Competition to get tougher in IZOD IndyCar Series
What do Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves have in common aside from at least one Indianapolis 500 victory?
They're the only drivers this season to finish in the top five in both of the series' first two races. Naturally, they're 1-2 in the championship standings heading into the 39th Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach.
The six other drivers with top-five finishes at either St. Petersburg or Barber Motorsports Park shows the competitiveness of the series in Year 2 of the fourth-generation IZOD IndyCar Series chassis and turbocharged V-6 engine packages from Chevrolet and Honda.
Overall, 16 different drivers have scored top-10 results. Marco Andretti and Justin Wilson each have two top-10 finishes, while rookie Tristan Vautier and second-year driver Josef Newgarden each recorded their first top 10 at Barber
"It's been a pretty good mix," said Dixon, driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing car who is coming off a runner-up finish at Barber. "I know some of the bigger teams have made pretty big fumbles. I think this year you have a lot of smaller teams that have caught up in areas.
"It's tough. It's not like the old days if you messed up with a big team a few 10ths (of a second), you would lose a spot or two. Now it's like five, six or seven spots. You have to keep your eye on the ball and try to make the most of it. So it is a tough season. I think it's going to get tougher as the season goes on."
Similarly, nine different drivers have competed in the Firestone Fast Six session to determine the Verizon P1 Award and set the first three rows for the race. Castroneves, Vautier and Will Power have advanced to the 10-minute round at both venues.
"In INDYCAR, the momentum can swing at any point because the competition is so close, the drivers are so talented," said reigning series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, who won by .6363 of a second April 7 at Barber. "You could be going to your best racetrack, have a little bit of a mistake in qualifying, be 10th or 11th. Your weekend is changed at that point."
Hunter-Reay started from the pole on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park road course and led a field-high 53 of 90 laps. There will be a season-high 27 competitors at Long Beach, including six former winners.
"It's amazing when I think about it how different the weekend could be," Hunter-Reay said about the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. "Let's say I didn't put that lap in qualifying in the end, you start second or third, the whole weekend is changed. It can hinge at any point. That's the beauty of racing. That's the things that the fans don't get to see is how precise the whole entire execution of the weekend is.