Harvest Grand Prix Preview

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I’ve been following the sport of IndyCar racing for a long time. The last time I can remember a race taking place on a Friday was the 1969 Indianapolis 500, win by Mario Andretti. More than fifty-one years later, we are looking at our next Friday IndyCar race later today, when the green flag flies for the first of two races at the Harvest Grand Prix – also at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Harvest Grand Prix was born out of necessity. It did not even exist on the schedule, when the teams all headed for the season-opener at St. Petersburg back in March. But that event was cancelled for COVID-19 just hours before the first practice, along with the next three events at COTA, Barber and Long Beach.

April 6 saw the first of several 2020 schedule revisions for the NTT IndyCar Series. It was then that a single Saturday afternoon race in October on the IMS road course was announced. In a nod to the past, it was to be named the Harvest Grand Prix – a throwback to the Harvest Auto Racing Classic, a three-race event run on September 9, 1916. It consisted of a twenty-mile, fifty-mile and a one-hundred mile race in one day. All three races were won by Johnny Aitken, who won fifteen races at IMS – more than any other driver in history. Many do not recognize his name because he never won the Indianapolis 500, although he started it twice.

Aitken led the first lap in the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911. He also started on the pole for the 1916 race, which was scheduled for only three-hundred miles (the only time that ever happened). He also drove relief for two different drivers in the 1915 race. Aitken was, however, part of two winning efforts in the Indianapolis 500. He was the team manager for Joe Dawson in 1912, and Jules Goux in 1913. Aitken also holds the record for the most number of race starts at IMS with forty-one.

When Belle Isle, Richmond and Toronto fell off the schedule due to the pandemic; more races were needed to get close to what could be considered a full season. Road America and Iowa were named double-headers, along with the Harvest Grand Prix – with an additional race on Friday afternoon added. Why the Friday/Saturday schedule? Because the IndyCar races are being run I conjunction with the event that was originally scheduled that weekend – an eight-hour endurance race with the Intercontinental GT Challenge circuit.

The weekend will follow a compressed schedule. There was a single practice yesterday (Thursday) afternoon with Race One qualifying in the early evening at 6:20. Rookie Rinus VeeKay won the pole and will lead the field to the green flag this afternoon. Race One will take place this afternoon at 3:30 pm EDT. Race One will take place this afternoon at 3:30 pm EDT. Please note that today’s race broadcast will be found on the USA Network. Qualifying for Race Two will be Saturday morning at 10:20 am EDT, with the broadcast only on NBC Sports Gold. Saturday’s Race Two will start at 2:30 pm EDT and can be watched on Big NBC (over-the-air network). This will be the rare IndyCar weekend when no IndyCar-related broadcasts will be found on NBCSN.

Two familiar faces will be in unfamiliar cars this weekend. James Hinchcliffe will be in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda for Andretti Autosport, while Helio Castroneves will be subbing for the injured Oliver Askew in the Arrow McLaren SP Chevy. Askew is still suffering from the effects of a hard crash coming out of Turn Four in this year’s Indianapolis 500 run on August 23.

One driver I will keep my eye on is Jack Harvey. He was on the podium for the IndyCar Grand Prix in 2019 and started on the front row at the GMR Grand Prix at IMS back in July, before bad luck relegated him to a seventeenth place finish. I feel like he is going to have a very strong weekend. I also think Colton Herta has finally found his groove and will seek to build on his win last month at Mid-Ohio.

I’m still not convinced that the re-scheduled St. Petersburg race will run to close out the season on Oct 25, although they announced yesterday that they had been officially given the green light by the city.  I don’t see my skepticism as a COVID issue, but more of a financial issue. It was announced earlier this week that limited fans will attend, but the last I heard – they had not started on the track rebuild yet. Maybe that changes now that they have gotten the green light. Some of the infrastructure has been left standing since March, but I still think there is a lot to do between now and then.

If St. Petersburg does not run for whatever reason, this weekend will decide the championship. Quite honestly, I don’t think much changes regardless if St. Petersburg runs or not. This is Scott Dixon’s championship to lose and I don’t see him losing it.

Fittingly, my prediction to win both races fits right into the championship battle. Scott Dixon will win one of the races, and his pursuer, Josef Newgarden, will win the other. But keep your eye on Harvey, Herta and Graham Rahal this weekend. All three of those drivers will be strong this weekend and any of them could steal a win at IMS. Stay tuned.

George Phillips

4 Responses to “Harvest Grand Prix Preview”

  1. There was a Friday race just a couple months ago in Iowa.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Should be an interesting pair of races with the limited practice and qualifying formats, and some new/reintroduced faces. Dixon is going to have to have a weekend like Helio did at Houston back in 2013 in order to open the door for Newgarden, who will need to break from his traditionally mediocre results at the track to have a chance. The latter I might bet on, but not the former.

    If St. Pete doesn’t happen, I would still think the series would be in search of that 14th race that is often cited as being required, though at this point they seem to be out of obvious options outside of Indianapolis. Maybe they could hop into another series’ event…

  3. Thinking this is the weekend Pato gets it done. Helio won’t finish well but his guidance will help Pato this weekend.

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