While the biggest Indy Car race is still 16 days away, there's still the matter of the lead-in. The Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, which began in 2014 with France's Simon Pagenaud winning the inaugural race followed up by Australia's Will Power in 2015, takes place on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
The Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 understandably get more of the attention, but the Grand Prix of Indianapolis will be nationally televised by ABC with drivers chasing a win in the fifth race of the Verizon IndyCar Series. Pagenaud, who has a 48-point lead over New Zealand's Scott Dixon, has two first-place finishes and two runner-up finishes in the first four races, and has a good shot at giving team owner Roger Penske another win this weekend.
"Yeah, I think I'm the favorite," Pagenaud said Thursday, according to The Associated Press. "I think it's better to be in front because you can control it. To me, you've got to be consistent and we have to score big points consistently."
The 31-year-old will get an even bigger confidence boost with a victory on Saturday, with just over two weeks to go until the Indy 500.
And make no mistake, most of the talk on Saturday will revolve around the historic race that awaits. Celebrating its 100th running and fans turning out in record droves, this year’s Indianapolis 500 may harken back to the sport’s recent heyday of the 1980s or later.
Blending some of the recent changes to Indianapolis Motor Speedway with the 500‘s longstanding traditions, the race is scheduled to take place Sunday, May 29, but the entire weekend will be packed with live performances, including on “Carb Day” and feature top acts like Blake Shelton and Journey.
Every seat in the grandstand is reportedly sold out well in advance for the first time in 25 years as the 500 celebrates its centennial, according to ESPN, and IMS president Doug Boles told the site how exciting the even should be.
"We were hopeful that we could sell out every seat for the 100th running, but we were reluctant to say that was one of our goals because we didn't know if we could continue the momentum we've had at such a huge level," Boles said. "I think it says a lot about the Verizon IndyCar Series over the last few years because it's had a terrific level of competition on the racetrack throughout the season. Without that, it's harder to sell IMS out just based on the fact that it's the 100th alone.
"Hopefully we will introduce some new people to the sport who will continue to follow it."
The first practice runs will start on Monday, May 16, and fans can enter when the gates open at 10 a.m., and from there drivers like last year’s runner-up Power will begin the long preparations for the sport’s biggest and most competitive race.
Power was left stunned after he lost to defending champion Juan Pablo Montoya 0.1 of a second last year and he’s hoping to better his performance with a victory in 2016.
“You’d finish your career feeling really happy about it if you won that race,” Power said to USA Today. “And to win a race that size with that many people, to feel that feeling in victory lane, that would just be awesome. It would be something you’d never forget.”
The practice runs eventually lead up to May 22’s “Pole Day,” when drivers will try to clock their fastest times for better positioning before the race. Last year, Dixon recorded 226.760 mph and wound up finishing fourth.