The NTT INDYCAR SERIES makes its season debut at Texas Motor Speedway this Saturday, June 6 at 8 p.m. (ET) on NBC, the first INDYCAR race broadcast on network television in prime time since 2013.
The season was halted March 13 due to the COVID-19 pandemic just before the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season was set to begin in St. Petersburg, Florida. After nearly three months, the wait is over, and open-wheel racing is getting underway in North America.
The 24 drivers entered in Saturday night’s event will compete with a condensed schedule. The one-day show will feature a one-hour, 50-minute practice session, with 30 minutes set aside specifically for rookies. That will be followed by a qualifying session where each driver gets one lap to set their time and a race of 200 laps, trimmed from the scheduled 248 laps.
The condensed schedule will force the NTT INDYCAR SERIES stars to adapt to their race cars and the hot racetrack conditions quickly, allowing little room for error, exciting on-track action and many storylines heading into the first of a 14-race NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule in 2020.
Here are "5 Things To Look For..." heading into Saturday's Genesys 300:
This weekend, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES will debut the much-anticipated Aeroscreen, a ballistic, canopy-like safety innovation on the cockpit of Indy cars that will enhance driver cockpit protection.
The Aeroscreen was tested extensively in the offseason by NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers at a variety of racetracks, including Barber Motorsports Park, Circuit of the Americas, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Richmond Raceway. INDYCAR has mandated its use by all teams at all track disciplines (ovals, permanent road courses and temporary street circuits).
INDYCAR partnered with Red Bull Advanced Technologies on the Aeroscreen, with the frame produced by Pankl and the ballistic screen produced by PPG. The innovation comes with several different features, including a heating element on the screen to prevent fogging and airflow inlets to cool the driver, among others.
This weekend marks the NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut for two budding open-wheel stars: Oliver Askew of Arrow McLaren SP and Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing.
While Askew, 23, and VeeKay, 19, are newcomers to the top level of open-wheel racing in North America, they are certainly no strangers to success on oval tracks. Both drivers have racked up impressive statistics on various ovals while racing in the Road to Indy ladder series.
Askew has competed in five oval races in his open-wheel career and tallied three wins, one in USF2000 at Iowa Speedway and two in Indy Lights with the Freedom 100 at IMS and at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.
VeeKay heads into Texas with less Road to Indy oval wins than Askew, but his consistency is just as impressive. In five oval starts, VeeKay has one win in Indy Pro 2000 at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway. However, he has four podium finishes in his five oval starts, and he has never finished worse than fourth on an oval in open-wheel competition.
When 2004 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Tony Kanaan announced his “TK Last Lap” farewell tour in January, which consisted of the five oval races on the circuit in 2020, it also meant Kanaan’s INDYCAR record for most consecutive series starts would stop at 317 starts, which dates back to June 2001 at Portland.
However, due to the delayed start of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES season caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Kanaan will extend his consecutive race streak to 318 starts since Texas Motor Speedway is an oval.
“Also, a great surprise was with the unfortunate situation, I'm going to get to extend my consecutive starts by one more,” Kanaan said. “Hopefully, I’m going to get to start the race first. We can't say that before I get there. It's a pretty cool thing. It was one other thing I was actually ready to retire once they took the green flag in St. Pete.”
Following Kanaan on the all-time INDYCAR consecutive starts list are two current NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers, Scott Dixon in second (258 consecutive starts) and Marco Andretti in third (234 consecutive starts).
This weekend, when Graham Rahal hops into his No. 15 Fleet Cost & Care Honda, he will strap on a special helmet honoring the healthcare heroes working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In April, Rahal held a contest that encouraged race fans to submit helmet designs for him to use this year. Rahal chose the top eight designs, and then a fan vote was held to decide the winner. The winning design was created by Cindy Romano, a graphic designer for Fleet Cost & Care, the sponsor of his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
The message on the helmet reads “Everyday Heroes” and is a tribute to Romano’s daughter, who is an intensive care unit nurse at the Mayo Clinic. The timeliness of the tribute motivated Rahal to have the helmet designed as quickly as possible to have it at this weekend’s race.
When Conor Daly straps into his No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet Saturday night, he also will feature a tribute on his helmet.
#LiveLikeChris will be on Daly’s helmet this weekend honoring Daly’s friend Chris Beaty, who was killed in a shooting late Saturday night, May 30 in Indianapolis. Beaty was an Indianapolis native and a graduate of Cathedral High School. He was also an offensive lineman at Indiana University from 2000-04.
The #LiveLikeChris message on Daly’s helmet encourages race fans to “live like Chris – to love others boldly, to stand up for what’s right, to live every day to the fullest.” Additionally, the Chris Beaty Memorial Scholarship Fund was created to benefit incoming students at Indiana University and Cathedral High School and can be found here.