This weekend, the NTT IndyCar Series makes its way to the Lone Star State for the first oval races of the season at Texas Motor Speedway. Drivers better have their dancing shoes ready for a “Texas Two-Step” as they will be competing in back to back races, with the Genesys 300 on Saturday and the Xpel 375 on Sunday. Chip Ganassi Racing‘s Alex Palou holds a slim two-point lead over teammate Scott Dixon and Will Power in the championship standings going into the weekend, and we could very easily have a new points leader come Sunday night.
In addition, drivers like Tony Kanaan and Pietro Fittipaldi will be making their season debuts this weekend, substituting for drivers on road and street course programs.
Hopefully your schedule is clear for a weekend of IndyCar excitement, because here’s everything you need to know about the Genesys 300 and Xpel 375.
WHAT HAPPENED LAST YEAR?
The 2020 Genesys 300 became the season-opening event after the delay of the 2020 Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Both practice and qualifying were condensed into race day, with Josef Newgarden taking the pole and leading for most of the first stint.
Tyre manufacturer Firestone were unable to make more tyres for the race due to the pandemic, so they brought soft-wall alternate tyres usually only available at road courses and limited teams to no more than thirty-five green flag laps on the tyres, limiting strategy.
Newgarden would hold the lead until lap thirty-two, where Dixon would pass him for the lead as Newgarden came to pit road for his first stop. Newgarden and Team Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud both struggled with their setups due to the limited practice session and found it hard to navigate lap traffic for the entire race.
Soon after the field completed their stops, Ed Carpenter Racing rookie Rinus Veekay stepped out of line in turn two and spun on the ironically low-grip traction compound laid down for NASCAR events. As he spun down the track, he collected fellow rookie Palou, who was racing for Dale Coyne Racing with Team Goh at the time.
At the restart, Dixon would start to build an eventual ten-second lead as Newgarden and Pagenaud struggled behind. Dixon’s teammate Felix Rosenqvist looked just as good as the race leader, and after starting ninth took second place from Pagenaud just before a caution on lap seventy-seven. Dixon lost the lead to Newgarden due to a slow pit stop, even being passed by Rosenqvist for second. After a few laps, Dixon reclaimed his lead from Newgarden by passing both drivers on the outside of turns one and two in separate moves, and began pulling away once more to another ten-second lead. Lap traffic still presented an issue for the leaders, as Rosenqvist was able to get past Newgarden for second and close the gap to under two seconds, but Dixon once again grew the gap after the pit cycle only to have it closed once more by traffic.
The final pit stops came with fifteen laps to go, as Rosenqvist pit from second place. Dixon stayed out three laps longer and took advantage of clean air to keep his lead. Rosenqvist, who was stuck in traffic ever since he left the pits, tried to make a final push to close the gap, but lost control on the aforementioned traction compound and slammed the turn two wall trying to pass the lapped James Hinchcliffe. After the car came to a stop, the young Swede slammed the wheel in frustration.
On the final restart, Dixon had lapped cars between him and second place Pagenaud, and ran to the finish unopposed. It was said that there would not be enough laps remaining to cycle the traffic to the back of the field, which was a point of contention for some. This marked Dixon’s fourth win at Texas, and the beginning of a three-race win streak that would be the catalyst for his sixth IndyCar series championship.
You can read the full race report here.
WHAT TO LOOK OUT FOR THIS WEEKEND?
The major difference this weekend in terms of the quality of the on-track product will be the lack of the traction compound. During a test at the track in late March, it was stated that the traction compound was no longer on the track, and will open up more lanes for racing. Firestone will also have the proper tyres available for this event, opening up the strategy options once more.
Much like last year, each race’s events are being condensed into one day affairs, with only one practice session on Saturday. It would not be surprising to see a team that struggles on Saturday work on their cars and potentially be set up for a better race Sunday, so don’t count anyone out.
At the test in late March, Patricio O’Ward of Arrow McLaren SP was fastest of all, and despite his best laps being set with the help of drafting, he was among the top five fastest on solo runs. The young Mexican driver has been a threat in both races so far this season, and could very well improve on his twelfth-place finish from last year. O’Ward’s closest pursuer in that test was Andretti Autosport‘s Alexander Rossi, who still continues to struggle with poor performances this season.
With his win record at the track, Dixon will be a threat to win once more, and could take the points lead by the end of the weekend. Last year’s runner-up Pagenaud could also be in the mix for a good event, coming off of one of his best race weekends in recent memory at St. Petersburg, where he qualified fourth and finished third. Pagenaud’s rookie teammate Scott McLaughlin will be making his competitive debut at an oval. The three-time Virgin Australia Supercars Championship winner has had multiple tests at the track, and it will be interesting to see how quickly he adapts to this style of racing.
This weekend will also see the season debuts of oval drivers like Kanaan and Fitipaldi mentioned earlier, who will be filling in for Jimmie Johnson at Chip Ganassi Racing and Romain Grosjean at Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing respectively. Ed Carpenter will also be returning to his own team to pilot the No. 20 Chevrolet, as usual driver Conor Daly returns to Carlin for the weekend in place of Max Chilton. Carpenter finished in an impressive fifth place at Texas last season, just a head of Daly in sixth, while Kanaan finished tenth for A.J. Foyt Enterprises. Fittipadi, who is also the reserve driver for the Haas Formula 1 Team, will make his first start in an IndyCar since 2018.
WHAT IS THE SCHEDULE FOR THE WEEKEND?
Saturday 1 May
1230 EST / 1730 BST – Practice
1600 EST / 2100 BST – Qualifying
1900 EST / 0000 BST – Genesys 300
Sunday 2 May
1600 EST / 2100 BST – Qualifying
1700 EST / 2200 BST – Xpel 350
WHERE CAN I WATCH?
Coverage in the UK for qualifying and the race will be provided by Sky Sports F1.
In the United States, coverage for the race will be on NBCSN. Practice will be streamed exclusively on the Peacock streaming service, while Qualifying will be shown live simultaneously on NBCSN as well as Peacock.
HOW CAN I KEEP UP WITH ALL THE ACTION?
You can follow all the all the action here at The Checkered Flag. We will be providing coverage of the practice, qualifying, and race sessions.
You can also follow IndyCar on Twitter (@Indycar) for live updates during the sessions.