INDIANAPOLIS — The majority of the NTT IndyCar Series races are about as clean as anywhere else around the world. It’s true proper racing with lots of respect. In fact, six of the final seven races last year had just two or fewer cautions, three of which going from green to checkered without a single stoppage. In fact, if you go back to the Indy Grand Prix last July, 15 of the last 17 races run, including all four this season, have seen 3 or fewer yellows.
But, one problem that’s becoming a trend is the addition of an opening lap crash. As hard as it is to believe, half of the four races run this season featured a first lap crash. Furthermore, if you go back to Pocono in 2018, we’ve had 12 opening lap crashes in the last 39 races. That’s a 31% rate.
Three more races saw a crash on the second lap to take this to 15-for-39 (38%) with a crash in either the first or second lap of a race now in the series.
Most of the races as you can see above run clean from start to finish, it’s just that we need to get the race started under green flag conditions first.
Where this is key this weekend is, the start of the Indy Car races on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course has been treacherous. We’ve seen a 1st lap crash in 6 of the 9 races run on it. The only exceptions are 2017 and again in all 3 events in 2020.
A big reason to that is just how tight Turn 1 is and how moves are being made into it to gain spots on track. If you made it past Lap 1, pit strategy follows. We didn’t have a single caution in any of the 2 races in October. This race overall has seen three or fewer cautions in each of the last six years. When four of those seven races had a first lap incident, you can see that this race has been run clean for a majority of the way.
So, with this recent trend of opening lap incidents, do we see one again on Saturday?
The pole winner has never won a pole with a rolling start. In fact, Romain Grosjean’s last pole came back in 2010. Factor that with so many big named drivers coming from mid pack on back, you could have some carnage early on during Saturday’s race.
Is part of this the aggression to get to the front in general? Starting position has been so key to success lately in this series. 36 of the last 37 races run have seen the eventual winner come from a top 10 starting spot. Furthermore, a starter in the top 2 Rows have won 12 of the last 13 races run, including all four this season.
On top of all of that, starting positions for natural road courses lately (since 2016) have been dominated from drivers coming from the Fast Six. The recent winners started from: 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 7th, 1st, 5th, 2nd, 3rd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 20th, 1st, 4th, 1st, 8th, 2nd, 8th, 2nd, 1st, 7th, 9th, 7th, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st and 1st.
That’s 31 of the last 32 coming from the top 10 including 18 from the pole and 25 of 32 (78%) from the Fast 6.
Is the first lap aggression coming from drivers behind having to make quick moves to the front? Seems so and I’d expect more of it on Saturday.