Grand Prix Preview

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Our personal IMS drought is about to be over. This morning, Susan and I embark on our favorite journey – driving from Nashville to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We will get a slightly delayed start, but for a good reason. Susan is currently about halfway through five and a half weeks of daily weekday radiation treatments. Normally she gets her daily dose at 1:00 pm, but being the trooper that she is, she had today’s treatment moved to the earliest possible time, 8:00 am, so that we could get on the road. Before anyone says anything – this was her idea, not mine.

Her radiation treatments end on June 3. That’s significant for a couple of reasons. That’s the day before her birthday and it is the last scheduled treatment of any kind in her eleven –month fight against pancreatic cancer. We are realistic, but all signs are excellent right now. Hopefully, she has fallen into that 8% that actually survive this cruel disease.

She will not be able to go next weekend for qualifying, because her group has planned a Sunday treatment for her on May 23, so that they can take off the Friday before Memorial Day. Her stamina is still low, so that will give her a weekend to recover between trips to IMS – and a break from me, since I’ll be there. But she has every intention of being back at the track for Race Weekend.

We should be arriving at the track today around early to mid-afternoon. We will miss the two practices, but should be there in plenty of time to witness qualifying.

I mentioned last week that I was still waiting to hear on media credentials for the Month of May. I had about given up on it, when I got an e-mail Monday night saying that I had been approved. So, unlike last year at Road America or last month at Barber – I will have media access and will therefore be posting from the track over the next three weekends in May. Realizing that a lot of media have been cut back this year due to COVID restrictions, I feel very fortunate and I want to thank those in the Media Center for making this possible.

When we left IMS in May of 2019 for the last time, who knew it would be two years before we returned for a race? A lot has happened since May of 2019, but I cannot describe the excitement I feel for finally returning for the first time in almost two years. Oh, and by the way…there will be a race going on tomorrow.

The GMR Grand Prix has always served as a nice lead-in for the Month of May, except for last year when they were about six or seven weeks apart. When the decision was made to go to the current convoluted qualifying format back in 2014, they added the Grand Prix to serve as something of a kickoff for the month. That was also back when they were still experimenting with standing starts.

Due to the quirkiness of rain qualifying on road courses, Sebastian Saavedra ended up on the pole for the inaugural Grand Prix in 2014. Whether it was nerves or inexperience with the hand clutch, which was new at the time – Saavedra stalled the car. I was sitting in the Tower Terrace stands that day and shot the following video as the field went by Saavedra – almost, before he was clipped by one car before being clobbered from behind by a trailing Mikhail Aleshin.

Jack Hawksworth led a ton of laps for Bryan Herta Autosport, but a bad pit strategy took him out of contention at the end. Simon Pagenaud won the race for Schmidt Peterson Racing, beginning the Pagenaud-Power stranglehold that was over this race for years, until Scott Dixon broke through and won it last year.

If you recall, it was 2019 when Simon Pagenaud entered the month seeking some magic in order to save his job at Team Penske. He found it by winning the Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 pole and ultimately the Indianapolis 500 – in a memorable battle with Alexander Rossi.

We enter this May with Pagenaud in another slight slump, and Rossi needing a strong month. Pagenaud currently sits sixth in points. He finished eighth in points last season, and hasn’t won since the first race of the Iowa double-header last July. With Will Power getting a new contract at St. Petersburg it appears Pagenaud may be odd man out at Penske after the season. My opinion is that no matter what kind of May Pagenaud has this year, I think his fate has already been sealed. He is probably viewing the remainder of this season as one big audition for other teams.

Rossi’s job is not in trouble, at least – I don’t think it is. But after winning the 2016 Indianapolis as a rookie and competing for the championship in 2018 and having a strong 2019 campaign, the wheels have fallen off with Rossi’s team in 2020 and into 2021. Some of his problems have been self-inflicted, some have been his team’s fault and some have been pure bad luck.

Josef Newgarden currently sits fourth in points, but it is a close fourth. He is only fifteen points out of second and still only thirty-seven points out of the points lead. Team Penske is now the only team out of what people are now calling the Big Four (Andretti, Ganassi, McLaren and Penske) without a win. I wouldn’t expect Penske to remain winless through the month.

Can Pato O’Ward put it together two races in a row? Some think he can, but I’m not so sure.

Scott McLaughlin seems to be figuring this thing out fairly quickly. Will he continue the youth movement and add his name of young winners this season – a list that already includes Alex Palou, Colton Herta and O’Ward?

One thing I like about the Grand Prix is that there are lots of special liveries that the cars will be sporting this weekend. Juan Montoya will be carrying the familiar Lucas Oil livery, while Conor Daly will have a MannKind livery for a new diabetic delivery system. Newgarden will have a Snap-On scheme and that’s just naming a few.

As I said earlier, we will both post from the track today and Saturday. We will be traveling back to Nashville on Sunday and will have my “Random Thoughts” wrap-up post on Monday. In the meantime you can follow us on Twitter for comments, photos and videos. Follow me at @Oilpressureblog or Susan at @MrsOilpressure.

The IMS road course does not have a habit of producing surprise winners, so I have no reason to think that this year will be any exception. Who do I think will win the GMR Grand Prix? Alexander Rossi is my pick to exorcising the demons that have kept him winless since he ran away from the field at Road America in June of 2019; and win Saturday’s Grand Prix. He is now cursed for the month.

George Phillips

3 Responses to “Grand Prix Preview”

  1. Oliver W Says:

    How about Rossi for SP in 2022?
    Surely the Andretti team running so many cars is holding them back and remember Rossi supposedly turned Penske down as it meant four cars. If he wins here as per your prediction then he would probably stay but I see him having itchy feet by season end unless results improve.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Safe travels and have fun you two!

  3. now that Rossi is officially cursed, it will be interesting to see
    how the previous posted odds value the curse’s power.

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