Event Coverage: Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis
For nearly a century, the Indianapolis 500 has been the biggest race in the world. In its heyday the Memorial Day event would attract a hundred drivers, 400,000 attending fans, and a TV audience of several million. Unfortunately, those glory days have somewhat passed. Due to the 500’s size, it used to require an entire month of preparation and practice: many drivers only competed in the 500 and had one-off cars built for to conquer Indy and Indy only. But these days, the entry list is only 33 or 34 and the cars are all nearly identical, making an entire month a bit of a waste. In 2014, the Verizon IndyCar Series decided to fluff up the Month of May by hosting a road race on the former Formula 1 circuit that runs through the infield of Indy. The first event was best remembered for its disastrous start when pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra’s car stalled on the grid and was rear-ended at speed. In 2015, the boys and girls of IndyCar returned to the speedway’s road course to put on another show. Only one week after showing off their fancy oval kits, the teams strapped on road course bodywork and took to the flowing roval circuit.
The first four races of the year have produced four different winners. Juan Pablo Montoya won the season opener in St. Petersburg. James Hinchcliffe pulled off a lucky win at New Orleans Motorsports Park in a race that would have been better suited to airboats than IndyCars. Scott Dixon, after 15 attempts to do so, finally won the Long Beach Grand Prix. And Josef Newgarden scored a deserving maiden win at Barber Motorsports Park after holding off a charging Graham Rahal. Would Indianapolis produce another unique winner in 2015? Practice was dominated by the names of Will Power, Sebastian Bourdais, Helio Castroneves, and 2014 Indy GP winner Simon Pagenaud, with Dixon and Montoya near the top of the time charts as well. Castroneves was especially hungry: the Indianapolis GP would be his 300th IndyCar start.
Overshadowing these stories has been the battle between Honda and Chevrolet. In 2015, Dallara’s spec bodywork has been cast aside for bodies designed by the engine makers. Chevrolet has absolutely dominated Honda thus far in both qualifying and during the races. Honda’s sole shining moment was at NOLA when Hinchcliffe won a timed race with pit strategy (though Honda’s engine, which gets slightly better fuel mileage than the Chevy, almost certainly played a part too). Graham Rahal has also been quick, but only on race day, starting midfield and working his way up to challenge the podium by the checkered flag. It seems the Chevy cars can trim down their drag enough to walk away from the Hondas by as much as half a second to set a fast lap. Honda’s aero kit has been described as pitch sensitive and difficult to manage. While the Honda teams work out the kinks of the aero design, the Chevys have locked out the front rows of every race in 2015, breaking track records at every event thus far. The smooth tracks of Barber and NOLA gave the Hondas life as the pitch sensitivity could be managed with stiff springs. Indy is another flat, smooth track; perhaps the Hondas would do well here.