INDYCAR drivers enjoy having grand prix kick off month of May

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INDIANAPOLIS – Seated next to Scott Dixon and Will Power, who’ve combined for 79 wins and six championships in Indy car competition, NTT IndyCar Series rookie Colton Herta recognized the significance.

The trio of drivers gathered Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to discuss this weekend’s INDYCAR Grand Prix. The sixth annual race on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile permanent road course serves as an appetizer for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 26.

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Herta won on the IMS road course a year ago in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires, the top level of the Road to Indy development ladder. But a simple glance to his right on this day was enough of a reminder that he’s in the big leagues for Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix.

“Yeah, it's cool for me because after so many years of looking up to all these guys that have been able to race in it, finally be able to have the chance to be able to race in it, is something that I hold really dearly into my heart,” Herta said. “Yeah, I'm really excited for it.”

Herta is eager to get back into the No. 88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda after crashing out of the last race, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 14. While he has tested on both the IMS road course and oval in the interim, he said nothing beats wiping away the sour memory of a poor finish than getting back into competition on a race weekend.

“It's always nice to get back in the car,” said Herta, who became the youngest winner in Indy car history in just his second race, the INDYCAR Classic at Circuit of The Americas on March 24. “That's the best thing to get your mind off of a bad weekend. Yeah, it was a long time of no racing, but we kind of kept busy in between with testing.”

Will PowerPower, meanwhile, enters the weekend more at ease, considering he’s the two-time defending INDYCAR Grand Prix champion. The 2014 NTT IndyCar Series champion doubled his pleasure a year ago by also winning the Indianapolis 500 – the first driver to sweep both May races at IMS.

“Great, satisfying feeling,” the Team Penske driver said of last year’s accomplishment. “I have to say it probably does take some pressure off, but definitely doesn't take any of the determination away. You understand how good it feels to win.

“If anything, it adds a bit more determination.”

Team Penske has owned this race, winning the last four with Power (2015, ’17 and ’18) and Simon Pagenaud (2016). Helio Castroneves, who returns for the May races in between his now full-time gig driving a Team Penske Acura in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, gives Team Penske more ammo as well. He is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in all five previous grands prix.

Scott Dixon, the reigning and five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion, has played INDYCAR Grand Prix bridesmaid to Power the past two years, finishing second both times. It’s a race the Chip Ganassi Racing driver enjoys and believes it has added a new element of excitement at IMS.

“It's a fun way to transition into the month of May, and also for the community here,” Dixon said. “I think for almost a hundred years, they thought we only turn left (on the oval). It's nice to have that mix.”

Perhaps biased since he’s a three-time winner of the grand prix, Power also said it’s the perfect way to build toward the ultimate drama that is the Indy 500.

“It's a great, great fun month, it really is,” Power said. “It showcases what INDYCAR is all about. You have to be very good at road courses and ovals. It's a fantastic road course, great for the fans, there's a lot of good viewing points.

“It was really good racing last year. I think it produces great racing, long straights, just a cool way to start the month off.”

INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold will livestream Friday’s two practices starting at 9:10 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. ET. NTT P1 Award qualifying to determine the pole sitter and starting grid airs live at 4:30 p.m. Friday on NBCSN and INDYCAR Pass.

The final warmup practice begins at 11:15 a.m. Saturday (stream on INDYCAR Pass). Live race coverage begins at 3 p.m. Saturday on NBC, NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network that is available on network affiliates, Sirius 113, XM 209, WEB 970 and RaceControl.IndyCar.com.

New subscribers to INDYCAR Pass can sign up now at a reduced price of $39.99 that’s good through Jan. 31, 2020.

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