Photo: Simon Pagenaud can win his 4th GMR Grand Prix and third straight race at IMS this weekend.
The race that made history becomes a part of a bigger history Saturday. No fans will be present to witness it. The GMR Grand Prix began as a prelude to the Indianapolis 500 in 2014. It was the first time a race other than the 500 had been run at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway since 1911. Saturday the race is the first part of the first Indycar/NASCAR doubleheader. Thrown together by the Coronavirus pandemic, the long overdue coming together of the two series could not happen anywhere else. IMS is the place that comes to mind when you talk about racing history.
The GMR Grand Prix winners club is the most exclusive group in racing. There have been just two winners- Simon Pagenaud and Will Power. Each driver has won three times. Is Saturday Game 7? Team Penske has won the last five races. Schmidt Peterson won the first one. Power has also won the pole three times. Pagenaud has started from the point once.
Last year’s race was arguably the best of the six. The event was plagued by rain throughout. Simon Pagenaud made the right call on which tire to use in the final segment. He sliced to the front, passing Scott Dixon late on the final lap to take what would be the first part of his May sweep.
The race has run in different weather conditions. In 2016 was an unseasonably cold day, 2019 had rain. Saturday looks to have temperatures near 90 for the start. Will the heat in the cockpit caused by the new aeroscreen be a factor?
The Grand Prix is the first leg of a five race in fifteen days stretch for the NTT Indycar Series. Drivers have talked about how fit they have become during the delayed start to the season. Saturday’s heat will be a good test for the mupcoming doubleheaders at Road America and Iowa, two physical tracks.
Three full time rookies, Oliver Askew, Rinus VeeKay.and Alex Palou join part time rookie Dalton Kellett in the field. It is the first race for all of them at IMS. Kellett will drive the road course races in car 14 for A. J. Foyt Racing. He shares the car with Tony Kanaan, who drives the oval races.
Askew, VeeKay, and Kellett have raced on this track in the Road to Indy. Will their experience help them this weekend?
First Lap Tradition
The GMR Grand Prix has yet to have a clean first lap. In the inaugural race pole sitter Sebastian Saavedra stalled at the start most cars got by him, but two cars starting in the back rows plowed into him. Fortunately no one was injured. Turn 1 has seen spins and collisions each year at the start. Last year contact ruined Alexander Rossi’s chances of having a good finish.
Conor Daly makes his debut for Ed Carpenter Racing Saturday. Daly is driving the road and stret courses for ECR and driving the oval races for Carlin. I have never seen Conor this well prepared for a season. This will be just his second full time year. His sixth place for Carlin at Texas should give him a lot of confidence heading into this marathon stretch. I have said before that Daly in the cockpit improves whichever team he drives for.
This will also be Charlie Kimball’s first road course race for A. J. Foyt Racing. Kimball finished 11th at Texas, a respectable showing for the team. In 2019, Matheus Leist finished 4thin the GMR Grand Prix for Foyt. The potential is there for another good result.
Another Red Letter Day for the P’s?
I think the letter P finally falls from the top of podium Saturday. Scott Dixon, who has finished second three times in this race, finally gets to move up a step. His performance at Texas, along with the great of teammate Felix Rosenqvist, showed me that this team is ready for a very strong season. Rosenqvist won the pole in 2019 and could also be a factor.
Don’t feel sorry for the two race winners. At least one of them will still be on the podium.