Alex Palou

Reigning NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Alex Palou credits a lesson learned in last year’s final practice for catapulting him to the race win that May day on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Will that help the polesitter of today’s Sonsio Grand Prix? Tune in to NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network at 3 p.m. ET to find out.

SEE: Starting Lineup/Tire Choice

Last year, Palou said he was undecided on his Firestone Firehawk tire choice to start the race – the more durable primary compound with the black sidewalls or the typically faster but more short-lived red alternates – but something tipped his hand in the warmup. Going against the grain, Palou became the only driver in the top seven to begin with the reds, and he used them to vault from third to first on the opening lap. He then used primaries the rest of the way and drove to a 16.8006-second victory as a springboard to his second series championship in the past three years.

The field took note of Palou’s winning strategy, and five of the top seven starters for the August race at IMS did likewise. Graham Rahal would have won the race that way if not for Scott Dixon going off strategy following the contact he incurred in Turn 7 on Lap 1.

Starting on primaries had been the way to go in prior years on this circuit, with the top 11 drivers in a 2022 race doing so. Tire strategy figures to be a determining factor in today’s race, too. For now, expect many of the frontrunners to begin on the alternates, but this series usually is full of surprises.

The other thing to watch today is the weather. Expectations call for sunny skies and comfortable temperatures in the upper 60s. Those conditions are similar to what Team Penske and Andretti Global, among others, experienced in late-March testing, but the dots don’t always connect. Team Penske qualified its three drivers in the top 13, with Will Power and Josef Newgarden reaching the Firestone Fast Six. Andretti Global’s three drivers didn’t fare nearly as well, settling for the 14th (Kyle Kirkwood), 21st (Marcus Ericsson) and 24th (Colton Herta) starting positions in the 27-car field.

However, don’t put too much weight on qualifying. The pole winner has failed to win the past six races here, and recent winners have started 14th and 15th.

Power has been the dominant driver of these IMS road course races, and several drivers said they expected him to win Friday’s NTT P1 Award. The two-time series champion has won five of the 15 races on this track, with six poles. Newgarden, another two-time series champion, also has won here, part of Team Penske’s series-leading eight wins.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Dixon (twice), Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay, Andretti Global w/Curb-Agajanian’s Herta and Arrow McLaren’s Alexander Rossi also are former race winners on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. Today, Dixon has his best starting position – sixth – in the past nine races here while Rossi has his best starting position of the season in seventh.

Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing teammate Christian Lundgaard were the fastest qualifiers of the two races here last year, and they figure to have fast cars today. Lundgaard starts second, Rahal ninth. Both have finished second in recent races on this circuit, Rahal three times in his career. Lundgaard has finished second, fourth and fourth in the past three events here.

What else to know: The most recent IMS road course race produced 12 lead changes among eight drivers, the highest figures ever for each category here. This race will span 85 laps, and all signs point to them being entertaining.

The standings reflect the competitiveness of the series. Herta leads Power by a single point with Palou within three points of the lead (two when Friday’s pole is factored in).

Many fans at the track today will get their first look at recent facility improvements, including a host of new video boards and audio upgrades. Supporting the new spectator mound at Turn 1 of the road course are 11 new video boards. There is a new video board with added audio on the back of the Northwest Vista for Gate 9 enjoyment.

The north end of Tower Terrace has a larger video board facing C Stand. There also are upgraded video boards at Gate 1 and Turn 7. A new audio system is in place for the mounds at Turns 3, 6 and the 7-8-9 complex of the road course along with the mounds inside Turn 2 of the oval.

Each spectator tram also has a new audio system to provide event information, and a new express serving concept has been installed in Pagoda Plaza, offering grab-and-go options.

Teams will have grab-and-go options, as well. Red tires, black tires. Which order? Tune in to see.