PREVIEW: 2020 NTT IndyCar Series – Texas

6 Mins read
Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

After an almost three month delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 NTT IndyCar Series is finally set to get underway this weekend with the first race of the season, the Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.

The season had been due to kick-off back in March with the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. However, the outbreak of the virus soon postponed or cancelled the originally planned first eight races of the schedule. A few weeks ago, IndyCar officials confirmed a new calendar that will get the season underway with what will likely be a spectacular race under the floodlights at one of the fastest locations on the calendar.

There are lots of things to look out for in this weekend’s race, including the race debut for the aeroscreen as well as a number of young exciting rookies. What’s more, every driver in the field will have to get back into the swing of racing as quickly as possible before the green flag drops.

Here is everything you need to know ahead of this Saturday’s Genesys 300 at Texas Motor Speedway.

What happened in 2019 at Texas Motor Speedway?

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing‘s Takuma Sato would lay down a scorching two-lap average of 220.250-mph to take pole position for the race. Reigning champion, Scott Dixon, got very close to usurping Sato, with just two-hundredths of a second separating the pair on the front row of the grid.

Sato would go on to dominate the first sixty laps of the 248-lap race. The Japanese driver would extend his lead to as much as four seconds until he started to struggle when passing lapped cars. However, what truly ended his hopes for a win would be his first pit-stop. Takuma came into his pit-box far too quickly and struck one of his crew members. Thankfully, nobody was injured in the incident, but Sato would be left four laps down as a result of the lengthy stop.

After Sato’s pit-stop misfortunes, Andretti Autosport‘s Ryan Hunter-Reay would take over the lead of the race after having passed Dixon. However, a poor race strategy would see the American have to make one more pit-stop than the majority of the field, putting him back in the pack as the race neared its end.

During a late caution, Team Penske would elect to pit Josef Newgarden. Using his fresh tyres, he would cycle to the lead of the race after the field completed their final pit-stops. However, he would be challenged for the final ten laps by Alexander Rossi, who was running right on his gearbox.

Ultimately, the pair would be separated by less than a second when the chequered flag flew, with Josef Newgarden crossing the line to take his third win of the season and to extend his championship advantage. Graham Rahal would take the final spot on the podium, with previous front-runners such as Scott Dixon, Colton Herta and James Hinchcliffe crashing out of the race in late incidents.

You can read the full qualifying and race report from last year’s race at Texas Motor Speedway by following the links below: 

Credit: Chris Owens / Courtesy of IndyCar

What should I look out for this weekend?

This weekend’s Genesys 300 will be the first race of the 2020 season due to the cancellations and postponements of previously planned races due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that this race will be the first time that IndyCar will race with the aeroscreen canopy fitted to the cars. Introduced in the wake of numerous cockpit safety improvements across the world of single-seater racing, the Aeroscreen is a, so far unique, device to IndyCar racing that stands as an alternative to devices such as Formula 1‘s HALO.

The concept has been tested during the last few years. Its first iteration was tested at Phoenix Raceway in 2018 before the design was radically altered by Red Bull Advanced Technologies to include a HALO-style framework. This was tested a number of times throughout the last year before its race debut this weekend.

Testing is one thing, but racing is a whole different thing. This weekend will be the first time that the drivers will compete with the aeroscreen. Whilst there have been next to no major complaints so far with the device, this weekend is where the drivers will discover any issues with visibility, heat or any other kind of aspect in a racing scenario.

Another interesting factor to look out for that has been brought on by the delay to start the season will be how quickly the drivers are able to get back up to speed. The drivers will not have turned a wheel in anger since pre-season testing in February and March. What’s more, the drivers will be thrown right in at the deep end with one of the trickiest locations on the calendar; the high-speed high banks of Texas Motor Speedway.

Two hours of practice will be all that the drivers get in order to prepare to go racing for the first time since September last year. The driver who ends up in victory circle at the end of the night will likely be one of the drivers who had been able to shake the rust off as soon as possible.

One additional feature that is unique to this race will be a tyre restrictions in the race. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic preventing Firestone from producing new tyres for this race, teams will have to use unused alternate tyre compounds from last year’s race. Due to this, the teams will be instructed to run tyre stints in the race to a limit of thirty-five laps. This will likely limit many teams from implementing certain strategies during the race.

Josef Newgarden will enter the race not only as the defending race winner at Texas Motor Speedway but also as the defending series champion. His campaign last year optimized the phrase “consistency is key” and, due to the condensed nature of this year’s schedule due to the delays, one bad race could have massive championship implications. Josef will be hoping to get back up to speed as quickly as he can in order to defend his title and be in the mix for his third championship.

Scott Dixon and Will Power – both former winners at Texas Motor Speedway – will be hoping for an early victory in 2020 to bounce back from disappointing 2019 campaigns. Both finished in the top five in the standings, but too many mistakes or retirements put both too far out of contention for the title at the end of the year. If luck can go their way on Saturday, do not bet against either veteran kicking off a delayed 2020 season with a victory.

Two of 2019’s star rookies – Felix Rosenqvist and Colton Herta – will also be hoping for an upturn of fortune at Texas Motor Speedway. Herta’s incident with Dixon last year put him out of contention for a strong finish; with the race being one of six that he retired from due to an accident or reliability over the course of the year. At the same time, Rosenqvist – who went on to win the rookie of the year title – failed to score a top ten in any one of the five oval races on last year’s calendar. Both Felix and Colton have been labelled as potential champions of the future, however, both will need to get consistency under their belts should they hope to have a realistic chance at the crown this year.

Three drivers will be making their IndyCar debuts in this weekend’s race. Oliver Askew, Alex Palou and Rinus VeeKay will all make their first starts this Saturday and will be thrown right in at the deep end. Palou, perhaps, faces the biggest challenge of the trio as this race will also be his first career oval race; with Askew and VeeKay having had experience in Indy Lights. The battle between the three drivers for rookie of the year honours could be spectacular and all three will want to get as good of a start as possible in order to help their campaigns.

Additionally, whilst he is not classed as a rookie, this weekend’s race will be Patricio O’Ward‘s first IndyCar race on an oval. The Mexican had hoped to get his first oval start at last year’s Indianapolis 500, but he failed to qualify for the race after a crash in practice threw a spanner in the works. Both O’Ward and his team-mate, Askew, will be hoping for a decent start to the season, with both driving for Arrow McLaren SP as McLaren make their return as a fully-fledged independent IndyCar team for the first time since 1979.

Credit: Chris Graythen / Courtesy of IndyCar

What is the schedule for the weekend?

Saturday 06 June

13:30 ET / 18:30 GMT – Practice
17:00 ET / 22:00 GMT – Qualifying
20:45 ET / 01:45 GMT (Sunday) – Race

Where can I watch the 2020 Genesys 300?

As a part of the IndyCar’s UK coverage deal, both qualifying and the race will be broadcasted live on Sky Sports F1.

In the United States, television coverage for qualifying and the race will be shown on NBCSN.

Further coverage of practice will be provided in the United States by NBC Sports Gold.

How can I keep up to date with all the race action?

You can keep up to date with all the action across the weekend right here at The Checkered Flag. We will have coverage of this weekend’s practice, qualifying and race sessions.

Be sure to also follow IndyCar on Twitter – @IndyCar – for live updates throughout the event.

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Reporter from the East of England. Covering the NTT IndyCar Series for The Checkered Flag. Also an eSports racing driver on iRacing.
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