Today’s question: What will you watch most closely during the Indy 500 Open Test this Thursday and Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway?
Curt Cavin: Let’s establish that we likely won’t learn anything definitive about the strength of this year’s field, especially as it relates to performance in next month’s race. In last year’s test held on the same two April days, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden delivered the fastest lap at 229.519 mph. A month later he qualified 14th and finished 13th in the race. Marcus Ericsson won that “500,” but he only had the 10th-fastest lap in the test. Carrying it a step further, the top-five finishers in last year’s race had an average ranking of 13.2 in the April test. What I’m watching for is how do the team battles start to develop? Until proven otherwise, Chip Ganassi Racing is the team to beat, but Arrow McLaren Racing has four drivers who finished last year’s race in the top five. And does Team Penske put together its best month since 2019? We won’t know this week, but the drama begins to build.
SEE: Indy 500 Open Test Preview
Joey Barnes: First and foremost, Curt is spot on with the expectations, or lack thereof, the test provides for the Month of May festivities for this year’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. However, there is always something to be gained. For that reason, I’m looking at the smaller teams – AJ Foyt Racing, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, Juncos Hollinger Racing and Meyer Shank Racing, to be specific. Additionally, most of what I want to see is based on Thursday; the forecast calls for it to be in the low 80s (and possibly the less-than-ideal wind gusts up to 30 mph), which could, in all possibility, be the range of ambient temperatures for Race Day on May 28. I feel like that is part of why last year’s test numbers versus Indy 500 finishes that Curt alluded to were so far apart, because the weather was dramatically different. So, if the forecast holds, I’d be curious how quickly those smaller teams can get acclimated, how the synergy is, etc. This all said, is it May yet?
Paul Kelly: Curt and Joey are right: I’m not convinced anyone shows their true speed at the Open Test because, after all, it’s just a test. It’s a place to prepare for the biggest month of the season, to learn what works and what doesn’t work before the IMS gates open in May. But horsepower matters more at Indianapolis arguably more than any track in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, so I’m going to see if any engine manufacturer trends start to emerge Thursday and Friday. It’s early days, but Honda-powered drivers took the top five spots on the podium at the street race in Long Beach after Chevy took three of the top five spots on the St. Petersburg street circuit. Meanwhile, Chevy took the top two spots on the Texas oval, with Honda taking spots three through five. That calculus shows it’s still too early to detect a big edge for one manufacturer. But I’m a big hockey fan, and now that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway, I want to see how the power play unfolds in another sport this Thursday and Friday at IMS. Oh, I also love to see the reactions of the rookies after they complete their first laps on the oval. It’s always a mixture of incredulity, pride and relief, along with a healthy dollop of “that’s crazy, man.”