The month of May for 2016 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been reached for the teams and drivers of the Verizon IndyCar Series with many questions to be handled. Does Chevrolet have an inherent advantage over Honda that will manifest to even greater levels this month? Can Honda finally sway the momentum in their direction after showing some potential last month in Alabama? And finally, can Team Penske’s Simon Pagenaud or Will Power claim a second triumph in three years Saturday afternoon in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis?
While Pagenaud used superior fuel strategy to win the inaugural event on the 2.439 mile layout, Power dominated from the pole to win last year’s second edition of the event. For 2016, 25 drivers (21 full-time, 4 guests) will do battle when practice opens on Thursday. Obviously, all eyes will be on the former winners, however there are other stories to ponder for the 82 lap distance.
If Honda is to breakthrough for their first victory of the season, it appears that for the second consecutive season Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal appears to be the most capable of doing so entering the first leg of the Indy doubleheader. For the second straight season, the driver of the No. 15 Steak N’ Shake Restaurant Honda finished second at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, and will of course seek to place one notch on the famous IMS scoring pylon in 2016, after finishing second to Will Power last year.
Also consider who could have challenged for the race win a year ago in the Grand Prix of Indy, had a first lap incident not occurred at the tight opening chicane at the end of the reversed front straightaway. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon, who started on the outside last year along with Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden of Ed Carpenter Racing were all involved in the opening lap scuffle and neither of the three were able to place higher than the sixth place result earned by Castroneves at the finish. Although Power proved that qualifying is important, surviving the first corner appears to the ultimate judge as first lap melees have hampered the start of the first two editions of this race, most notably the stall out at the standing start two years ago that eventually saw current Schmidt Peterson Motorsports pilot Mikhail Aleshin end up on top of inaugural race pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra.
While those in the full time fleet are seeking a high result to cut into a large early cushion held by Simon Pagenaud, who has finished no worse than second in each of the first four races to start the 2016 campaign, the opportunities are limitless for the four drivers set to contest only the Grand Prix and the Indianapolis 500. Of the four “guest” drivers that will participate, only Ed Carpenter Racing’s J.R. Hildebrand has previous experience in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Hildebrand, who came so close to winning the 2011 Indianapolis 500 as a rookie, was able to survive the early mishap and move into the top ten in the early stages of last year’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis. However, mechanical and pit road mishaps relegated him to a 20th-place finish. The other three guests are also capable of a result. Alex Tagliani, who will drive in both IMS events for A.J. Foyt Racing won the pole position for the same 2011 Indy 500, KVSH Racing’s Matthew Brabham claimed the first of two races on the IMS road course in 2014 for the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Series during the Grand Prix weekend, while Rahal’s RLLR teammate Spencer Pigot will make his second IndyCar start of the 2016 season, after opening with a 14th-place finish in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
While Graham Rahal could once again factor in the outcome as he did a year ago, the edge once again seems to be tilted in favor of the Chevrolet-powered entries, most notably Team Penske. While all four of their drivers could claim the third edition of the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, the best bet appears to be current championship points leader Simon Pagenaud, who has proven equally effective on both road courses and ovals to open this season. If the Frenchman makes the Firestone Fast Six and survives the drama at the first chicane, there’s no reason to believe he is not capable of becoming the first two-time of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis.