Random Thoughts on the GMR Grand Prix

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As I watched Rinus VeeKay take the checkered flag for the first time in his career, I could not help but think how five different drivers for four different teams have won this season in the NTT IndyCar Series and none of them drive for Team Penske.

In my recap on Saturday, I didn’t want to take away from Veekay’s first win. My post should have been about VeeKay and Ed Carpenter Racing’s win on Saturday. But here we are a couple of days later and it’s more appropriate to discuss who was not on the podium.

After the start he had on the first lap of the season, Josef Newgarden found himself one place from dead-last in the point standings. After Saturday’s fourth-place finish, he is now third in points and trails points leader Scott Dixon by only twenty-eight points.

But there’s one thing missing from Newgarden and his Team Penske teammates – a win in the 2021 season. Ganassi has two wins, Andretti, McLaren and Ed Carpenter Racing have one each. I’ve been saying since last summer that Team Penske seems to have missed just a slight step since The Captain stepped off of the pit box and into the ownership role of the series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Many scoffed at the notion, but the way the start of the season is playing out – it may be true.

That’s not a knock on Tim Cindric, but when the figure that is obsessive over every little detail steps away – it’s easy to see how some of the little things can fall through the cracks. Those little things make a difference between close to a podium finish and winning a race. I think we are seeing Team Penske morph from being the best team in the paddock, into one of the best.

The Penske cars were not the only top cars absent from the podium. Although Palou finished third yesterday, it was a forgettable day for Chip Ganassi Racing. Scott Dixon did well to finish ninth, after starting sixteenth and falling all the way back to nineteenth early on. Teammate Marcus Ericsson had a similar day – starting fifteenth and finishing tenth. Jimmie Johnson had a few moments to celebrate this weekend, but he finished twenty-fourth and was the last car running at the end.

Although fuel strategy put Graham Rahal in fifth at the end of the race, he started an unimpressive eleventh. Teammate Takuma Sato started seventeenth and finished sixteenth. Aside from Alexander Rossi salvaging seventh after a forgettable qualifying effort, the Andretti cars were fairly invisible on Saturday. Ryan Hunter-Reay finished twelfth, Colton Herta was thirteenth and James Hinchcliffe was eighteenth.

And what on earth happened to the Arrow McLaren SP cars? The winner at Texas, Pato O’Ward started eighteenth and finished fifteenth. The nightmarish season of Felix Rosenqvist continued, as he finished seventeenth – relegating him to eighteenth in points; three spots behind Romain Grosjean, who is running a part-time schedule and has two fewer starts than Rosenqvist. The biggest question of the weekend is what happened to Juan Montoya? The former series champion, two-time Indianapolis 500 winner and Formula One veteran qualified dead last on Friday and struggled around all day Saturday to a twenty-first place finish and a lap down. This kind of embarrassment at IMS is reminiscent of their struggles in 2019, when Fernando Alonso failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500.

Overall, this was a very entertaining race on a course that has produced a few yawners in the past. It was good to finally be back at IMS, and it was good to see fans in the stands after what we saw from our collective couches last year for this race. This was the appetizer for May. Now we settle in for the beginning of the main course – practice and qualifying for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500, and then the race itself in less than two weeks.

TV Coverage: I’ve not gone back and watched the replay, but I heard about Friday evening’s replay of qualifying on NBCSN. Apparently, there were no graphics at all on the replay, even though there were on the live broadcast for Peacock. I won’t pretend to know why graphics show up on a live broadcast and not a replay, but it made for a lot of unhappy fans.

Keep in mind that there is a new producer for the NBC race broadcasts this year and I am chalking it up as simply a rookie mistake. God knows we all make them. I’m willing to accept that at face value. I don’t think this was any signal that NBC is out at the end of the season. In fact, I still maintain that they will still be IndyCar’s broadcast partner in 2022.

Since I’ve seen no backlash on social media over the race broadcast, I’m assuming this glitch was fixed.

Disappearing Act: While we’re talking about being invisible – everyone’s favorite third-place finisher in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 has pulled a disappearing act ever since. Fans of Ed Jones keep insisting that his performance in the 2017 Indianapolis 500 was no fluke. But he was unimpressive in Ganassi’s No. 10 car in 2018, he was abysmal as he took Ed Carpenter’s No. 20 car to only one Top-Ten finish in 2019 (a sixth in the GMR Grand Prix) and had no ride in 2020. Everyone said he would rekindle the magic while reuniting with Dale Coyne. Unfortunately, it has not worked out so far. While teammate Romain Grosjean won the pole and battled for the lead all day and finishing second, Jones toiled around to a fourteenth place finish. That was good enough to put him in nineteenth for the season – just four points behind his part-time teammate who has two fewer starts than Jones. Ouch!

The Food: I’ve had many people ask me on social media about the concessions this year. I am happy to report that even though May attendance has been scaled back, there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of concessions stands or vendors. This row of vendors set up just south of the tunnel that runs beside of The Pagoda has always been there, but they seemed to have more varied and quality offerings than in the past. Yes, they offered a tenderloin for $10. I didn’t have one since I had already eaten lunch, but they looked big and mighty asty as they were coming out of the fryer.

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The area across The Pagoda Plaza with the permanent concession stand was going, but I got turned off of that place years ago, when they served that abomination of a tenderloin with jalapeños and honey mustard.

Unfortunately, with the internet problem that I encountered when arriving at the track on Friday – I had no time to go do my usual exploring. I never made it to the other side of the track under the grandstands this past weekend. That is where I usually find the traditional classic jumbo tenderloins that I love so much. They are generally cheaper than most other onsite vendors, and I find the seasoning in the breading to be absolutely perfect. Every time I bite into one, it takes me back to the very time I ate a tenderloin at IMS – however long ago that was. I will be back on Friday, so I will have more time to dedicate to my annual classic tenderloin search.

Where was he? I think it may be time for Carlin to make some hard business decisions. Trevor Carlin has a reputation for developing winning programs in every racing series he enters. When he entered the NTT IndyCar Series in 2018, many said it would be just a matter of time before they became one of the top teams in the series. He started with fresh Ganassi cast-offs Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball in a full-time two car effort. The team predictably struggled in their first year, with Kimball finishing seventeenth in points, while Chilton finished nineteenth.

Unfortunately, that was as good as it got.

Since then, Kimball went part-time with the team and Chilton failed to qualify for the 2019 Indianapolis. After that, Chilton decided he no longer wanted to run the ovals – except for the Indianapolis 500.

Chilton brings the Gallagher sponsorship through his father, who is a top executive with the company. I’m not sure, but his father may even have an ownership share n the team.

Max Chilton has never been shy of flaunting the extravagant lifestyle that he and his gorgeous wife Chloe share across several continents. While being somewhat (OK…very) envious of the beautiful couple’s lifestyle of the rich and famous, I always questioned just how serious he was about honing his racing craft. After this weekend, those questions have escalated.

The team showed up last week at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Chilton’s car and everything was ready to go. The problem was that Chilton was nowhere to be found. He was stuck in the UK with travel issues and the team had to withdraw the car from Saturday’s race.

I have no idea what the travel issues where, and I don’t care. Since he was not in the car at Texas, I guess Chilton fled to his home in the UK immediately after he posted a not-so-impressive twenty-fourth at St. Petersburg in April three weeks ago. With all of the travel restrictions in place between the US and overseas destinations, that was probably not the smartest thing to do. I am hoping that Chilton had originally left himself plenty of leeway to get back early, just in case some unforeseen problems emerged. I am hoping he didn’t originally schedule to fly back as late as Thursday. If he did, shame on him for trying to cut things so close in a time of uncertain travel. I was wondering if he would be back in the country when practice for the Indianapolis 500 begins on Tuesday, but I saw late Sunday morning, where he was back in the US.

If Chilton was seriously committed to his racing career, he would not have risked traveling just before the Month of May. Unfortunately, Carlin has chosen to take the Gallagher money and have pinned all of their hopes for success in the NTT IndyCar Series onto someone who gives every impression that they couldn’t really care less how well he performs. He treats his racing career as a hobby and not a passion. Unlike the other series that they enter and win in regularly, Carlin has become a punch line in IndyCar. I blame this sorely on the lackluster approach that Chilton appears to take to helping his team perform. There are a lot of good people on that team that were left twiddling their thumbs last weekend as Chilton was a world away.

I don’t pretend to know the financial situation of Trevor Carlin, but I think I would part ways with Chilton – even if it meant losing the Gallagher money. Even if it means sitting out a year to regroup and find other revenue sources, wouldn’t that be better than wasting the time and money of a lot of people on that team, as Chilton treats his racing job as a pet he’s grown tired of?

Max Chilton seems like a nice enough guy, and Susan spent a lot of time talking to his wife at Barber a couple of years ago. Susan said she was one of the friendliest driver’s wife she had ever come across. But being a very nice and congenial couple, does Carlin no good if Chilton cannot even show up for races or work hard to find some improvement somewhere. OK…end of rant.

The Improvements: Ever since Roger Penske officially took ownership of IMS in January of 2020, we have been hearing the vast improvements being made to the place. One place that was the center of attention were the public restrooms. Over the course of the weekend, I came across the opportunity to visit a few and I’ll say this – they were spiffed up. Each restroom has received a fresh coat of paint and a good cleaning that had been needed. I know many of the filthy troughs underneath the grandstand on the outside of the main straightaway have all been replaced. As I said earlier, I never ventured over to that side of the track this past weekend. But I’m sure they were.

All chain link fencing now glistens with black paint. There no longer seems to be any faded paint anywhere on the grounds. I also noticed that all the concrete structures in the garage area appear to have been pressure-washed, as has the museum. Things just seemed a lot bright brighter and cleaner around the facility.

It Was Quiet:  Although there were no attendance restrictions for the Grand Prix, the crowd seemed down. It was really down in the Garage Area, where bronze and silver badge holders were allowed with proof of vaccination. I’m not sure if people took offense to that or what, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the Garage Area as deserted as it was the morning of the race.

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No. 18: If you’ve ever wandered behind the IMS Media Center just north of The Pagoda, you probably noticed the premium parking for the Hulman-George family, Doug Boles and the other high-ranking IMS and IndyCar officials. The closest spot belonged to Board Chair Mari Hulman George, with Tony George next to hers.

I had no doubt who would have the premier “pole position” spot, now that the new regime is in place. What was a surprise is how it was marked. While everyone else had their initials marking the respective spots, Roger Penske had his marked with just the number “18”; no doubt in reference to the fact that he has won eighteen Indianapolis 500s as a car-owner.

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I guess if he wins again in a couple of weeks, we can expect the sign to be changed to “19” next year.

All in All: As far as IndyCar races on the IMS road course goes this was a good race this past weekend. From the first one in 2014 through 2018, this event was a snoozer. But when Simon Pagenaud stalked down Scott Dixon in the rain in 2019, that started what has become some pretty good racing, when you count last year’s Harvest Grand Prix also. The weather was perfect at the track, and it was good to see a lot of friends we haven’t seen in almost two years.

Best of all, it was good to be back at my favorite place in the world, with my favorite person in the world. Susan and I had a rough 2020. It did us both a world of good to be back in our happy place – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Indy cars on track. It’s just all getting started. Below are some random photos that we took throughout the weekend, including one of only two of us taken all weekend – and that was taken on Sunday, when we went to the gift shop. We ran into fellow blogger Patti Nolen of I Kissed the Bricks, and we persuaded her to take the picture.

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

  1. Oliver W Says:

    Watching the race from London I was amazed by the n7mber of commercials. Luckily we see the race during the commercials and can hear any in car radio communication but it left me thinking that viewing figures might go up if they greatly reduced the commercials. Must have been c 20 % of the race at a guess and who wants that.

    I see Veekay at Penske next year or two and Carlin taking a year out unless Peroni has $8 m.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Decent race with a lot of new faces near the front. I was real impressed with Veekay and Grosjean’s pace. Rahal’s inadvertent fuel strategy run was might impressive as well. Graham my not be his generation’s Bobby Rahal, but there’s no shame in being his generation’s Wally Dallenbach.

  3. regadring Carlin / Chilton: Carlin is owned by Max´s Father Company Capsicum..

    “Part of the Capsicum group, the management team at Carlin provide a great combination of business skills and racing knowledge. Ensuring a stable business base for the team are CEO Grahame (Chily) Chilton, long-term motorsport enthusiast, and Trevor Carlin, who has a wealth of experience and knowledge in motorsport.”

    https://www.carlin.co.uk/about/

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