’re going to put on a great show there.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “It’s great to come back fully recharged and ready to get after it at the KOHLER Grand Prix. We had a couple of good results earlier this month, and I’m feeling really confident in how this Carlin team is progressing in its maiden Verizon IndyCar Series season. I’ve always enjoyed Road America, since my days in Formula Ford – from the challenges of the course to the camping and fan support, it’s just a classic event on our schedule. I’ve come away with a couple of top-10s here since INDYCAR’s return to the track, and I have full faith in the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet team that we’ll be racing up front on Sunday.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “Road America is a track that has been good to me in the past. My last time there was in 2016 in an Indy Lights car. We set a track record, won the first race and finished third in Race 2. I’m hoping that speed helps us out in the Indy car this weekend. The last two weekends have been good for us, as far as progress as a rookie. We were super competitive at Detroit and ran in the top three at one point in Texas. Hopefully, we can capitalize on that momentum and have a strong finish at Road America to start the second half of the season off strong.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “Road America is one of my favorite road courses in the world. I am very excited to be heading there this week as it is also the one track on the schedule that I have a huge amount of history and track time at. We have always had strong pace in Elkhart Lake, but never really gotten a result, so we will be looking to change that this weekend and hopefully close up the gap to the top of the points.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “Road America has always been one of my favorite tracks on the INDYCAR schedule. The DHL team had a strong race here last year, so I’m looking forward to building on that and the momentum we’ve had as a team through the last several races.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “We tested at Road America last week and I think the test went well. It was a little confusing as there were two specs of tires and the difference of each was more than expected, but we were able to cover multiple setups and found a good direction.  There were not enough teams to directly compare at the test but we made a good progress, so I believe we should be competitive at Road America. I enjoy driving there so much but I don’t have a strong history at the track. I had a good race in 2016, but an electrical problem blew our race. Road America has a couple of ultra-high-speed corners like the carousel, kink and unsighted Billy Mitchell Bend. They are definitely some of the most challenging corners. The track flows so well and has a combination of a tight bend with a long straight followed by big braking areas that makes a great overtaking opportunity, so the racing is always an exciting one there. That’s one of my favorite parts and the fans are so enthusiastic!  Driving this fast track is just huge fun. Road America is a beautiful, great race course.”

ALFONSO CELIS JR. (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “I am very excited for my first Verizon IndyCar Series race this weekend at Road America. We had a great test there last week. I was able to learn a lot about the car and the strong Chevy engine. I am looking forward to getting back in the car on Friday and seeing what we can do this weekend.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “After a much-needed break, I can’t wait to get back to Road America. It’s a track I’ve felt very comfortable with since I started in INDYCAR in 2016 and my results the last two years have shown it with two seventh-place qualifying runs and a top-10 finish last season. The whole Carlin team is really starting to gel and our results just keep improving every race weekend, so I’m hoping we can put together a good run this weekend for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet in Road America and get both cars into the top 10 for both qualifying and the race.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Road America is a track I love racing at. I’ve had many race wins in other series there and it is one of my all-time favorite tracks. I’m really looking forward to getting to race there in an Indy car with Harding Racing and hope to have our best result of the year.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “Road America is one of my favorite road courses to drive. The fans there are great and it helps make for one of the greatest settings of the year. Each year, we have a team cookout with my crew where we can just relax after a busy month and a half and reset ourselves for the rest of the season. It would be great to walk out of this weekend with a podium finish for the U.S. Concrete team and continue our forward momentum.”