INDIANAPOLIS — This has been a wild month of varying strategies between the two engine manufacturers in the NTT IndyCar Series at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Chevrolet chose to work on race setups all last week, with the exception of Fast Friday, because after all, this is a race. The Honda teams split their workload between race and qualifying sims during the first two days of practice for the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 (1 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network).
So, who’s plan wins out?
Chevy’s blueprint is to have the best “race” cars. With the boost levels being turned up until on Fast Friday, why work on qualifying sims before? I see their reasoning. The Honda outfit questioned with this being a track position race, why wouldn’t you practice some qualifying sims to start next Sunday’s race with the best track position.
The strategy paid off for Honda. They swept the front row and took 11 of the top 12 starting spots. Chevy’s path was that they looked at it that you need to have a good car in traffic. They took the bottom six spots and put 11 cars in the bottom 12 of the field of 33. Which strategy wins out next Sunday? The track position at the start or the cars good in traffic?
While Honda’s have the track position, can they hold it?
The Andretti guys aren’t fully comfortable with their cars on race trim yet. Marco Andretti says that they’re an adjustment away from his being fully content. He was in the top three of every practice session run this week. His teammate Alexander Rossi says that he’s not content with his No. 27 Honda yet at all on race setups as his car still needs some work to do.
Ryan Hunter-Reay feels the same way.
Scott Dixon has a good starting spot (2nd) and like Andretti, was in the top three of all three practice sessions that he took a part in last week.
It’s still unanimous within the Honda camp, they don’t necessarily like the way that their cars feel in traffic yet.
But, the Penske and Ed Carpenter Racing boys, well they feel like their race pace is great. They’re happy with where their “race” cars stand.
Their only problems are, ECR has just one car in the Fast Nine in Rinus VeeKay, but he’s a rookie. Ed Carpenter and Conor Daly share Row 6.
Team Penske has one car in the top 7 Rows. That’s Josef Newgarden in 13th. Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Helio Castroneves start 22nd, 25th and 28th respectively.
The last four Indy 500 winners have started fourth, second and first respectively. Do we just automatically assume that with good “race” cars that the Chevy’s can magically make their ways through the field?
The Honda’s may have better race pace with cleaner air. But, what happens if the Honda cars get marred mid pack and lose that track position advantage, will the Chevy’s pull away?
It’s clear the Honda’s will likely start Sunday’s race is less downforce. I mean, why not? They have quicker cars and have clean air up front. If you can’t get into that “bubble” of air from fifth on back, why not go lower downforce and not allow the Chevy drivers to get close? They can really pull away with helps them on pit road too.
The problem is, with lighter downforce, if something happens to where the Chevy’s start creeping their ways up to the top 10 and they have more downforce but are better in traffic, they can take the spots away and not be caught themselves.
That’s why I’m looking at RLL as a potential sleeper to take this win. We know that the Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing trio is happy.
“I’m excited,” said Graham Rahal. “As a team we’ve done a really good job kind of clicking through everything. I feel like we’ve been extremely efficient in everything that we’ve needed to do, things that we’ve gotten done. I’m pleased with that.”
He and Takuma Sato made the Fast Nine. Spencer Pigot starts 12th on the Outside of Row 4.
They’re happy with their race pace and start in front of the Chevy’s.
This is going to be an interesting race of split strategies among the manufacturers.