Unspoken Rules: INDYCAR Grand Prix

Outside of hardcore gearheads, many around Indy might be unfamiliar with the race before the 500. Let us catch you up to speed.

Now that two weeks of speed testing and practices at Indianapolis Motor Speedway have wrapped, it’s time to go racing. Since changes in IndyCar scheduling have truncated the historic month-long pit stop at IMS, officials at both IndyCar and IMS have worked to fill the month with action on the track. This weekend sees the fifth annual Grand Prix at IMS, the “official” start to May in racing terms. Here’s what you should know:

  • It’s a great start to the month. For years, fans had to wait all of May to see some racing on the track. IMS decided to change that, and in 2014 the Grand Prix of Indianapolis (its original name) was created.
  • It won’t be nearly as crowded as the Indianapolis 500. While the 500 will see between 250,000–350,000 fans most years, the Grand Prix averages between 25,000–45,000.
  • Look right! The cars drive a different direction on the course, which consists of 14 turns and runs clockwise, the opposite way of the 500. There are just 85 laps.
  • Winning the pole matters. It may be different this year but the pole sitter for the last three races has gone coast-to-coast and won the race.
  • Watch the first turn—it’s the course’s most treacherous. For the past couple of years, a wreck has happened there on the first lap. Going 190 mph down the straightaway and making a quick turn isn’t exactly easy to do.
  • There aren’t as many drivers. While the 500 will have 33 drivers in the field, the Grand Prix is like any other typical IndyCar race and will have just over 20.
  • Penske domination. Outside of Simon Pagenaud winning the inaugural race back in 2014 with Sam Schmidt Motorsports, Penske drivers have won the last three races in convincing fashion. Will Power won last year’s race by five seconds.
  • Only two drivers have won the race since it was started in 2014. Pagenaud became the first two-time winner in 2016 and Power followed that up by winning his second last year.
  • The course is just a modified version of the one used for the United States Grand Prix and Moto GP race. From 2000–2007, the United States Grand Prix took place at IMS, and from 2008–2015, the Moto GP Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix raced on the course.
  • What’s in a name? The race has now had three different names in its short time on the circuit. The inaugural race was just called the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. From 2015–2016, it was the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, and for the last two years it has just been called the INDYCAR Grand Prix.
  • There are seven opportunities to see racing of some sort on opening weekend. Between two USF2000 races, two Pro Mazda races, 2 Indy Lights races and the INDYCAR Grand Prix, race fans will get their fill of racing on opening weekend.
  • Much shorter buildup leading to the race. Unlike the 500, where there are weeks leading up to the race and multiple rounds of qualifying, the Grand Prix will only have one qualifying session, three practice rounds, and then the race.