2018 Indy Month of May

May in Indy. This motorsports phenomenon occupies nearly the entire month, the on-track action building suspense and drama like a theatrical performance. For the fifth year, the Indy Grand Prix provided the introduction to the month with a points-paying race, and Team Penske was ready. Scott Dixon and IndyCar rookie Robert Wickens both ran well early. Wickens grabbed the lead on a set of sticky Firestone Red tires, but Power regained the lead once he traded his blacks for stickier reds. A late caution came just a little too early to leave a comfortable fuel window to the end of the race, and Power was rock-solid in fuel-conservation mode. Power’s win was his third at the Grand Prix, and the 200th for team owner Roger Penske. In post-race interviews, Power remarked that the win set him up with momentum for the 500, and just like that, the prelude was complete.

Following a day off for Mother’s Day and another to switch the track configuration and aero kits on the cars, Indy began the long build to Memorial Day. At Indy, the days leading up to the 500 are known by their names like the corners at Monaco — Fast Friday, Pole Day, Carburetion Day, Bump Day. In 2018, Bump Day was back and carrying an angry grudge against a couple of Indy favorites. IndyCar introduced new aero kits this year, and the speedway kit flummoxed some teams in ways few expected. IndyCar heavyweight teams like Andretti and Rahal Letterman Lanigan struggled to find pace, including James Hinchcliffe, who found himself outside looking in as Bump Day drew to a close. Heading back on-track for a last-ditch effort, he reported a terrible vibration at speed and scrubbed his attempt to come in for different tires. In the meantime, Pippa Mann took another shot at making the field. As time ran out on bump day, both of these crowd favorites were left on the outside of the field of thirty-three.

And then there was just one more named day left — Legends’ Day. Saturday before the race has no on-track action for the Indycar drivers — they’re kept busy with a driver introduction and a parade through downtown Indianapolis. Back at the track, Legends’ Day gave the Indy crowd a chance to see some of the great machines of years gone by. Though the laps weren’t driven in anger, the Offy’s echoing off the Pagoda were lovely. Reviewing these cars back in static display, however, I was struck by one of the things that makes Indy so special. Many of the post-war roadsters featured driveline offset significantly left of the centerline of the car — a design adaptation to turning in only one direction, and I was reminded how much more Indy hangs onto its heritage compared to the other races in the series. In May, IndyCar reconnects with its roots — from pre-war machines to USAC roadsters to the earliest formula cars — in a way not seen elsewhere during the season and rarely seen anywhere else in the sport.

Indy’s finale dawned with the possibility of record temperatures for the race. The pomp and circumstance began early, building to the green flag. Crowd favorite Ed Carpenter paced the field and led early as green-flag laps ticked away. After James Davison took out defending winner Takuma Sato, attrition came one car at a time. Danica, Helio, Kanaan, Bourdais, Ed Jones, Sage Karam — all uncharacteristically spun by themselves. The last of these cautions caught the field just outside the pit window. Several drivers stretched, hoping for a caution, but Power’s Penske team called the winning strategy to put him in the lead and pick up his first Indy win, claiming double points and reviving a slow start to his season. Next up for the IndyCar teams: Belle Isle, Detroit, and next for the Brickyard is the SVRA event there in June.