NTT IndyCar Series: GMR Grand Prix Preview

Simon Pagenaud finished third in the GMR Grand Prix. © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

Simon Pagenaud always seems to be in contention at the GMR Grand Prix. © [Andy Clary/ Spacesuit Media]

by Paul Gohde

While not run on a true road course, but certainly not a total oval either, the GMR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend is definitely an outlier on the NTT IndyCar 2021 schedule. Since its inception in 2014, the race initially drew a crowd interested in seeing how the combo course would be handled by the teams used to setting up their entries for one or the other types of circuits, but not both. Some drivers have at times looked like fish-out-of-water on the somewhat odd circuit, but IndyCar drivers are, if nothing else, adaptable, and fans in the stands and on the infield berms (not available this year) have always found this run “interesting”. Locals need to support this event that should draw more fans. It certainly is a unique, unpredictable opener for Indy’s “Month of May”.

Race Facts: Saturday’s race will be the tenth on the IMS infield/oval road circuit, including seven GMR events and two Harvest Grand Prix races (both in 2021). Measuring 2.439 miles/lap, the race will go for 85 laps (207.3 miles) and run in a clockwise pattern; opposite of the Indy 500 race oval. Will Power has been most successful there by winning four of the nine running’s, with Simon Pagenaud just behind with three while Josef Newgarden has one. Scott Dixon captured his only GMR win last season after finishing second three times previously. Team Penske has dominated here by capturing seven of the nine IMS road course races. Rookies Jimmie Johnson, Romain Grosjean and Scott Mclaughlin will be competing in Saturday’s race for the first time…Power holds the winning race record: 2017, 1:42: 57.610 (120.813 mph). He also has the qualifying mark at 1:07.704 (129.687 mph), also in 2017.

Recent GMR Race History: Dixon benefitted from a timely mid-race caution last year to drive away from the field and dominate, winning by almost 20 seconds in his Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. He had previously won the delayed season-opener in Texas on his way to the 2021 series’ championship: his sixth. Graham Rahal was second after making two stops against one for the victor. Simon Pagenaud was third after starting 20th, proving that the IMS road course is certainly a place where drivers can make up ground. Dixon’s win was the 110th in the series for Chip Ganassi Racing.

NTT IndyCar Standings: 1. Dixon, 153 points (1 win) …2. O’Ward, 131 (1) …3. Alex Palou, 127 (1) …4. Newgarden, 116…5. Rahal, 107…7. Herta, 100 (1) …Engine Manufacturers Points: Honda-332 (3 wins) …Chevrolet-318 (1).

2021 Entries: Twenty-five drivers are entered for Saturday’s fifth race of the season; the opener of the shortened “Month of May”. Juan Pablo Montoya claims the third Arrow McLaren SP seat alongside teammates Felix Rosenburg and Pato O’Ward for Saturday and later in May for the Indy 500. Otherwise, the lineup is the same that had been previously entered at the Barber and St. Petersburg road course events.

Notes: TV: Qualifying, Friday, NBCSN, 6:00 pm, E.T. (Delay)…Race, Saturday, NBC network, 2:00 pm E.T. (Live)…The GMR Grand Prix has been won four times by the pole winner…Scott Dixon’s win last season was the 48th of his career…the 2020 GMR race was held in July due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Our Take: Four races and four winners have given fans great hope that whether on a road/street circuit or an oval, wins can come to anyone in this evenly stacked NTT grid. An upcoming race, that should be interesting, is the inaugural Music City Grand Prix in Nashville later this summer. And together with the annual high-speed run at Road America, and the finale in Long Beach, should be three events that are likely to go a long way in determining this year’s champion. The 500, as usual, is likely to be a crap shoot with so much that can happen during the long event: attrition, pit miscues, accidents, weather, etc., but just over two weeks from now that 500 champion could be on his way to the series’ 2021 crown. We see a veteran, Rahal or Pagenaud, winning the GMR race Saturday as a prelude to that hard-to-call 500.

“They Said it”: Jimmie Johnson, #48 Carvana-Chip Ganassi Racing Honda: “The Indy road course is a track I’ve been on before (testing). In fact, it’s the track that I drove my first Indy car at. I’m excited for my third start (all road courses) in an Indy car. The track lays out in a way that should fit me a bit better. I did not race there in NASCAR, but just feel like the track is a little bit more forgiving. There’s run-off areas that should allow me to be more aggressive in qualifying and find some more pace and be closer to the leaders.”

Next Series Race: Sunday, May 30, 105th Indianapolis 500

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