Random Thoughts on the GMR Grand Prix

If you didn’t like the season-opening race at Texas, you probably weren’t a fan of Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis. While there were some interesting battles and strategies on display, the storyline at both races was pretty much the same – Scott Dixon drives away from the field, leaving everyone else to battle for second.

For the first stint of the race, it looked like it was Will Power’s race to lose. He got a great jump at the start and drove away from Jack Harvey, Graham Rahal and all others that were pursuing him going into Turn One. Rahal actually passed Colton Herta on Lap One, and Josef Newgarden passed rookie Oliver Askew as well before the first circuit was complete. Things stayed static up front for a while, but there was a fair amount of jockeying for position further back in the pack.

The common thought in the booth was that Scott Dixon made a mistake when he pitted on Lap Ten to come off of his black primary tires and switch to the red alternates. As it turns out, it may have been the move of the race. Dixon pitted again on Lap 33, putting him in perfect position for the caution that came out five laps later, when Oliver Askew made a rookie mistake, lost it coming onto the main straightaway and backed his Arrow McLaren SP Chevy into the wall. When the leaders pitted under the yellow, Dixon cycled up near the front, trailing only Rahal, Spencer Pigot and Conor Daly when the green flag flew once more.

As teams made their final pit stops between Lap 55 and Lap 60, there was the predictable change in order as the pit stops shuffled. Once Zach Veach and Josef Newgarden pitted from the lead, Dixon reassumed the lead and never looked back. He was adding about a second per lap to his lead over second-place Graham Rahal. By the end of the race, Dixon won by just a tick under twenty-seconds over Rahal, who overcame a late challenge by Simon Pagenaud, who finished third.

Was it the best brace I’ve seen on the road course at IMS? No Was it the worst? Far from it. It was about what I expected. I wasn’t sitting up in my seat at any time, but I never dozed off either. I was entertained and it was good to see race cars back on track. That’s all I could ask for with cars on a track that can sometimes lull you to sleep.

TV Coverage: Having Mike Tirico introduce a telecast always lets you know you are watching a major sporting event. An IndyCar race at Indianapolis is always considered major, but the fact that this was the first IndyCar/NASCAR double-header made this an even bigger event.

Since Marty Snider covers some NASCAR events anyway, and Dave Burns is exclusively NASCAR, I would have preferred to have a pit-reporter that was exclusive to IndyCar as well. Having said that, I thought Burns did his homework and was pretty well prepared. I only caught him fumbling once, and that was during the last round of pit stops.

I would have also preferred a retired IndyCar driver to join Tirico and Dale Jarrett as hosts. Jarrett is good talking NASCAR, but seemed completely out of his element in talking about the NTT IndyCar Series. They did have James Hinchcliffe with them during some of the Xfinity race on Saturday afternoon, then also on the Brickyard 400 telecast on Sunday.

The lead announcing group of Leigh Diffey, Paul Tracy and Townsend Bell were on their game, especially considering it was only the second race of the season and the first race in a month. That’s good because they are going to be on the air a lot over the next two weekends.

Biggest Disappointments: Several drivers had disappointing outcomes to their day, after showing such early promise.

Oliver Askew surprised everyone at Texas when he earned a ninth-place finish at Texas in his IndyCar debut last month. He raised eyebrows and expectations even more when made the Firestone Fast Six in Friday’s qualifying and started fifth. However, he dropped immediately at the start of Saturday’s race. By the time all cars had made their first pit stops, Askew was running eleventh – not bad, but he had dropped six spots from the start. He then made his aforementioned rookie mistake on Lap 38 and finished dead-last.

Alexander Rossi continued the rough start to his season early in the weekend. After finishing two laps down at Texas, he dealt with clutch problems, handling issues and fuel-pressure problems. Still, he earned an eleventh-place starting spot on sheer driving ability. That same ability carried him up to seventh before a mechanical issue put him out of the race on Lap 41. He finished twenty-fifth in a twenty-six car field. He will likely spend the rest of this shortened season playing catch-up.

Spencer Pigot showed speed and skill in the debut outing of Citrone/Buhl Autosport in an association with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. It seemed as if he was finally living up the potential he showed in Indy Lights, but seldom showed at Ed Carpenter Racing. The Rahal cars seemed to be dialed in for most of the weekend and Pigot was no exception. But he started complaining of a sick Honda engine in the late stages of the race and finally fell out on Lap 74 of 80. Still, he and Robbie Buhl have to be pleased with the speed they showed in their debut.

I don’t really know what happened to Jack Harvey. I guess he got caught out by the Askew crash as well, but he seemed to fade and it was never really explained why. After starting on the front row, Harvey finished a very quiet seventeenth.

The biggest disappointment of the weekend has to be the pole-sitter Will Power. He was my choice to win, which explains why he finished twentieth. He looked untouchable in the early going, but got caught out by Askew’s untimely (for Power) yellow on Lap 38. He was no longer a factor after that point, but Power compounded the issue when he stalled his car leaving the pits on his final pit stop. The mistake was made even worse by him coasting so far down the pits, meaning his crew had to run and drag his car back to his pit before re-firing his engine. He never recovered and has the distinction of being the last car on the lead lap and dropping from first to twentieth. The botched pit stop in Texas was not his fault. This one was. Power now joins Rossi as drivers in catch-up mode as Dixon pulls away in a truncated season.

Facility Upgrades: We had been hearing about how busy Roger Penske had been with facility upgrades since he officially took over ownership at IMS back in January. But other than a few random fan photos from outside of the track, and some unofficial accounts of what had been done – I really didn’t know what to expect. Those on-site this weekend report that the 111 year-old facility has been refreshed and spiffed up beyond their wildest dreams. I’m hopeful that I will be able to see everything first hand in August. In case you haven’t seen it, The Speedway released the following video showcasing many of the changes that have been made so far, with many more on the way.

Little Known Fact: It warranted a brief mention on Saturday’s telecast, but if you weren’t paying attention you may have missed the fact that this past weekend ended Tony Kanaan’s streak of 318 consecutive IndyCar starts. With the current restrictions, I don’t even know if Kanaan was on-site this weekend, but I’m sure it was an emotional time for him.

Over the weekend, I saw a little-known fact on Twitter. I have not researched it and I have no reason to believe it isn’t true; but Saturday’s race was the first IndyCar race since 1999 to not have at least one Brazilian in the field. That’s pretty amazing when you look back at all the Brazilians in the field just a decade ago.

Drive of the Day: There were many drivers that had very inspired drives after starting a little further back in the pack. You might say that it’s obvious that Scott Dixon had the drive of the day, because he started seventh and then pitted earlier than everyone else to get off of his black tires. When he got on the red alternates, his fortunes turned quickly. What prevents me from giving it to Scott Dixon is because he’s Scott Dixon. These types of drives are now expected of him.

Graham Rahal had a great weekend, especially for a team not considered the Big-Three. He made the Firestone Fast Six on Friday and started fourth. He led eighteen laps and finished second. Moving up only two spots and letting Scott Dixon get away like that prevented him from having the drive of the day, although I’m not sure anyone could have done anything better against Dixon.

Paul Tracy thought that Simon Pagenaud had the drive of the day, because he came from the twentieth starting position to finish third. Pagenaud is driving for the team that had won this race five years in a row going into Saturday’s race and he was the defending champion of the race. Yes he made up a lot of ground, but he was driving one of the fastest cars in the field. Like Dixon, Pagenaud is a victim of his own success.

My pick for drive of the day is a driver that no one expected anything from. He started back in the back, but had a strong finish. He did this while driving for one of the smaller teams that does not have a great road course program. He also had the added pressure of trying to set things right after a disastrous IndyCar debut at Texas last month. I’m talking about rookie driver Rinus VeeKay.

He overcame the pressure put on him by his performance at Texas and starting in the eighteenth starting position. He drove a flawless race and finished fifth, seven spots better than his veteran teammate, Conor Day – who slid backwards in the final stint. I’d say VeeKay more than made up for his bad day at Texas last month.

All in All: I enjoyed Saturday’s race, even though this was my first time to not be present for the GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis. I enjoyed it because my expectations were not high.

It was pointed out on the telecast that this was the first time that Scott Dixon has ever opened a season with back-to-back wins. If this surge of his continues for the next two weekend, this season could be over by mid-July. After two races, Dixon already leads Simon Pagenaud, who has had a second and third-place finish of his own, by twenty-nine points already. Josef Newgarden is already forty points back, while Colton Herta is forty-six points behind Dixon and Graham Rahal is fifty back. Will Power is back in fifteenth in points, while Alexander Rossi is languishing back in twenty-third – seven spots behind Ed Carpenter, who didn’t even race Saturday.

While some say this type of dominance is not good, I disagree. It gives everyone a common foe. I like Scott Dixon and have great respect for him as a driver and a person. But on the track, he has become Public Enemy Number One. He is now the villain that IndyCar has desperately needed. It’s odd to have such a likeable villain, but unless you are a lifelong and die-hard Scott Dixon fan – chances are you are rooting against him going into next weekend at Road America. That’s not a bad thing.

George Phillips

9 Responses to “Random Thoughts on the GMR Grand Prix”

  1. Indycar really needed to put a show on Saturday and that didn’t happen, sadly. Hate to see that the championship is nearly over already, no chance for Rossi and Dixon will be a race ahead before we know it. It’s a throwaway season though so whatever happens, happens but man, did we not need a 20 second MOV with new eyes on the race, and then Xfinity put on a really good show and finish.

  2. James T Suel Says:

    I really can’t add anything, I thought you summed the race up very well. I do think without that yellow it might have turned out a bit differently. Congrats to Dixon.

  3. billytheskink Says:

    I was amazed that Rahal’s strategy worked as well as it did, but perhaps the announcing crew oversold the impact of tire wear when discussing it before the race. If tire wear is significant, changing tires the moment that the fuel window opens is pretty much always the best thing to do. Dixon was the only contender who really did this on Saturday but it mostly paid off by costing the later pitters their gaps over Dixon when the Askew caution came out rather than because of fresher tires. It did give him a big advantage over Rahal as the Askew caution basically put the two on the same strategy (one more stop) but with Rahal having to save fuel and conserve tires.

    Lots of mistakes in the pits from both drivers and teams. A lot of folks are rusty, which plays right into the hands of Dixon, Cannon, Hull, and Ganassi’s #9 pit crew who are all about the least mistake-prone folks in their respective roles in the entire series.

  4. I too thought VeeKay had the biggest reason to smile on Saturday. After the embarrassing moments he had at Texas (and having a month to sit and think about it) I think he is in a much better place now. I’m sure Ed is thrilled as well, especially with Conor getting to the front in the middle of the race. I love the way Askew handled his situation after the crash. He is so grounded and focused on what he is doing, I see a very bright future for him.

    I do think Dixon is on a mission, which is scary for the rest of the field, based on his traditional late-season surges. The season is shorter as well, so the opportunities to catch him are shrinking. Rossi has some serious work to do, sitting 23rd in the standings. He’s behind Carpenter, Sato, and Kanaan, who have all only started one race. Power in 14th will be interesting to watch as well.

    Lastly, I too have been to every GP race since it began. I’ll never forget dodging the debris on pit lane during that infamous standing start. I know many people have given it the eye roll over the years, but I truly like the race and love the fact that we can have two very different races at the same venue.

    PS – While I enjoyed seeing all of the improvements to the speedway, I was surprised that Roger Penske didn’t get a single win this weekend, especially with three of his drivers starting from pole position (Power, Logano, Castroneves) and Cindric being one of the favorites in the Xfinity race.

  5. After the way last year played out for the 9 team, I would expect this kind of dominance from them. Does he catch Mario this year?

  6. Doug Benefiel Says:

    I greatly appreciated the fact that NBC carried this race. However the lack of driver interviews after the race, other than Dixon, left some great stories untold. An opportunity the let those new to our sport see some of the great drivers personalities was squandered. There was more than enough time between races .

  7. Kevin Harvick got his first win in March 2001 Scott Dixon got his first win in May 2001 Pretty amazing that these two guys are still this dominant

  8. A great weekend for Graham. He has had such a bad time qualifying in the past that making the Fast 6 Friday was excellent. I knew he could not catch Scott in the race, but his second place hopefully will give him more confidence for the next races.

    I too was disappointed that NBC did not have any of our regular pit reporters. I did hear Kevin Lee’s voice on IMSA this weekend and do miss him. Maybe now that NBC has NASCAR to cover Kevin, Jon Beekus and Robin will join the broadcasts. I also missed a pre and post race show. Hopefully we will have additional coverage this coming weekend.

  9. 35Salty Says:

    I don’t know how he does it but Mike Hull, like Scott Dixon, has to be the best in the business. No matter what call he makes, it turns out to be the right one. How many times does Scott pit early and get mired back in the pack only to come out smelling like a rose?

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