Random Thoughts on the IndyCar Grand Prix

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The 2019 IndyCar Grand Prix was one for the ages. We are now a couple of days removed and I’m still thinking about what a great race we watched on Saturday. But I can’t help but ask myself a couple of questions. First, was it really great or does it just look good when to comparing it with some of the snoozers we’ve watched at the IndyCar Grand Prix over the years. I also wonder if I’m giving it more credit because it was one of the most exciting races of the season, if not the most exciting.

Until Saturday, the 2019 NTT IndyCar Series had not produced memorable racing. There were some excellent moments here and there, but nothing that really gripped you. Most disagree with me, but I was not overly enthused with COTA. It had a flip of the script when Will Power and Alexander Rossi got caught out by an ill-timed yellow, and it was a good story to have an eighteen year-old Colton Herta win in only his second race. But other than that, I found it a bit of a snoozer.

Friday’s qualifying for the IndyCar Grand Prix suggested we might be in for a good race. With most of the Penske and Andretti cars in the back and a lot of the smaller teams up front, you knew that either the two Ganassi cars up front would be victorious, a smaller team would win or if a larger team would have to come up through the pack to win.

It turned out to be the latter, as Simon Pagenaud started mid-pack (eighth) and was sixth with seventeen laps to go. He had not drawn much attention all day, and led only five laps all day. But he picked off cars in front of him every few laps at the end and took the lead just before the white flag to lead the lap that counted the most – Lap 85.

What helped make the race so great is also what held down the crowds – the rain. Weather-wise, it was not a great weekend. Friday was downright cold, but rather than hide away in the cozy confines of the IMS Media Center, we braved the elements all day outside. Not only did we walk all over the grounds Friday, but we watched qualifying outside. After all, if I wanted to be indoors – we could have just stayed home and watched it on television.

Saturday dawned as a much nicer day. Although the temperature was a chilly 42°, the sun was out and the skies were perfectly clear and it felt much warmer than the thermometer read. But Saturday, the forecasts did not lie. After the Morning Warmup the skies began darkening to the west and the wind picked up as the temperature dropped. You knew what was coming.

Just as the cars were fired, we felt a few drops. Normally, we sit in the Tower Terrace seats for this race. From there you can see the cars as they approach the yard of bricks and follow them all along the main straightaway down to where they dart into the infield portion in Turn One. There also happens to be a video board just across from us so we can see whatever is going on out of our line of vision.

I don’t mind being cold, but I do mind getting wet. At the last minute, we both agreed to wimp out and head to the Media Center. But for the first half of the race, I at least stood out on the terrace overlooking the track where I could feel the cold and hear the cars unmuffled. That allowed me to get these two photos of the start of the race.

Start 1

Start 2

But when it started raining, I could feel rain hitting me in the face. Susan had abandoned me long before that. Old age and common sense finally prevailed, so I went in and poured myself a cup of hot coffee and watched the rest of the race inside. I could still stand up at the massive sheets of glass windows and watch the track while overlooking the pits, or I could sit comfortable at the Oilpressure desk and watch on the monitors with Leigh Diffey commenting. I did both and stayed warm and dry, while I had a perfect view of the two pit fires of pole-sitter Felix Rosenqvist.

When the green flag flew on the final restart, that’s when things got good – really good. Pagenaud proved his worth as he completely earned his victory. This was no fluke. The first few drivers he passed in his march were relatively inexperienced – drivers like Spencer Pigot, Ed Jones, Matheus Leist and Jack Harvey. But when he did away with Scott Dixon for the lead with the same ease he did with the others, that showed me something. So congratulations to Team Penske for keeping their IndyCar Grand Prix streak alive and stretching it to five in a row. And bigger congratulations to Simon Pagenaud for the well-timed and much-needed win. He earned it.

TV Coverage: Unlike most races we attend in person, I feel like I am able to comment on some of the TV coverage, since I was able to watch it for the second half of the race while in the IMS Media Center. I also watched some of the pre-race coverage on Sunday morning in our hotel before we headed back to Nashville.

From what I could tell, NBC did an outstanding job with their first IndyCar race at IMS. They didn’t seem to be trying to sell this race as just as big as the Indianapolis 500, but recognized it for what it is – a nice way to kick off the Month of May.

From what I heard, there were no gaffes and the whole crew in the booth did a good job in following Pagenaud on his late race charge. However, social media was not kind to Paul Tracy as it sounded like he may have flubbed a few things at some key moments. I either missed those or didn’t pick up on them. But I can believe it. I’ve noticed that PT can tend to drift off into La-La-Land sometimes – especially during qualifying. I’m anxious to watch the full replay to see how things went. I’m also very anxious to see all they have planned for their inaugural coverage of the Indianapolis 500.

Andretti Woes: The small teams that started up front came at the expense of Andretti Autosport. They were inexplicably invisible in Friday’s qualifying, with Ryan Hunter-Reay being their fastest qualifier at sixteenth. Things got no better in the race, as Alexander Rossi was punted from behind by Pato O’Ward at the start. O’Ward was given a drive-through penalty, but Rossi still got the worst of it. He suffered rear-suspension damage and had to pit for repairs on Lap Two and was four laps down when he rejoined the race. Rossi finished twenty-second and took a big hit in points, dropping from second to third.

Ryan Hunter-Reay got turned around in Turn One by James Hinchclife. He was able to continue, but it caused a bad day to get worse and he finished in seventeenth place. Comparatively speaking, Marco Andretti and Zach Veach had decent days. Marco improved ten spots from his twenty-third starting spot on the grid to finish thirteenth, while Zach Veach finally found a bright spot in what has been a dismal season. He started twentieth but finished twelfth – tying his best finish of the season.

You get the idea that Andretti Autosport should probably just flush Saturday’s race from their memory and just move on.

Highs and Lows I: It was the tale of two races at AJ Foyt Enterprises. On one end, veteran Tony Kanaan had a miserable weekend. He started dead-last and finished twentieth – two laps down. Normally you would just chalk that up to Foyt’s team being out to lunch again on a road course. But his young teammate and Brazilian countryman, Matheus Leist, had a career day. He appeared to be heading for a podium finish before falling prey to Pagenaud in the late stages. Still Leist finished fourth, giving himself his best career finish and Foyt’s team their best finish since Takuma Sato drove for the team.

Highs and Lows II: While Simon Pagenaud was so impressive at the end of Saturday’s race, it was one to forget for the rest of Team Penske. Will Power was the best qualifier at sixth, but he finished seventh in the race. Josef Newgarden was a non-factor all weekend, qualifying thirteenth and finishing fifteenth. It was even worse for Helio Castroneves. He started fifteenth and was actually on a charge early on. It seemed like every time Helio went past me, the LED display showed he had moved up a position – and it wasn’t due to pit stop shuffles. Helio was extremely racy.

But after taking on rain tires, Helio spun on his out-lap and sat helplessly as he watched the field pass by. Once he got going, Castroneves was penalized for entering a closed pit. After a promising day, Helio finished a disappointing twenty-first.

Had it not been for Pagenaud’s victory, it would have been a weekend to forget for Team Penske.

Breakout Day: This past weekend was the culmination of what has been an already good season for Jack Harvey and Meyer Shank Racing. Aside from driving a Pepto-Bismol colored car, it’s hard not to root for this team and driver. Michael Shank is doing ths the right way. They made their debut at the 2017 Indianapolis 500 in an association with Andretti Autosport, then closed out that season with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at Watkins Glen and Sonoma.

Last season, they stuck with Schmidt and stuck to their scheduled six races. This year, they have planned to run ten races, although they have already run each of the first five races. In those five races, only one has been a disappointment – a twenty-second at Long Beach. Jack Harvey has been their driver since their debut at Indianapolis in 2017.

But after qualifying third and finishing third in Saturday’s race, this team is brimming with confidence. Harvey came across as extremely likeable in Saturday’s post-race press conference. He was confident without sounding cocky or arrogant. Susan claims the Brit is the most handsome driver in the field. I’ll not comment, but she seemed to take more pictures of him in the press conference than she did of Pagenaud and Dixon combined. The Oilpressure household is quickly becoming fans of Jack Harvey, but for completely different reasons.

harvey

Schmidt Woes: Aside from their association with Meyer Shank Racing, it was not a good day for Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. James Hinchcliffe was penalized twice, once for a pit safety infraction (post-race fine) and another for avoidable contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay (drive-through). Hinch qualified eighteenth and finished sixteenth.

Marcus Ericsson spun just before coming onto the main straightaway and backed into the wall on Lap Eleven, bringing his day to an early end. It’s been a rough start for Ericsson in his rookie campaign. Aside from a seventh at Barber, Ericsson has had a fifteenth and two twentieths to go along to yesterday’s twenty-fourth place finish in a twenty-four car field.

Points Race: As we head into the two weeks leading up to the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500, the points battle is taking shape. After a lackluster day, Josef Newgarden is still leading the points, but by only six over Scott Dixon. With his disastrous day on Saturday, Rossi fell to third and trails Newgarden by thirty-six. Simon Pagenaud has jumped up to fourth and trails Rossi by only eight. Takuma Sato rounds out the Top-Five, just six points behind Pagenaud.

All in All: The sixth edition of the IndyCar Grand Prix was also its best, without question. None of the previous five could come close to matching the excitement that this race provided in the latter stages. It’s just too bad that there was hardly anyone on hand to see it. Although it was the best of the six IndyCar races on the road course, it was also the worst attended. Hopefully, what we saw on Saturday can reverse that in coming years.

So it’s now time to turn the page from the IndyCar Grand Prix to the Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately for Pagenaud, he won’t have long to savor this win. He’ll have to put it behind him starting tomorrow. Like last year, practice for the 103rd Running will not start until Tuesday. A quick glance at the forecast shows a much better outlook than what we had this weekend. There is a chance of rain on Wednesday, but other than that – it looks good for most of the week. Qualifying on Saturday, calls for partly cloudy skies and a high of 83°. That’s a far cry from the forties and fifties we had this past weekend.

I’ll close with a few of the photos that Susan took over the weekend; including an excellent shot of Robert Wickens and girlfriend Karli Woods behind Hinchcliffe’s pit, just before the start of the race. Be sure and remember that I’ll be posting here every day in May until after the Indianapolis 500. As always, thanks for following along with us this weekend.

George Phillips

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herta press

Newgarden

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Wickens

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pags cardixon press

14 Responses to “Random Thoughts on the IndyCar Grand Prix”

  1. Thanks for the post race wrap-up George. A great race especially compared to the snoozefest that was F1 on Sunday. They were celebrating Mercedes 1 – 2 for the fifth race in succession. They seem to think that this is a good thing, I’m not sure the fans agree…. I actually slept for half the race. Roll on 2 weeks time…

  2. This was actually the first Indy Grand Prix I did not attend. I could not help but think this would have been the traditional day for Pole Day in the past. The weather was very familiar.

    The end with Simon Pagenaud made the race. The Penske team must have done something right with the car set up at the end. If it was all Pagenaud, however, a lot of drivers have something to be worried about.

    Happy to hear about the good weather expected for Time Trials next weekend. It will be 33 qualification weekends in a row for me.

  3. Probably another uninformed question from me, but you know how car owners are constantly tweaking and adjusting cars from track to track and year to year? Do you think track owners ever do the same? In other words, do they review at a post-race meeting and say “we should widen the track here…make this a sharp corner…take out this bump” to make the track more competitive? Or do they just say “well, the track is already built and it’s financially impossible to change.” Good job George.

  4. We apparently saw a different crowd. Granted I didn’t see much of the grandstands but the infield crowd seemed to be as big as it ever is for this race and at no point did I think “Wow, there’s nobody here to see this race”. Considering the weather, I thought the crowd was great and all the viewing mounds were packed.

    • I was going off the crowd I could see in Stands EE and J (down in Turn One). They were much smaller than in years past. Glad to hear the infield was strong.

      • I rarely saw the grandstands out there on Saturday so I wasn’t sure if anyone was up there or not. I sat in that section last year, it’s great for being under the roof and having a cool view of the facility but it’s awful for seeing on-track action because nothing happens in the last sector (usually). But I was happily surprised at the size of the infield crowd, it seemed to be just about as good as the previous years. Kinda glad I decided not to camp this year, would have been chilly!

      • The turn 2 mounds were as packed as they normally were. this surprised me because of the weather. H and J stands were not as full as usual though.

    • billytheskink Says:

      On television The crowd looked about like it always has at this race, which I thought was pretty good given the miserable weather.

  5. SOCSeven Says:

    For the first race of the season (following 8 months of no Indycar on TV outside of the US.) I quite liked that.

    I must say that I started this season ready to follow the Indycar series on Internet blogs ……… but not having seen any races on TV left me trying to read Oilpressure, Miller’s Mailbag etc. etc. and ended up feeling nothing but ‘oh whatever’ ………. so I’d go to Oilpressure and go flip, flip, flip ….and I’d go to Miller and go ‘whatever’ flip, flip, flip … and there was nothing there. No emotion. No feeling. No nothing.

    So when the Saturday Indy race came on I was in a ‘whatever’ mood, watched a couple of laps and had a nap. Woke up and went outside.
    Sunday for the F1 race, I watched lap 1 and determined that that race was officially over so I thought I’d try to watch the Indycar race from Saturday.

    What a breath of fresh air. Really.

    So,what this diatribe means is this. If you take Indycar off TV your viewing audience will go into ‘whatever’ mode and forget about the series very quickly. Luckily this past race race wasn’t a dud and it fanned the flames again. For me anyway.

  6. Mark Wick Says:

    I don’t have TV so I went down the road to an indoor go-kart facility and watched the race, the first I have seen since the 500 last year. It was a good race. However I still question the long yellow after Helio’s spin. Why so many laps of yellow?
    There were a lot of good story lines and Simon’s charge late was really exciting.
    I may go the the go-kart rack to watch qualifying. I will be at my sister’s for the second year, to watch the race.

  7. The Month of May started with an exciting Indy GP! I hope this is not a novelty and the race continues in this vein in the coming years. Excellent coverage and photos, George and Susan.

    I am ready for four days of practice and two days of qualifying. Unfortunately, in my living room.

  8. Talón de Brea Says:

    I’m surprised no one has mentioned a late-race, on-track pass for the win. Not too bad, for any type of track … You could hear the pride in Simon’s post-race comments — very impressive win.

    Let’s take a look at Dixon’s points going into the final race of the year and see whether accepting a second-place finish (instead of throwing it away with contact or a penalty) this past weekend helps him as much as I think it might.

    I suppose we’ll eventually learn whether the disappointing weekend was instrumental in hurting Rossi’s title chances.

    And don’t sleep on Will Power – looks like he had a stealthy, Dixon-like weekend of salvaging points out of not very much.

    Finally, congratulations to Shank/Harvey and Foyt/Leist for joining the party and sitting at the grown-ups’ table.

  9. Jack Harvey deserves a lot of credit

  10. LurkingKiwi Says:

    I really thought Scott was finally going to get it done, both at the IMS road course and this year. He hasn’t exactly had a bad year, and it’s probably one of his better starts, but a different somebody else has been better each race. 3 seconds at the Indy GP, 3 seconds this year… come on Scott, move it up one for the 500!

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