NTT IndyCar Series: GMR Indy Grand Prix Preview

Simon Pagenaud won his third INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. © [Jamie Sheldrick/ Spacesuit Media]

Simon Pagenaud won his third INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. © [Jamie Sheldrick/ Spacesuit Media]

by Paul Gohde

It is an experiment in sanctioning-body cooperation that IndyCar and NASCAR hadn’t been planning when schedules were released back in winter. But the jumble that resulted from the pandemic out-break gave new Indianapolis Speedway owner Roger Penske a certain headache, but also an opportunity to make race-weekend history. So-it-will-be during the Fourth of July weekend that IndyCar’s GMR Grand Prix will open the show on the track’s road course Saturday, followed by NASCAR’s Xfinity series. The Brickyard 400 Cup race will run on Sunday giving fans three major events in a 24-hour window. Those fans will, however, have to appreciate all the action while at home watching television as the pandemic continues to keep away large gatherings the size that IMS would hold.

Race Facts: Team Penske has dominated the six previous Indy Grand Prix races run on the 2.439-mile road course initially built for the long-gone U.S. Grand Prix. The 14-turn track runs partly on the Indy 500 extended oval. The six races have been won by Simon Pagenaud (3 wins, two of them for Team Penske) and Will Power (3). Power’s win in 2017 included records for qualifying (129.687mph/1:07.704) and the race (120.813mph/1:42:57.610).

Recent Race History: Pagenaud’s win here last season came with a next-to-last-lap pass of Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon on a rain-soaked and slippery course. Starting eighth, the Frenchman moved from sixth to the lead in the final 18 laps. He passed Matheus Leist for third and Jack Harvey for second in the final 10 circuits before nabbing Dixon for his 12th IndyCar win. Pagenaud went on to win his first Indy 500 two weeks later, capping a dominant Month of May at the Speedway.

2020 Season So Far: Here we are in July with just one NTT IndyCar Series race in the books. Texas winner Dixon leads the standings with 53 points. Pagenaud is second with 40 followed by 2019 series’ Champion Josef Newgarden (37), Zach Veach (33), and oval-track specialist Ed Carpenter (30).

Race Entries: As of this writing, 26 car/driver combinations have been listed for Saturday’s chase. Besides the usual full-season regulars, the following Chevrolet drivers are making their initial season appearance: Rookie Dalton Kellett replaces Tony Kanaan for AJ Foyt Racing; Max Chilton is in Carlin’s #59; Sage Karam will drive for Dreyer & Reinbold. Twelve Chevrolets and 15 Hondas are listed.

Our Take: The season for all professional sports including racing has been a mixture of schedule changes, social controversy and pandemic isolation. With three events in the next nine days, IndyCar attempts to get some rhythm for the teams and drivers beginning with the upcoming week. Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Team Penske Chevrolet have over-run the competition in each of the six Grand Prix races run on the IMS road course and we see no reason that the dominance shouldn’t continue. Look for a Penske car to win for the new track owner, but should the unlikely Honda sneak through, we see Scott Dixon or Alexander Rossi slowing the Penske steamroller.

Notes: The Indy Star, quoting a Tweet from Jimmie Johnson, reports that the NASCAR veteran plans to test a Chip Ganassi Racing Indy Car next week on the Indianapolis road course. Johnson, whose plan to test earlier in the year at the Circuit of the Americas was scrubbed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is in his final year of full-time NASCAR competition and has often mentioned that he would like to fulfill a Bucket List desire and “who knows what opportunity might come along in IndyCar, sports cars or back to my off-road roots,” he wrote…Meyer Shank Racing driver Jack Harvey had his best career start and finish (both third) in last season’s Indy Grand Prix…TV: Qualifying, Friday, 4:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN….Race, Saturday, Noon ET, NBC Network…Tony Kanaan’s series’ record of 318 consecutive race starts will come to an end Saturday as he is only driving part-time for AJ Foyt’s team this season.

They Said It: (Simon Pagenaud regarding this historic weekend): “I’m excited to see (Penske NASCAR driver) Austin Cindric and how well he does in the Xfinity race on Saturday afternoon. I don’t think I can stay, actually. I’m going to hop on a plane to get home to make sure we can all stay safe. We just have to follow the guidelines. I look forward to seeing the big NASCAR race on Sunday (on TV). At the end of the day we’re all racers…If you can join the power of NASCAR and the power of IndyCar together, it’s fantastic. I think what’s happening for us, for everybody who enjoys racing, it’s massive…It would have been phenomenal to have fans come to the races for the first-ever time. We’ll see the attendance on TV and the response we get on social media. It’s going to be a big weekend.”

Next Races: Road America doubleheader, Saturday/Sunday, July 11-12.


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