May in IndyCar is the month everyone is waiting for: the drivers, the fans, the media. This year, I approach it with new colors, fully motivated.
But before things get serious, I took a little break this weekend and stopped by the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Miami. It was really amazing. Americans know how to put on a show and I fully enjoyed the unique atmosphere. I’ve already been to an F1 Grand Prix, Hungary in 2019 just after my victory in the Indy 500 but being more of a spectator in Miami, I had lots of time to meet old and make new friends in the paddock.
Here is a picture on the starting grid with my Meyer Shank Racing teammate, Helio Castroneves:
But now, the most important time of the season, the Indy 500, is just around the corner. So, I’d like to take the opportunity to share with you my feelings about the car and my new team. How did I get used to the new ride, what elements needed to be modified to be competitive on such a demanding circuit? Let me tell you.
Test at IMS
In April, just before Barber, we tested the car in real conditions at the IMS, although the weather wasn’t the best. After seven years behind the wheel of a Team Penske car, I have to say that the package as well as the Honda engine are completely different.
One of the most important things to understand was how to run in traffic and how the engine behaves. When lifting the throttle, I needed to work out how much the car decelerates compared to last year. This helps me to choose the right moment to accelerate again, dive into the corners, pass cars and go to the front.
A good baseline
On the Speedway, overall, the car behaves well. However, I had to make a lot of small adjustments. You have to understand that at more than 235 mi/h when you turn into a corner, the slightest wheel movement has much greater consequences than on road or urban tracks. What you feel in your hands and your back is important and has a big impact on your commitment level. We had to adjust the wheel, the steering, and the alignment of the wheels to get a better feel in the car. Something we managed to do well. I am happy with the feeling in the car when I turn into a corner. We still have to work on the balance, but we don’t have to worry about the top speed. I think we have made great progress. We have an excellent baseline going forward.
The GMR Grand Prix and the Indy 500
This weekend, May 14, is the kick-off of a fortnight in Indianapolis with the race on the IMS road course. I appreciate this track and I performed well here in the past with three victories. The simulator tests showed that the car behaves well.
This Grand Prix will give show me the right direction for what follows just a week later: the Indy 500 qualifying. It’s really a unique event, literally, because the race itself doesn’t take place until a week later, on May 29.
New qualifying format
This year, new rules will be introduced for qualifying which will take place over two days in three rounds, against two previously. On Saturday, all drivers will have at least one four-lap attempt. Then each driver can complete as many attempts as he wants with the best attempt being taken into account. One particularity are the two starting lines. If a pilot starts from Line 1, his previous time will be canceled, but he will have priority over a pilot waiting in Line 2. The first 30 will be on the starting grid.
On Sunday, there are three additional rounds. First of all, the so-called ‘last chance qualifying’ which guarantees any driver beyond the top 30 one attempt for a place on the last row of the starting grid. If multiple attempts are made, previous times are canceled.
Then, the top twelve of Saturday’s qualifying will make a qualifying attempt, starting from the slowest to the fastest. Each driver has a minimum of one attempt. The fastest six advance to the Fast Six to determine positions 1 – 6. The six slowest times will start from rows three and four.
During the week between the Indy 500 qualifying and the race, a lot is going on. Of course, the pole-man will have many commitments, between photo shoots and official visits, but it is also a busy week for all the pilots. Practice sessions will be held throughout the week before the 200-lap race starts on Sunday at 11 am ET.
I obviously hope to be at the front and I count on you for your support. We are going to have a crazy month of May!