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Open-Wheel Wednesday: Fingers Crossed for the GP of Indianapolis

It’s May, which can mean only one thing. Ha, whatever, it can mean lots of things. Mother’s Day is just about upon us.  College graduations are set to unleash a new flood of graduates into the world. Music festivals. Season finales for numerous TV shows. Playoffs. But for motorsports, the month of May has traditionally been associated with the Indianapolis 500.

The change to May has already brought about this focus as the cars have already hit the quad-oval, with Juan Pablo Montoya leading the charge. Then there’s reason to be optimistic as Andretti’s cars looked decent. Then there’s the intrigue of drivers who are climbing into the car solely for this race, like Pippa Mann or Alex Tagliani, who have found rides. That nearly the whole month is devoted to this one race is surprising in modern times and also brings about the likelihood that however things stand now, they won’t be the same when Pole Day comes around. Whether or not Bump Day will be interesting is something altogether different.

Before moving on to the big race, however, there’s a little one to get out of the way this coming weekend. That’s right, the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis takes place this Saturday. It will be the second iteration of the event following Simon Pagenaud’s victory last year. The question that accompanies this race is whether or not it will bring about any added attention.

One of the reasons for the race’s development was to add more excitement to the Month of May festivities. To be realistic, it is difficult for the one track or event to hold people’s attention (media or fans) for a whole month. In a way, the GP is an easy, smart move, but convenience doesn’t always work to best of everything because there was something that felt just a little off about the inaugural race.

Perhaps it was the rain-soaked qualifying session that felled Ryan Hunter-Reay and gave Sebastian Saavedra the pole. Or maybe it was the standing start that turned disastrous. Oh yeah, that’s right, Saavedra couldn’t get going and was then punted by Carlos Munoz and Mikhail Aleshin. If there were evidence of one of IndyCar’s issues, it was for the series to continue haphazardly using standing starts. Either they’re part of the sport or they’re not, right?

Then there was the race, which in many ways was no different than many other road course or street events, except that James Hinchcliffe suffered a concussion from debris in an incident that didn’t quite get the coverage it deserved. No worries, Hinch-town still bounced back in time for his qualifying session.

So the race wasn’t a disaster, and certainly not as bad as the race in New Orleans this season, but it wasn’t exactly something to praise or to generate overwhelming enthusiasm moving forward. That make’s this year’s race all the more important.

The last two races, Long Beach and Barber, have been quite decent for the series. They’ve featured everything that a fan should want to see, from the clean racing, to infrequent cautions, to the fact that teams used differing strategies and the fact that the results have been unexpected. Josef Newgarden’s win at Barber shows that there’s the potential for a young American driver to have an impact in the sport, while also showing that the merger between Sarah Fisher-Hartman Racing and Ed Carpenter Racing benefitted both, and gives the grid another car capable of winning.

The attendance at the race last year wasn’t quite what the promoters had hoped. Yes, it sold well, but was not a sell out, with expectations in the 40-50,000 range while it seems that maybe 30,000 showed up. That shows a certain hesitancy from the fans as to whether or not they want to embrace the event.

That’s one of the problems. Some feel that the historic track doesn’t need any kind of opening event to get things going, that the oval race is all that matters, and in a way, the GP detracts from it. That also seems like one of those arguments against change for the sake of arguing against change.

The key for this race is that it needs to follow in the form of the two that have preceded it this season. Fast, clean, and good racing. Might that be too much to ask? It’s difficult to say but if it’s going to start getting any kind of following, it’d be a good start. The only problem, and the one that is out of everyone’s hands is the weather, and the current forecast puts rain on the track. There’s always something with IndyCar, isn’t there?

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