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Team & Driver Preview: IndyCar Grand Prix

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Although neither of the previous winners of the IndyCar Grand Prix has won the Indianapolis 500, Team Penske pilots Will Power and Simon Pagenaud will look for early momentum this weekend, as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway infield road course takes center stage.

Concerning the Australian and the Frenchman, a significant result is badly needed in general for each. Power has only snatched-up a runner-up placement at Long Beach, to combat three sub-par returns in the other rounds. Pagenaud likewise, is reeling entering the IndyCar Grand Prix, faring no better than ninth in Alabama last month.

If the two regular rabbits follow form and are absent this weekend, could the other half of the Penske quartet step forward? A third triumph in five rounds would place reigning Verizon IndyCar Series titlist Josef Newgarden in a solid spot looking beyond May. In direct comparison, three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves is also entering via a victory lane visit, having taken the checkered flag first in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race at Mid-Ohio on Sunday.

The Brazilian however, is not the only driver looking to cash-in on a limited window of opportunity. Two competitors on Saturday, are not expected to make a go of it for the Indianapolis 500. One is Jordan King, whose seat at Ed Carpenter Racing will be taken by the team boss when attention shifts to the oval. The other is Zachary Claman de Melo from Dale Coyne Racing. Neither chauffeur has managed a top-10 to date in IndyCar action; however, the IndyCar Grand Prix exposes a chance to take some accolades this month.

The circuit’s other two event victors also figure to play a part in the outcome on Saturday afternoon. Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi ran away from the fleet in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and has paired it up with two third-place outings at St. Petersburg and Phoenix. Sebastien Bourdais began the 2018 campaign with a repeat triumph in Florida, yet is trying to cover a couple of ugly 13ths that are alongside it.

Rounding out the top-five on the current points table, Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe each have avoided the bad results, yet neither has posted a P1 in 2018. The Ohio-native has come the closest, taking runner-up honors in the St. Petersburg opener. The No. 15 Honda pilot likewise, has been a regular threat on the Brickyard road course, earning top-six or better outputs each year since 2015. The Mayor of Hinchtown has suffered more frustration as opposed to glory on the Hulman Boulevard-featured design. Despite coming home third in 2015, the Canadian was forced out of the 2014 event, after being hit in the helmet by flying debris and suffering a concussion.

While Hinchcliffe has had a few tastes of humble pie in the town of Speedway, Indiana, his rookie teammate at Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Robert Wickens might take a better liking to the venue. The former touring car ace has come close to victory in two of the four 2018 rounds, and could finally join the first-time winners’ club if a good grid position is secured in Friday qualifying. Hard to believe with the performance of the No. 6 machine to date, that the wheelman is also a Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate.

Even if a clean sweep of the month of May is once again whiffed upon in 2018, the driver triumphant in Saturday’s IndyCar Grand Prix, will either join the storylines ahead of Indy 500 time trials weekend or further his resume in the run-up to it.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattEmbury

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Matt Embury

An auto racing writer for over five years, Matt Embury's interest in auto racing was influenced from his father's side of the family. His first recollection of live racing attendance was in the early 1990s watching winged sprint car action at Butler Motor Speedway in Michigan with his uncle and dad.

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