IndyCar GP - Preview

Can Will Power get his fourth victory on the Indy road course?

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IndyCar GP - Preview
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The NTT IndyCar Series kicks off its Motorsport Month of May with the IndyCar Grand Prix.

Think of it as a hearty appetizer before the main course that is the Indianapolis 500 on May 26th. There's a lot of preparatory action to digest before that, with practice sessions, qualifying, carb day, a pit stop competition, and so much more! As we've seen in the past, the event that takes place before the biggest race on the calendar can help a team build momentum or extinguish it very quickly.

Will Power carried that momentum to his first Indy 500 victory with Penske Racing last year. It's a track he feels very comfortable at, having won three out of the previous five races. His teammate Simon Pagenaud has won the other two. Josef Newgarden would have likely finished on the podium last year, if it weren't for an overly ambitious passing attempt on Sebastien Bourdais at Turn 12. Instead, he finished 11th and took a big hit in the points. Newgarden has been the model of consistency, so far this year, so it's unlikely we'll see a repeat of that. Qualifying near the front and staying out of any first turn fracas will help ensure a much stronger result for his championship challenge.

Scott Dixon had one of his worst qualifying efforts in recent memory, but battled hard (as he always does) to gain sixteen spots and finish second. The more condensed schedule, with the race taking place on Saturday, means that the teams have much less time to analyze telemetry data and find the optimal setup. With the long front straight, you want a car with very little drag, but you'll also need downforce for the flowing corners and to be kind to your tires.

Speaking of tires, the strategic aspect of this race is one of the most palpable on the calendar. It's traditionally a three stop race, with 20 lap stints, but the tire compound you choose could mean the difference between winning or getting swallowed up by your pursuing competitors. Last year, Robert Wickens took the red Firestone tires during his first stop while Power had to manage his scrubbed black prime tires. Wickens ate him up under braking and it looked as if the Canadian rookie was going to get his first IndyCar victory. However, you want to be on the quicker compound in your last stint, as Power proved, and he dictated the pace until the end.

Safety car possibilities, fuel mileage concerns, and realistic passing opportunities can make this race a nail-biting affair until the last lap. Power even admitted, after winning, that he couldn't remember ever driving so hard to manage his tires and fuel.

Although experience is very beneficial, the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team gave Wickens a fantastic car to drive, so there is a possibility for a breakthrough result for F1 refugee Marcus Ericsson. Felix Rosenqvist has struggled lately and will want to be much closer to his esteemed teammate this weekend. Santino Ferrucci had a Long Beach GP debut to forget, but he's been very strong everywhere else. Recent birthday boy Patricio O' Ward and Colton Herta will be able to put their Indy Lights experience to good use for a strong result. The latter swept both races at the Indy circuit last year.

While not as prolific as Formula E, we could have a fifth different winner on Saturday representing a fifth different team. It will be fascinating to see if Team Penske can continue their dominance of the race after struggling at Barber Motorsports Park. Alexander Rossi and Andretti Autosport will be looking to close the gap to the top even more before preparations begin for the main course at the end of May.

Here is another suggested lineup for the official Fantasy IndyCar Challenge. Two of my picks from the last round finished first and second, so my level of prognostic respectability has marginally increased.

Scott Dixon ($30) - Imagine what he can do if he qualifies better this year?

Will Power ($29) - He's won more than half the previous races. Are you really going to bet against him?

Sebastien Bourdais ($21) - Could he and Dale Coyne Racing make it five different driver and team winners?

Colton Herta ($19) - What's the best way to put that costly mistake in Long Beach fully behind him?

The IndyCar Grand Prix starts this Saturday at 3:00 pm EST on the NBC Network.

(Check your participating IndyCar Media international broadcasting networks for regional times)

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