INDIANAPOLIS – Simon Pagenaud expects the IndyCar Grand Prix to be very different from the first four races. So does just about everyone else in Gasoline Alley.
The expected warm temperatures and breezy conditions could change racing conditions on Saturday. New aero kits are expected to create better drafting. A smoother asphalt surface is expected to make cars less sensitive. And this time, winning the pole may not be the surest path to victory lane.
The combination is expected to create more passing and a better overall show for the fans, a perfect combination for race organizers.
“You can follow closer and not get as affected as before,” said Pagenaud, a two-time race winner. “So there’s more (passing) opportunities for sure. Now we’ll see how many restarts there are because here it’s always very exciting on restarts because it’s such a long straightaway. There’s a lot of action into Turn 1.”
There are plenty of uncertainties, too.
By condensing the weekend schedule from three days to two, drivers had only two short practice sessions before qualifying. All 24 drivers will have one more 30-minute tuneup on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course Saturday morning.
The limited track time may explain why some familiar names – Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon, Graham Rahal and Ryan Hunter-Reay – failed to reach the second round of qualifying. Pagenaud, Alexander Rossi, Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan were all eliminated in the second round and defending series champion Josef Newgarden barely made the final qualifying group.
Will Power won his third Indy GP pole with a fast lap of 1:09.8182 on his final run of the day.
Everyone seems to expect an increase in the kind of daring moves that can create intrigue, consternation and anger. Possibly crashes, too.
Sebastien Bourdais knows just how dicey it can be. He complained publicly about everything from IndyCar rulings to his fellow drivers after successfully negotiating one of this season’s best passes at Long Beach – only to have it negated by a penalty for using pit lane.
The Frenchmen who drives the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda expects things to heat up again this weekend.
“Just a lot of passing opportunities (here), and especially with the new aero kit this year,” Bourdais said. “I think it will be quite an interesting race, and even more so if the weather comes into play.”
In previous years, Indy’s road course hasn’t created much tension.
Pagenaud and Team Penske teammate Power have split the first four Indy GP races, Pagenaud winning in even-numbered years, Power in the odd-numbered years. The only pole winner who failed to win the race was Sebastian Saavedra in 2014. He got caught up in a crash at the start that prevented three drivers, including Saavedra, from completing a lap.
Nobody believes it will be such a one-sided affair this time.
Series officials have said nearly twice as many total passes were logged over the first four races than last season, something they expect to continue this weekend and at the Indianapolis 500 on May 27.
Fans also will be watching the engine manufacturer’s race between Chevy and Honda, which is tied at 2-2 going into the weekend.
That’s exactly what organizers wanted when it made the technical changes after last season.
“We don’t know how it races yet here, but everywhere else, it’s been better,” Power said, referring to the new cars. “It’s just easier to follow. You don’t have a big, dirty wake from all the winglets and stuff that was hanging off the old car. I can see it being – especially being such a hot day on race day – pretty good racing, tire degradation, and people might struggle to come on to the front straight here a little bit, so yeah, it’ll be absolutely better racing here than last year.”