INDYCAR Pre-Race Media: Indianapolis road course track trends, race preview, favorites/sleepers, etc

TRACK: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (2.439-mile, 14-turn road course), DISTANCE: 85 Laps (207.315 Miles)

We’re approaching a decade since this race was added as this weekend marks the ninth year of this race being around. Granted, we’ve had some changes due to COVID in a sense that 2020 saw not only this race moved to July but the addition to a doubleheader in October that year for the Harvest Grand Prix.

2021 though it was moved back to May but the addition of a second road course weekend as added as a part of the NASCAR doubleheader to give us 2 annual trips to the 2.439-mile road course. The same schedule is back this time around again

  • 5 out of the 11 races have seen the pole winner win here including 7 of the 11 from the front row.
  • 8 of the 11 races run have seen the winner come from the top 2 Rows.
  • All 11 winners have started in the top 4 Rows.
  • 12 of the 17 races last year saw the winner come from the top 4 Rows.
    • 5 of the final 7 races to 2021 saw the winner come from the top 3 starting spots.
  • 13 of the 14 races in 2020 saw the winner come from the top 9 starting position including 12 of the 13 from the top 8.
    • 8 of the final 9 races saw the winner come from the 3.

That’s 18 of the last 29 races having a top four starter win the race.

  • Starting positions for natural road courses lately (since 2016) – 40 races (counting Barber this year)
    • 2016: 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st
    • 2017: 7th, 1st, 5th, 2nd 1st, 3rd
    • 2018: 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 20th, 1st
    • 2019: 4th, 1st, 8th, 2nd, 8th, 2nd, 1st
    • 2020: 7th, 9th, 7th, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st
    • 2021: 3rd, 7th, 5th, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 1st
    • 2022: 2nd
  • That’s 39 of the last 40 coming from the top 10 (98%)
  • That’s 21 of 40 from the pole (53%) and 27 of 40 from the front row (68%)
  • Also, that’s 32 of 40 (80%) from the Fast Six
  • We’ve seen a 1st lap crash in 6 of the 11 races. The only exceptions are 2017, all 3 in 2020 and the August race last year. 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 of 2020 and just one in May of last year.
  • Since the new car came out in 2018, the “Big 3” have won 55 of the 68 races run (81%). Penske has won 28 times with Ganassi (16) and Andretti (11). But, RLL is next best with four victories while no one else has more than three.
  • Throw in RLL and AMSP and you get 63 of 68 races won by these teams. With the only exceptions being HSR’s pair of wins by Herta in 2019, DCR (1), ECR (1) and MSR (1).

TRACK COMPARISONS/WHO’S BEEN GOOD ON THEM

While a road course is a road course, IMS is most comparable though to Barber, Mid-Ohio, Road America, Portland and Laguna Seca. Toronto, Long Beach and St. Pete are street circuits run on city streets. These other road courses are all natural free flowing terrain with some elevation changes. If you’re good at one, you’re more than likely good at the others.

In 2020, Penske and Ganassi each won three times on these types of circuits including all three at IMS. Andretti Autosport won the other that year in Mid-Ohio.

In 2021, Ganassi won three times (Barber, Road America, Portland), Penske twice (Indy, Mid-Ohio), Ed Carpenter Racing once (Indy) and Andretti Autosport once (Laguna Seca) themselves.

So far this season, we’ve had one race on a natural road course (Barber) and it occurred a few weeks ago. Arrow McLaren SP won it.

That’s 15 natural road course races during this Aeroscreen era with Ganassi being victorious six times (3 in each season), Penske 4, Andretti Autosport twice and ECR/AMSP once.

If you go back to 2019 though, we’ve had 22 different races on natural road courses with 11 different winners. Will Power (4) and Colton Herta (4) lead the field with most win. Scott Dixon and his Ganassi teammate of Alex Palou each have three trips to victory lane in this span. Josef Newgarden (2) is the only other one with multiple victories on natural road courses since 2019.

In that same span, Ganassi and Penske each have seven with on them. Andretti has three but had a hand in two more with HSR’s pair of victories with Herta during the 2019 season as one of their alliance cars. ECR and RLL each have 1 a piece.

Penske has won 8 of the 11 Indy road course events.

Can Scott Dixon get his 1st win in over a year Sunday at Indy – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Favorites

Alex Palou

No one had been close to Palou in natural road courses last year. He had three wins on them and was third last May and runner-up in Barber.

Josef Newgarden

He never had much Indy road course success until 2020. He was 0-for-6 in terms of top 10’s to start his career off with here then he went out and finished seventh in July of that year, won in October and fourth in the second October race. He was also fourth in May too. In August, he was eighth for his fifth straight top 10.

Rinus VeeKay

He was fifth in July 2020, started on the pole and third in the first of two October races that year to go along with winning on this very track last May for three top fives in five Indy road course tries. VeeKay, won the pole in Barber, led the most laps and finished 3rd.

Will Power

This is his playground. Power, led all 75 laps in the second race of the doubleheader weekend in October 2020 only to lead 56 of 85 last August. He had a race winning car before bad luck struck in July of that 2020 year as well. He’s won five times on this course and has five poles as well. He has a top 4 in all 4 races run this year.

Colton Herta

Herta has four top fours in his last five road course starts here.

Sleepers

Alexander Rossi

He’s quietly been good here. He’s finished 2nd, 3rd, 7th and 4th in his last four tries including 7 top 10’s in 9 starts.

Graham Rahal

Worth a look. Rahal, has a top 10 in all but one start here (his 1st one) including a pair of runner-up’s and 8 top 7’s in his last 10 tries.

Scott McLaughlin

He’s in a Penske car, qualified in the Fast Six and finished in the top 10 back in May of last year.

Marcus Ericsson

0 top fives but he does have 4 top 10’s in his last 5 starts here.

Jack Harvey

He’s at his best here. He’s never started worse than seventh including a podium in 2019 and 4 top eights in 6 tries.

Romain Grosjean

He earned the pole back in May of last year, led the most laps and finished on the podium.

Be Wary

Scott Dixon

He finally won in July 2020 for his fourth straight top two at the time. His finishes since? 9th, 8th, 9th and 17th respectively.

Pato O’Ward

3 top 8’s in his 5 starts but none better than fifth as it has seemed like they’ve just been missing something compared to the Penske’s.

Simon Pagenaud

Used to be his playground too. He had three wins and five top fours in his first 7 starts on this track. But, over his last 4 he’s had no top fives with finishes of 16th, 10th, 6th and 16th respectively.

Helio Castroneves

He had 5 straight top sixes in his first 5 Indy road course starts but he’s been 20th or worse in his last four.

Felix Rosenqvist

1 top 10 in 6 starts here with 3 of his finishes being 13th or worse.


Preview

Pato O’Ward became the 3rd different NTT INDYCAR Series driver to win in the 1st 4 races run this season on the last time out at the Barber Motorsports Park. He beat Alex Palou by .9800-seconds in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, while Palou now becomes the 3rd different driver to lead the points leaving the same 4 races too. The thing is, while we’ve had 3 different winners, and 3 different point leaders, all 4 races were still won by Chevrolet’s though too.

The bowties are off to an undefeated start to the 2022 season with 4 wins in 4 races by 3 different drivers. They’ve also won 3 of the 4 poles and have taken 7 of the 12 podium spots as well.

Furthermore, Chevy has led 412 out of 523 (79%).

Chevy, dominated the series when they came back in 2012. However, with the UAK coming out in 2018, Honda turned the tide to close the gap. In 2018, Honda won 11 times compared to Chevy’s 6. 2019 went back to Chevy (9-8) but the two tied in 2020 (7-7). Last year, it was 9-7 in favor of Honda with Chevy now leading 4-0 in 2022.

In the three year span of the Aerokits from 2015 through 2017, it was Chevy 34, Honda 15. With the same car this time around, it’s Honda 35, Chevrolet 32.

Now, we go to Indy this weekend to where Chevy has won each of the last 4 races on the 2.439-mile Indy road course including totaling 9 of the last 10 in general.

Still, heading to Indy, Palou, last year’s champion, leads Scott McLaughlin by a mere 3 points. If you go back to last season, Palou has 6 top 4 results in the last 7 races run and heading to a month to where he was runner-up in the Indy 500. He leads all 3 Penske drivers heading to Indy now this time around.

McLaughlin, has 3 top 6 results in 4 races run this season.

Josef Newgarden is 3rd (-9) and is the only repeat winner this season. Will Power (-10) is 4th but is the only driver with a top 4 in every race run in 2022. He’s done that 4 prior times in his career, the first 3 he finished 2nd in the final standings and the last (2014) he won the title.

O’Ward went from 13th to 5th in 2 races and now has a big month ahead. The last time he raced on the Indy road course, he won the pole last August. Then, it’s the Indy 500 to where he’s finished 6th and 4th in his 2 tries. After that it’s to Belle Isle to where he won a year ago.

Scott Dixon (-31) is 6th in points and has a top 10 in all 4 races run, but has just 1 win in his last 26 starts overall dating back to the second Gateway race in 2020 too. He had six wins in the 20 races prior as this span between wins is the second longest of his career. The other was 39 races between wins at Richmond in 2003 and Watkins Glen in 2005 as well as 36 races between his win in Nazareth during the 2001 season and his next victory in the 2003 season opener in Homestead. In fact, Dixon has just 6 podiums in his last 26 starts compared to 20 in his previous 31.

Rinus VeeKay is 7th (-38) but enters Indy with 3 top 10’s in 4 races. He won the Indy road course last year, was on the front row for the Indy 500 and was runner-up in Belle Isle. This could be a big stretch for him too.

The thing is, VeeKay had 6 top 10’s in the first 7 races run a year ago. Then he had a cycling injury missed Road America and his season completely changed. Over the final 7 races post injury, he had 0 top 15’s.

The Andretti Autosport bunch is 8th (Romain Grosjean), 11th (Colton Herta), 13th (Alexander Rossi) and 24th (Devlin DeFrancesco) in points. They’re reeling. Herta, had pit road problems plague him for St. Pete and Texas. He was pushing too hard coming to pit lane in Long Beach and crashed. Qualifying hampered him in Barber and while pushing hard in the race, he spun and went from 6th to 10th. Rossi, had a bad pit call in St. Pete, a mechanical failure in Texas, and a bad pit stop in Long Beach and Barber now. His winless streak is now to 41 races. He has just  has just 8 podiums and only 11 top fives in that span too.

The Andretti Autosport driver seemed to be on a quick path to a championship once he won his second career NTT IndyCar Series race in Watkins Glen during that 2017 season. From the Toronto race that season through the one at Road America in 2019, Rossi had six wins, 16 podiums and 22 top five finishes in a span of 33 races. 

But, here we are.

He was second in the championship in 2018 and third in 2019. But, this dip started during the middle of that ’19 season which is why he didn’t hoist the Astor Cup championship trophy that season and why he’s hasn’t yet overall. He was 10th in the final standings last year and currently 16th now following an 8th place result in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

He hasn’t won a race since Road America in 2019. He led 54 of 55 laps that day. In fact, that was the 10th race of that season. At that point, he had led in 7 of the 10 races to account for 182 laps led.

But, over the last 40 races during this winless streak, he’s led a total of 95 laps. He led 83 laps in 2020, two last year and 10 in St. Pete. That’s it.

Also during this 40 race drought, he has finished 17th or worse in 7 of his last 19 starts. He had 6 finishes of 17th or worse in his previous 47 races.

We saw how much testing was important for Barber and Andretti tried a couple of times to test this road course but mother nature won out every time. How much of a factor does this play?

Indy is a huge month so we’ll see how much this changes between now and June.

Of Note

Chevrolet has won 9 of the 11 races on the IMS road course so far.


Key Stat

10 of the previous 11 races held on this circuit have been won by drivers who had either won an INDYCAR championship or soon would. Those include five wins by Will Power (No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet), three by Simon Pagenaud (No. 60 Dallara-Honda and one each by Scott Dixon (No. 9 Dallara-Honda) and Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Dallara-Chevrolet). VeeKay, who will drive the No. 21 Dallara-Chevrolet, is the lone non-champion to have won one of the non-oval events.

7 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s