The Greatest Spectacle in Racing: The Indianapolis 500 Preview

It’s here. The ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’ is just around the corner as the eyes of the world descend on Indianapolis. A race that is etched into motorsport folklore with unbridled, full-throttle, commitment, and speed. We are, of course, talking about the Indy 500!

May is an incredible month of racing with the Monaco GP on May 23 before Indy 500 on May 30, although the latter is more like a two-week event as practice and qualifying start the week before the intense 500-mile, 200-lap race.

In fact, qualifying is set to take place across both Saturday and Sunday, beginning with the general shootout with the ‘Fast Six’ on the final day.

We also return to some form of normality, with the Indy 500 returning to its rightful place at the end of May – following last year’s postponed event that took place in the middle of August. Unlike last year, we will also have spectators with 135,000 in attendance, a whopping 40% capacity!

DRIVERS! DRIVERS EVERYWHERE!

This season truly has been one to remember. The 2021 campaign has had five race winners in five races with three of those being first-time winners in Alex Palou, Patricio O’Ward, and Rinus VeeKay.

Current championship leader Scott Dixon and Colton Herta won the other two races and the six-time champion will indeed be pushing for his second Indy 500 win having last achieved it in 2008.

The last seven winners are all present this year including Tony Kanaan, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Alexander Rossi, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud, Juan Pablo Montoya, and defending 500′ winner Takuma Sato. Both Sato and Montoya head into this race seeking an incredible third win which would put them tied fourth on the all-time winners list alongside the likes of Bobby Unser and Dario Franchetti.

Three-time winner Helio Castroneves also returns to the Brickyard. A win would put him tied first on the all-time list alongside A.J.Foyt, Al Unser Jr, and Rick Mears.

While the veterans of the sport all bring swathes of experience to the event, it’s the younger drivers who will certainly share the spotlight.

Rinus VeeKay won last time out at the IMS in a spectacular display of racecraft, cutting his way through the field to beat pole-sitter, Romain Grosjean, to the chequered flag. Last year, the Dutchman qualified inside the ‘Fast Six’ on his first attempt at the Brickyard, setting one of the fastest speeds ever seen at the 500′ in the process.

Scott Dixon followed by Alex Palou. 500 Practice. Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens.

Alongside him in last year’s Fast Six’ was Alex Palou, who likely caught the attention of his current outfit Chip Ganassi with his performance that weekend. Heading into this weekend second in the championship, Palou has an incredible opportunity to capitalise on the double points on offer.

Graham Rahal was one of the fastest in the pre-season test at the Brickyard and showed a similar pace in this week’s practice. The American driver has shown some incredible pace this year putting in two top-five finishes at the double-header in Texas.

There really are contenders everywhere you look. With Patricio O’Ward. Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi, Josef Newgarden, Jack Harvey, Conor Daly, and Scott McLaughlin also looking incredibly sharp coming into qualifying.

FRESH FACES

As ever, we welcome a host of fresh faces to the 500′. Among these are rookies Pietro Fittipaldi and RC Enerson and veterans Pablo Montoya, Tony Kanaan, Santino Ferucci, Stefan Wilson, Ed Carpenter, and JR Hildebrand.

Marco Andretti returns with Andretti. He was last year’s pole-sitter and will be looking to repeat that feat this weekend.

Simona De Silvestro. Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens.

Simona De Silvestro also makes her Indy 500 comeback with the all-female Paretta Autosport outfit. This marks De Silvestro’s first run since the 2015 edition of the race.  The Swiss driver has made hints that she could make further IndyCar outings with Paretta in the future.

Both Romain Grosjean and Jimmie Johnson will not be taking part this weekend with both set to return at the Detriot GP.

HONDA VS CHEVY?

So far in practice, there doesn’t seem to be an overall advantage in what is set to be an incredibly competitive battle. Will Power with Penske Chevrolet topped Tuesday practice while Scott Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Honda topped Wednesday.

Honda, and Chevy have three wins apiece in six attempts. While the only oval comparison we can make this year at Texas was slightly skewed due to qualifying being canceled with the championship standings used to set the grid for the race. Both races were one by an Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet and Chip Ganassi Honda.

This race truly could be anyones for the taking.

YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS THIS.

Thursday, May 20
5-11pm (BST): Indy 500 Practice

Friday, May 21
5-11:00pm (BST): Indy 500 Practice

Saturday, May 22
6-7:00pm (BST): Indy 500 Qualifying

Sunday, May 23
6-7.30pm (BST): Last Chance Qualifying
7.30-9.30pm (BST): Fast Nine Qualifying

Friday, May 28                                                                                                                                       3-5:00pm (BST): Final indy 500 Practice

Sunday, May 30                                                                                                                      4:30/4:45 (BST): Indy 500 Race Start

 

 

 

 

 

 

O’Ward Seizes Long-Overdue First IndyCar Win at the Texas XPEL 375

Sunday saw Arrow McLaren SP’s Patricio O’Ward clinch victory at the Texas Motor Speedway, his first IndyCar win – and with it, a chance to drive at the F1 Young Drivers Test in Abu Dhabi.

O’Ward had been in incredible form all weekend, coming off the back of a podium at the Genesys300. With 50 laps to go, O’Ward looked set to take the lead of the race when teammate Felix Rosenqvist brought out the final caution following a pitstop in which his right rear tyre failed to attach.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens. Josef Newgarden. Texas.

However, Josef Newgarden could not have timed the undercut better. He was in pit-road as the caution was brought out and emerged ahead of  Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal, and O’Ward who had been battling all evening.

On the restart, Newgarden made it past Takuma Sato who was still yet to pit, however so too did his nearest rivals. Behind them, O’Ward made quick work of Graham Rahal to move up to second.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens. O’Ward. Texas.

Newgarden failed to pull away from the attacking group and came under relentless pressure but it was with 20 Laps to go where the race was won. O’Ward, with steely determination, kept the accelerator planted into Turn 3 and seized the lead of the race.

O’Ward, who prior to this had come second on three occasions, finally broke the duck as he charged on to take the chequered flag, 1.5s ahead of Josef Newgarden.

Pato becomes the first Mexican to win in the American series since Adrian Fernandez at the Auto Club Speedway, 2004. Additionally, this marks McLaren’s first win since their return to IndyCar and the first since Johnny Rutherford at the Atlanta Motor Speedway, 1979.

As an extra reward, McLaren CEO Zak Brown will give O’Ward an opportunity to drive for the McLaren F1 Team at the post-season, Abu Dhabi Young Drivers Test.

Graham Rahal had been in the mix all race pulling off some audacious moves and benefitting massively during the earlier caution brought on by Meyer Shank driver Jack Harvey. Havey had been running in the top five, even overtaking IndyCar champion Will Power in the process until a wheel-bearing failure forced the car into the pits – leaving oil all over the road.

Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens. Dixon leads Power, Rahal. Texas,

Rahal and Power, who had pitted earlier were able to jump a number of cars – including Newgarden – as the field collectively pitted under yellow.  The Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver found himself in fifth. Despite both drivers being taken by O’Ward on the restart, Rahal fought bravely against Scott Dixon who had led from pole.

During the final pit stop and caution which was brought out by Felix Rosenqvist, Dixon held on to his advantage over Rahal. But back on track Rahal eventually cleared the Genesys300 winner to take his first podium of the season.

Colton Herta had a brilliant race – starting way down the field after an unfortunate brake issue forced him to retire from the Genesys300. Herta made great use of the undercut pulling off a great move on Simon Pagenaud to take fifth.

Alex Palou, who had started on the front row lost a lot of position after Jack Harvey’s caution. Like yesterday, the Spaniard never looked like he was going to trouble his six-time champion teammate. Despite finishing in seventh, it rounds off a decent weekend for the Barber Motorsport Park winner who finished inside the top ten in both races.

Scott McLaughlin followed up his maiden podium with an eighth-place, well ahead of Rinus VeeKay and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who rounded out the top-10.

Power had been in the battle at the front, but having dropped back slightly by the time of the final restart, but came off worst in the three-wide battle as Herta passed Pagenaud.

The Australian was pushed wide onto the high side and crucially – into the slippery ‘PJ1’ section. The Penske driver veered uncontrollably wide, hitting the barrier and finished down in 13th behind Ed Carpenter and Marcus Ericsson.

Takuma Sato, who decided to try the overcut came up short. After briefly leading after the final pit stops he eventually would eventually fall down to 14th

Photo Courtesy of Chris Owens. First Lap Crash. Texas.

However, the most dramatic moment of the race came during Lap 1 in the form of a horrendous seven-car pile-up. As the field concertinaed, Pietro Fittipaldi was caught out by the late braking of AJ Foyt’s Sebastien Bourdais. His Dayle Coyne entry sent both drivers into a spin collecting: Ed Jones, Alexander Rossi,  Dalton Kellett, Tony Kanaan, and Conor Daly in the process. Daly found himself upside down in a scary moment for the Carlin driver but was left relatively unscathed.

Scott Dixon leaves Texas with the lead of the championship while Patricio O’Ward sits 22 points behind. Alex Palou has slipped to third while Newgarden continues his relentless charge up to fourth.

IndyCar gets back underway at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the 15th May for the GMR Grand Prix.

 

 

 

 

 

Three conclusions we can take from IndyCar’s opening six races

Can Anyone Stop Scott Dixon?

To some, the incredible form of Scott Dixon is nothing of a surprise. After winning at Texas, Indianapolis, and Road America he sealed his 49th career win, three behind IndyCar and Formula 1 legend Mario Andretti who stands at second on the all-time list. This will be his 18th consecutive season in American open-wheel racing with a win on his quest to achieve his sixth championship title.

Dixon proved his class on the restart of the season, finishing 4.411 seconds clear of rival Simon Pagenaud at Texas Motor Speedway where he led 157 of the 200 laps. What immediately followed was another dominant win at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, winning by over 20 seconds over Graham Rahal. Finally, a win at Road America gave him his third consecutive win, with seemingly no let-up in sight.

Chris Jones / IndyCar Media

Since then, we have had three more races: one other at Road America, and two at Iowa Speedway. Despite starting 17th in both races, Dixon rose to an incredible second and fifth place to solidify his lead at the top of the standings

How has Dixon done this? A mixture of raw pace, consistency, experience, and well-executed strategy calls. Interestingly, despite not starting anywhere higher than the third row of the grid five of the last six races he has finished on the podium four times, a testament to how good his race strategy and decision-making skills are.

However, all three Penske drivers are firmly in the hunt. Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Josef Newgarden will be looking to stop Scott Dixon’s momentum heading into the second half of the season.

Dixon says that he is in impeccable form, in an interview he states:

“For me right now, I’m physically stronger,” he said. “Mentally, I’m in a better place than ever.”

Bad news for his competitors, but great news for race fans.

 

Safety is Key

A significant moment in IndyCar history was the implementation of the Aeroscreen, designed by RedBull Advanced Technologies. The engineering consultancy of the championship-winning Formula 1 team proposed the concept in 2016 only to be rejected for the Halo device.

The device improves the design of the Halo in a significant way. The polycarbonate ballistic windscreen protects the driver from any debris that would otherwise bypass the titanium frame. Additionally, the windscreen can withstand a hit from a 2lb (0.9kg) object at a speed of 220 mph (354kmh). Thus, pieces of a car, that for any reason, rise to meet the cockpit of a competitor are very unlikely to reach the driver inside, and we now have evidence to back this up.

During lap 144 at the Iowa Speedway, a botched pitstop left Will Power’s car with a loose left front wheel. Subsequently on lap 157 Power understeered into the wall, breaking the front suspension, and sending one of his tyres over the car itself. Luckily, the tyre deflected off the windscreen and away from the driver. Power heaped praise on the effectiveness of the Aeroscreen following the race:

“Man, I can’t thank IndyCar enough for everything they’ve done safety-wise with the Aeroscreen and halo inside the Aeroscreen,” he said. “You just saw Colton Herta go over the top of someone, and they’ve just done a tremendous job. It’s better than any other series that have invented something like it. Just a very good job,”

The crash he was referring to involved Colton Herta on lap 157. Due to a confusion during an aborted restart he accelerated into the back of Rinus Veekay. Horrifically, Herta can be seen being thrown into the air above Veekay. Luckily, the Aeroscreen kept the Dutchman safe as Herta’s car lands on top of him.

Without the Aeroscreen it is highly likely that both these incidents could have resulted in serious injuries for all the drivers involved.

The Aeroscreen, while still criticised for things such as overheating the drivers in the cockpits, is a positive contribution to safety in motorsport and certainly here to stay.

 

McLaren’s Rise to Prominence

Chris Jones / IndyCar Media

Two years ago, McLaren were struggling in Formula One with a series of reliability issues with their Honda powertrain and a car that did not meet the team’s expectations. A disastrous campaign resulted in them losing two-time champion Fernando Alonso. However, it forced them to embark on a fundamental restructuring process that would lead them back to the front of motorsport.

Since then, it has been a remarkable turnaround for the team, with two podiums and two fastest laps to its name in Formula One this year.  McLaren also have been racing in IndyCar alongside Schmidt Arrow Peterson, rebranded as Arrow McLaren SP. This seems to have been a partnership made in heaven with a serious of impressive drives from both Patricio O’Ward and Indy Lights champion Oliver Askew.

An impressive race at Road America saw Patricio O’Ward score his first pole position, but unfortunately lose the win to Chip Ganassi star Felix Rosenqvist on the final lap of the race. Not too long after at Iowa Speedway both Arrow McLaren Chevrolets were among the fastest cars in the field even if the results for both cars did not reflect their outright pace.

Rookie Oliver Askew impressed with his first podium in Race 1 and an impressive sixth after a late stint on fresher tyres. Meanwhile, it was a case of what might have been for O’Ward.

After making some impressive overtakes using the high line he gained five positions, eventually hunting down race leader Josef Newgarden for the win. Unfortunately, a slow pitstop cost O’Ward the lead lap and ultimately the race win. He finished in 12th, arguably an undeserved result for such an impressive drive.

Oliver Askew now sits at the top of the Rookie of the Year standings (115 points) while his teammate is firmly in the championship hunt, sitting in fourth (162 points). Though, after narrowly losing two race wins, O’Ward may feel that he should be sitting in second place only below Scott Dixon in the standings had results gone his way. Pato remains cautiously optimistic about the team’s chances this year:

“We want to win races, be a contender in the championship,” he says. “Everyone is pushing the same way as I am, with the same amount of energy and motivation. We have a great group of engineers and the car has felt good everywhere we’ve been.

 

[Featured image – Joe Skibinski / IndyCar Media]