(Photo: Joe Skibinski/IndyCar Media)

Month of May Kicks off with IndyCar Grand Prix

Finally.

It’s been a long wait, but it’s finally May, which is synonymous with one thing: Indianapolis.

While they’re not yet careening around the Brickyard at 230 mph, the NTT IndyCar Series is right at home preparing for one of the newest May traditions, the IndyCar Grand Prix. Now in its sixth year, the Grand Prix sends the series around the famed speedway’s 14-turn road course, serving as the opening weekend for the month’s festivities.

A race once deemed sacrilegious by some has turned into a marquee event on the schedule, and despite being overshadowed by the race that follows it, a trip to victory lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is highly sought-after, no matter how, or when, you get there.

In its short history, two drivers have dominated the race: the Team Penske pairing of Simon Pagenaud and Will Power. Pagenaud claimed victory in the inaugural event, then again in 2016, while Power took the checkered flag in 2015, 2017, and 2018.

Heading back to a track that has treated the duo well could be the spark both need in their 2019 title campaigns. Pagenaud is coming off his first solid weekend in Long Beach, but is mired back in 11th in the season-long points standings. Power, while showing a few of his usual flashes of brilliance this year, has yet to visit victory lane. If either want to be in the thick of it come Laguna Seca, May would be the time to make a move.

But of course, the championship and the IndyCar Grand Prix, are far from the sole focus this weekend. Given that the Indianapolis 500, the most important race of the year in all possible terms, is just two weeks away, getting the Month of May off to a good start is in the back of every driver, owner, sponsor and fan’s mind.

How They’ll Line Up

It should come as no surprise that Will Power, the winner of three of the five road course races held at IMS, was quick early on, leading Practice One, but a little less expected was Spencer Pigot trailing the 2014 champ by just over a tenth of a second. ECR’s full time pilot went P2 in the first session and P3 in the second, a promising start to the short weekend.

Two of the field’s most impressive rookies also showed some speed in Practice Two. Felix Rosenqvist put his Chip Ganassi Honda machine just behind Colton Herta’s, who topped the time sheet yet again this season.

Power, despite looking like his typical dominant self, fell off dramatically in the afternoon, managing to only reach P16 on the time sheet. His teammates, Simon Pagenaud and championship leader Josef Newgarden, both laid down respectable, but underwhelming laps in Practice One, with Newgarden putting his Team Penske Chevy P5 in Practice Two.

But when push came to shove, it was Rosenqvist who captured his first ever NTT IndyCar Series Pole Position. The Swede narrowly bested teammate and five-time champion Scott Dixon, and will lead the field to the green flag on Saturday for the first time.

Jack Harvey, driving a part-time schedule for Meyer Shank Racing, was the feel-good story of the afternoon, driving his way into the Firestone Fast Six and qualifying third for the Columbus, Ohio based outfit.

Shockingly, Alexander Rossi, who dominated at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, was unable to transfer out of the first round. The 2016 Indianapolis 500 winner will start an uncharacteristic 17th on Saturday.

Full IndyCar Grand Prix Qualifying Results

Who to Watch

Rosenqvist turned a lot of heads in St. Pete earlier this year, leading a significant portion of the race in his IndyCar debut. Expectations for the young, but experienced driver certainly rose that weekend, and his performance on Friday afternoon finally matched them. His results since St. Pete have been slightly underwhelming, so the pressure will be on for Rosenqvist to turn the P1 Award into a quality result.

It will also be interesting to see Harvey mix it up in the front of the field. Despite having a realistic chance of winning in the late stages of last year’s Indy 500, the Brit doesn’t have much experience running in the front of the pack. Whether or not his qualifying speed will turn into race speed is yet to be seen, but staying at the front could be a defining moment for his career.

Colton Herta has dealt with some bad luck in the last two rounds, resulting in back-to-back last place finishes. But the youngest winner in series history will start fourth on Saturday in his first IndyCar start at IMS. There’s little doubt as to whether the rookie can drive, but a good showing could prove that he can fight back from a little adversity.

The back of the field should be fun to watch on Saturday, too. Rossi, Newgarden, and Helio Castroneves–making his first start of the year–are all starting in the back half of the grid, so watch out for these hard-chargers to make some bold passes in an effort to contend for a podium, or better yet, a win.

How to Watch

Saturday’s pre-race coverage begins at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC, with the green flag expected to drop at 3:30 p.m E.T. Streaming is available on the NBC Sports App with a cable subscription.

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