Pre Race Notes

Good morning from IMS. Some things to note heading into this afternoon’s race:

TV Coverage-

ABC 3:30 EDT Green flag at 3:50

Bonus Point Watch- through Barber

Josef Newgarden  6

Alexander Rossi    6

Sebastien Bourdais 5

Robert Wickens       5

Will Power                4

Ryan Hunter-Reay   3

Graham Rahal, Simon Pagenaud, James Hinchcliffe, Jordan King  tied at 1

It’s not surprising that the top three in points have the most bonus points. Power earned another point yesterday with his pole for today’s race.

Another charge to the front for Rahal and Dixon?

Rahal and Dixon have had to come back through the field in every race this year either due to poor qualifying, penalties, or track incidents. From their ninth row starting spots, they may have a tough time today. A different pit strategy might help them. This has not been a race with a lot of yellow flags the last three years.

The Schmidt-Peterson Factor

Keep an eye on Robert Wickens and James Hinchcliffe. This team started the season strong and has become a cohesive unit. Their top six starting spots bode well for good results today. A first win for Wickens is not out of the question.

Has Andretti Lost Their Momentum?

Andretti Autosport had a difficult day in qualifying. Perhaps most disappointing was Rossi not making the Fast Six. Is this a temporary hiccup in their season? I expect them to be very strong when 500 practice starts Tuesday.

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A Better Race- Bourdais, Power, and Pagenaud Talk About the Indycar Grand Prix

Good morning from IMS. A brief summary of yesterday’s press conference and some other notes.

Simon Pagenaud, Sebastien Bourdais, and Will Power ( L to R above) agree that the new aero package will produce better racing in the Indycar Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Saturday. The new package tightens the gaps and allows the drivers to race closer. At a late morning press conference Friday, the drivers  praised the IMS  road course as one of the best the series runs on. They like its smoothness.

Pagenaud thinks restarts here are exciting because of the speed on the front straight heading into turn 1. He believes having the Grand Prix as a prelude to the 500 is a good idea.

” It shows the true nature of the Verizon Indycar series,” he said. “Fans can see what the whole series is about.”

Power and Pagenaud agree that this is a very European style track, which is part of its appeal to them.

Bourdais likes the idea of having the Grand Prix. He said there is no need to have nine days of practice on the oval. He would rather have had a practice session Thursday afternoon than the 9:15 session Friday morning. Bourdais believes the early morning session will not reveal any useful information for qualifying or the race.

Notes

Conor Daly will announce plans for the remainder of 2018 at an 11:30 press conference today. Speculation is he will be driving in the NASCAR Xfinity Series road course races.Your intrepid reporter will be covering the conference and report on it later.

The LED panels that displayed car positions and pit stop times have been shut down for May. There were issues with the system at Barber and the series stopped using them Saturday. The series hopes to have the panels back for Belle Isle. Teams will replace the panels likely with carbon fiber. It would be great if they put the car number there to compensate for the small rear wing numerals.

Juncos Racing announced Alfonso Celis, Jr. will drive in Kohler Grand Prix at Road America. Celis debuted in Indy Lights at Barber. Celis’ entry in the Freedom 100 has withdrawn, shortening an already small field.

Back later today with a qualifying summary and other news.

Quick Thoughts on Phoenix

Josef Newgarden won. Alexander Rossi was the star. Robert Wickens continues to impress. Passing and the racing was better. The finish was great. The crowd was small.

IndyCar’s first short oval test of the UAK 18 had mixed results. There was more passing, but it wasn’t always easy. Leader Sebastien Bourdais needed several laps to lap the last car in the opening stint. The beginning of the race looked like it was going to be a repeat of first two races here. After the first of two caution flags, Alexander Rossi gave the fans something to hold their interest. A lap down following his drive through penalty for hitting of his crewman, Rossi was determined to unlap himself. He sliced through the field, eventually regaining his lap on the track. He had the fastest car all night. Rossi even led some laps before finishing third. Until the final restart, most drivers st a he’d single file, saving g tires. It made me almost wish for a fuel saving race..

Newgarden, who took fresh tires during the yellow, roared to the front and passed rookie Robert Wickens with two laps to go.

Takeaways

Despite the new aero package, passing was still difficult. The tire degradation didn’t help create as much passing as hoped.

Robert Wickens  had another great race was again leading with two laps left. He will get that first win before Indy.

Alexander Rossi’s second straight podium puts him in a great position to fight all season long for the title.

Will IndyCar return to Phoenix? I think the race, which was the best of the three in this set, was good enough to warrant a return. I’m concerned that IndyCar left without a renewal. Both sides sound like they’re interested. Attendance was said to be slightly better.

Sebastien Bourdais’s day got off to a bad start and kept getting worse. He cannot afford another race like that this early in the season.

Why did the last caution take so long? I understand wanting to sweep the track, but no one was using that part of the track anyway.

Race control deserves credit for its judicious use of the yellow. They could have thrown three more but didn’t. Teams might need to adjust strategy to not expect as many cautions this year.

Back Friday with my Long Beach preview.