Yes, I know that the two Texas races were technically in may. But that was an accident brought about by the calendar and COVID . Besides, those races truly sucked and were hours-long ads for “Maybe racing open wheel cars on ovals isn’t such a hot idea?”
That said, May really starts this week with practice for the GP of Indy. So, where do things stand with almost one quarter of the season done?
Things are pretty tight considering that Honda has won three of the four races. Honda’s lead is only 14 points, which is about one normal race. The reason for this is simple: a Chevy driver has finished second in every one of the four races, including the race that Chevy won. To pile up points, one manufacturer or the other has to get a podium sweep. There hasn’t been one of those this year. Until there is, the manufacturers fight will remain close.
Scott Dixon (Ganassi-Honda), the winner of Texas Race 1, leads with 153 points. Pato O’Ward (Arrow-McLaren-Chevy), the winner of Texas Race 2, is 22 points behind. Alex Palou (Ganassi-Honda), the Winner of Barber, is third 4 points behind Palou. But it’s really anyone’s to win. There are more than 250 points available over the next four weeks: The Indy GP, the Indy 500, and the two Detroit races. If someone does what Simon Pagenaud (Penske-Chevy) did in 2019 when he won the GP of Indy and the Indy 500, that person would jump into the top 3.
Drivers in trouble:
Even though it’s early, and none of the drivers has pulled out to a big lead in the Driver’s Championship, there are trends that should bother drivers who were expected to challenge for the driver’s title:
Alexander Rossi(Andretti-Honda) is mired in 15th, almost 90 points behind Scott Dixon. To get back in the game, he is looking for podiums at every one of the five races between now and July. And it would be nice if he won a couple of those races, especially the Indy 500, which is worth double points. The good news for Rossi is that he finished second and third in the October races last year at the Indy Road Course. The bad news is that he finished 25th in the July road race at Indy. To be any kind of threat, he has to be done with those kinds of races.
Ryan Hunter-Reay (Andretti-Honda) is in the same boat with Rossi, but two seats farther back from the bow.
Felix Rosenqvist (McLaren-Chevy) has had luck that rivals Rossi’s, and is in the same area of the standings. Unlike Rossi, whose seat is safe, Rosenqvist’s new team has shown a compunction for getting rid of drivers.
Will Power (Penske-Chevy) and Colton Herta (Andretti-Honda) are a lot farther back than I expected them to be. Both have had a mixture of good and bad results, and find themselves 50-something points off the lead. They don’t need anymore 20-something finishes.
Who’s going to win the Indy GP?
The last four races on the Indy Road course have been won by either Scott Dixon or one of the Penske drivers. There is little reason to bet against that trend. Turn one on lap one has quite the history of carnage, so everything depends on how well you get through that corner.
What have we learned from Texas about the Indy 500?
Of the Honda Runners, the teams that dominated the Indy 500 last season had very good cars at Texas. This would be the Ganassi and Rahal teams. And the Andretti cars were not quite at the same level.
On the Chevy side, the big take-away was that Arrow-McLaren was competitive with Penske. The Ed Carpenter team, which normally does well on ovals, was a little off stride.
For a lot of reasons, Texas is something more of an outlier than it has been, so take that with a grain of salt.
What should I watch for during Indy 500 practice?
Last year was a Honda year, and it showed in the three practice sessions leading up to qualifying Saturday. Honda cars dominated the sessions, leading every session and taking three of the top four positions. On Friday, when the boost is turned up to qualifying level, Honda took nine of the top ten positions.
If that kind of pattern repeats, then it’s another Honda year. Will it be? I doubt it. Honda clearly found something, and Chevy has had nine months to shoot at that target. It would be harder for Honda to take another significant step in a formula that is this mature (this will be the 10th Indy 500 with this engine formula). I would be surprised if 2021 was as much of a rout as 2020 was.
Last season, Honda had both a speed and a fuel mileage advantage. I would expect the speed difference to close up somewhat. This is a mature formula, and Honda clearly found something last season. Chevy-Ilmor did not have anything last year, but I would be surprised if they have not found something this year. And it is always easier to catch up than it is to stay in front. Fuel mileage is a funny thing at Indy. It helps, but there are circumstances that take it out of play. Like a late caution in 2019 turned the race from a Honda 1-2-3 into a Chevy win.
There are two other variables to be aware of: first, this is the second year with the add-on aero-screen. It’s likely that last year Honda found something that made their cars more stable at high speed. The Chevy teams have had nine months to simulate that behavior and figure out how to match it.
Second, there is new aero from Indycar, just for the 500. This is an attempt to address the twitchiness the aero screen introduced last year. This is another thing for Honda or Chevy to master. No one knows where they are on this just now, or whether it will work.
Novel things about this Indy 500
Helio Castroneves will be attempting to win his fourth Indy 500, this time driving a Meyer-Shank with Andretti Honda. It will be interesting to see what he can bring over from Penske during the week.
Juan Montoya will be attempting to win his third Indy 500, this time with Arrow-McLaren-Chevy.
Takuma Sato is the only other multiple race winner in the field. He will also be after his third Indy 500 win.
Tony Kanaan, the 2013 winner, will be driving Jimmy Johnson’s Ganassi-Honda in the 500.
There are six drivers in the field that have won the 500 once each. Altogether, six former winners are driving Hondas, and three are driving Chevys.
Simona DeSilvestro is the first woman in the race in a couple of years. She is running with a mostly-women team run by Peth Peretta with assistance from Team Penske. This may be the best chance to have a woman win the 500 since Danica Patrick left for NASCAR .