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Five things to watch for in Indy Grand Prix

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It’s been a long month since the IndyCar series rolled out of California and the Streets of Long Beach on April 14 and now it’s time to tackle the fourth different twisty track of the season with the IndyCar Grand Prix of Indianapolis.

This will mark the third time in 2019 that the series has visited a permanent road course and all bets are off as to who will win.

Live coverage from Indianapolis begins Friday at 9 a.m. ET with Practice 1 exclusively on NBC Sports Gold’s IndyCar Pass, followed by Practice 2 at 12:30 p.m. ET. Coverage continues with qualifying live on NBCSN and INDYCAR Pass on Friday at 4:30 p.m. ET. IndyCar Pass will stream warm-up on Saturday at 11:15 a.m. ET prior to race coverage on Saturday at 3 p.m. ET on NBC.

In five editions of this race, there have been only two winners, but neither Will Power nor Simon Pagenaud have taken the checkers yet in 2019. In fact, four races have produced four different winners.

  1. Power and Pagenaud have been equally matched in this race with top-10s in all but one event and three top-fives apiece. Power has an average finish of 6.0 with Pagenaud sitting at 7.8, so this week’s race within the race will be of who finishes better.
  2. In one of only two IndyCar starts last year, Helio Castroneves finished sixth and kept a perfect record of top-10s in this race alive. In fact, sixth is the worst he’s finished on this track. Castroneves is the only perfect driver in the Indy GP.
  3. Scott Dixon comes close to being perfect in regard to top-10s. After finishing 15th in his first attempt in 2014, he posted back-to-back top-10s the next two years. He was even better in the last two starts with runner-up finishes to Will Power in 2017 and 2018. Winless so far in 2019, Can Dixon become the first driver other than Power or Pagenaud to win this race and the fifth different winner of the season?
  4. If Dixon fails to win, the odds are certainly in his favor to finish among the top five. Dating back to last year’s second-place finish in this race, Dixon has finished fifth or better in all but this year’s Circuit of the Americas race.
  5. Points leader Josef Newgarden is the only driver this year with a perfect record of top-fives and he has finished better than he started every week – coming from as far back as 16th at Barber Motorsports Park. No matter where he qualifies, expect Newgarden to challenge for the lead.

More than 100 hours of IndyCar action begins this weekend with live coverage of the Grand Prix from Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 3 p.m. on NBC. This will be the first NTT IndyCar race to be broadcast on NBC.

NBC Sports’ month-long coverage from Indianapolis includes extensive practice, qualifying and race programming across NBC, NBCSN, NBCSports.com and NBC Sports Gold’s INDYCAR Pass.

Watch the Indy 500 on May 26 on NBC

Ben Hanley relieved to make Indy 500 debut

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Qualifying for the Indy 500 is never an easy task, especially for a new driver and team, and with 36 cars vying for 33 starting positions last weekend, 34-year-old rookie Ben Hanley knew there was a chance he and his DragonSpeed team would not make the show.

“I wouldn’t say we were very confident, but we wanted to [make the field],” Hanley told NBC Sports. “The biggest thing we were trying to achieve was to not be on track on Sunday in the shootout because it only takes one mistake or one little issue and that’s it, you’re not in the race.”

But Hanley would not have to worry about being bumped from the field. He qualified 27th after making three attempts on Day 1, which was enough to lock the No. 81 team into the show. Not too shabby for a driver and team making only their third NTT IndyCar Series start.

THE 103RD INDIANAPOLIS 500: Click here for how to watch, full daily schedules

“That last run everything just came together,” Hanley said. “We trimmed out a little bit more and found a good balance of trim and grip over four [qualifying] laps and it was enough to get us through.

“It was a huge relief to get through in P27. A massive achievement for everybody involved.”

Indeed it was a massive achievement, as DragonSpeed is one of the smallest teams in the garage, with no corporate sponsors and a tiny team of around 20 personnel. Many of those were picked up by the team just a week before qualifying, when members of the team’s regular crew were denied entry into the United States due to visa issues after leaving a sports car race in Italy.

“It was all down to the team organizing some people who were in and around Indianapolis who weren’t needed for the race weekend,” Hanley said. “Obviously, I don’t think many people are going to refuse the chance to work on a car that’s trying to qualify for the 500.”

Though the team made its first Indy 500 on Day 1 of qualifying, the DragonSpeed team did not spend Saturday night out late celebrating. Instead, Hanley said the extra time was spent preparing for the race.

“We went straight on to race prep then for the car, so Sunday was a good day for the guys to take time to prep the car into the race spec and get everything sorted out in a nice, organized manner.”

Following the Indy 500, DragonSpeed will run two other races this season at Road America and Mid-Ohio. The team is hopeful that a good run at Indy will result in an opportunity to run a bigger schedule next season and attract sponsors.

Hanley stated that though he’s happy to have made the Indy 500 starting grid for the first time in his career, the magnitude of his feat hasn’t hit him yet.

“It hasn’t really soaked in yet,” he said. “I think it will soak in on Sunday when we roll out to the grid.

“It was such a huge relief to not be involved in Bump Day. Even just watching [Bump Day] it was intense, especially with the weather. I couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to be involved in that.”

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