Parity around series entering Indy 500

The lone deduction about the IZOD IndyCar Series championship through the first segment of road/street course races is that it’s up for grabs.

There have been three different winners and pole sitters in the four races, including first-time victors James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato, and the points lead has changed three times. Sato, with a victory and runner-up finish in the past two street circuit races, holds the top spot by 13 points over Marco Andretti.

First through 10th (Charlie Kimball) are separated by 56 points, but with bonus points from 15-3 awarded through the 33-car field for Indianapolis 500 qualifications May 18 (other races the pole sitter receives one bonus point) the tide could quickly change again. Last year after four races, the gap was 98 points between first (Will Power) and 10th (Dario Franchitti).

So Franchitti, the defending Indy 500 champion who is 15th in the standings, and Power, who sits 18th, could make up significant ground with strong performances in Indianapolis 500 qualifying and the race on May 26 (50 points awarded to the winner through 5 for 33rd place; two bonus points for leading the most laps and one bonus point for leading at least one lap).

''This year has been interesting,'' said reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won at Barber and has two Verizon P1 Awards but is sixth in the standings. ''There's been extremely close competition. This is by far the most competitive season, so it's very tough to take an advantage and keep it. It's very tough to score points.'' 

It’s unanimous that the racing has been exciting on the diverse set of courses with 23 total lead changes and green flag margin of victories of 1.0982 seconds at St. Petersburg, .6363 of a second at Barber Motorsports Park, and .3463 of a second at Brazil. Sato won at Long Beach under caution.

“IndyCar has just become so incredibly competitive and it makes it a lot of fun; that also makes it very difficult but frankly it’s pretty damn enjoyable to go out there and know you're racing against some of the toughest competition there is,” said Graham Rahal, who has a high finish of second at Long Beach.

Some stats from the first quarter of road/street course events that amplifies Rahal’s position:

3 – Different winners and pole sitters in four races, including first-time victors James Hinchcliffe and Takuma Sato

4 -- Multiple podium finishers (Marco Andretti, Takuma Sato, James Hinchcliffe, Helio Castroneves)

8 – Different podium finishers and different teams in the top 10 of the standings

14 – Cars running at the finish in all four races covering 355 laps

15 – Drivers with at least one top-five finish

19 – Cars on the lead lap (of 25 entries) in the 75-lap race on the 2.536-mile, 11-turn temporary street circuit at Sao Paulo on May 5

20 – Drivers with at least one top-10 finish

23 – Total lead changes in the four races

56 – Points separating front-runner Sato and 10th-place Charlie Kimball. Last year after four races the gap was 98 points

72 – Sato paces the field in laps led, but Ryan Hunter-Reay (70) and Helio Castroneves (67) are on the rear wing of the No. 14 ABC Supply car for A.J. Foyt Racing. Nine others have led laps through the four races

Next up is the 200-lap race May 26 on the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval, which Oriol Servia compared to a woman: “Some days she loves you, treats you well, some days she is mad at you and you don't know why.”

''The time to peak is toward the end of this month, maybe the 26th of May,'' Franchitti said. ''That's the time we all want to hit maximum form.'' 

The first IZOD IndyCar Series doubleheader June 1-2 at Belle Isle in Detroit bisects the prime oval portion of the schedule -- events at Texas Motor Speedway, Milwaukee, Iowa Speedway and Pocono Raceway all in less than a month.