Random Thoughts on the GMR Grand Prix

As has been the case since its inception in 2014, the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course is something that whets our appetites for what is to come. I’m not even going to call it an appetizer for the Indianapolis 500 – that’s what the Qualifying Weekend is.

Instead, the GMR Grand Prix is sort of like when you are being escorted to your table in your favorite restaurant. As you walk through, you smell the different aromas of your favorite dishes. You glance at what others are having and your mouth starts watering. You are not being currently satisfied, but you are anticipating what is to come. If you love food, like me – you can relate to my example. If you can’t relate to my restaurant example, we’ll devolve several levels and refer to the Grand Prix as “foreplay”. That should cover most analogies.

Over the decades, practice for the Indianapolis 500 has been cut from starting on May 1, to a full week before Pole Day and then to the current format of Tuesday through Friday before Qualifying weekend. With so little on-track activity to prepare for the Indianapolis 500, this has served as nice filler material to at least give fans three weekends to visit the hallowed grounds of 16th and Georgetown. It’s not the 500, but it’s a nice way to start the month. I can live with that.

I would say that Alex Palou can live with it too. Although he did not start on the pole, he dominated the race – starting with passing pole-sitter Christian Lundgaard before crossing the Yard of Bricks to complete Lap One. It didn’t take long for Palou to check out and let the others battle for the two remaining podium spots. Palou was on the alternate red tires, while Lundgaard had started on the primary blacks. Palou’s strategy may have been the difference in the race that only had one caution period very early in the race. That, and the fact that he had a very fast car.

Palou led fifty-two laps, while Lundgaard led thirteen. Graham Rahal led a handful of laps, while the rest on the laps were led by various drivers during pit stop shuffles. But make no mistake, Palou was the class of the field. If he didn’t get caught up in someone else’s mistake, it was pretty obvious by the halfway point that he would probably take the checkered flag.

There was not a ton of suspense at the front, but behind Palou – there were a lot of exciting battles to keep up with. Late in the race, it was interesting to see if Alexander Rossi could overtake Lundgaard for the final podium spot. It would have been the first podium of the season for both drivers. Rossi ended up with third, marking his first podium with his new team – Arrow McLaren. With O’Ward finishing second and Felix Rosenqvist fifth, it was an excellent day for Arrow McLaren all the way around – except they didn’t get the win.

Many other battles behind Palou made for a very interesting afternoon, but ultimately it was Alex Palou coming away with the win and the lead in the championship standings. Like my example above, I’m sure Palou is now hungry for the main course in a couple of weeks.

TV Coverage: In full disclosure, we are still in our Indianapolis hotel room as I type this on Sunday morning, so I have not seen any of the replay. It’s too bad they don’t show the replay of the Grand Prix the night of the race locally, like they do the 500.

The Crowd: We never ventured from the main straightaway, so we didn’t see a good representation of the crowd with our own eyes. But from what I could see down by Turn One in Stand J and what I saw on the video boards from other parts of the track – it seemed to be a good crowd. I wouldn’t say it was the biggest for the event, because the not-so-great weather forecast probably kept many away. Still it was good, and the pre-race crowd we experienced seemed to be in high spirits.

Cashless: If you’ve not been to IMS in a while, and you plan to go this month – keep this in mind. IMS is now cashless, and has been since the place re-opened after the pandemic. I don’t necessarily like it, but it appears it will be this way going forward. Fans that don’t have a credit or debit card, can access various cash-to-card machines that allow you to fill it full of your cash and it will spit out a debit card with whatever amount of cash you put in. Fortunately, these can also be used away from the track as well. Since it subconsciously seems a lot less painful to pay with a card instead of cash in your wallet – I’m sure this is more of a way to get you to spend more, than it is to protect people from handling money. I guess this is a sign of the times. Change is Bad!

Good Day for Ganassi: Not only did Alex Palou win, giving Chip Ganassi his second win in five races this season; he had two other cars in the Top-Ten. Scott Dixon quietly finished sixth, and Marcus Ericsson finished eighth. Only rookie Marcus Armstrong finished out of the Top-Ten, finishing fifteenth after starting eleventh.

Penske and Andretti Woes: After being unspectacular in practice and qualifying, Team Penske and Andretti Autosport continued to have a very forgettable race on Saturday. Each team place one car each in the Top-Ten. Josef Newgarden finished seventh after starting thirteenth for Team Penske, while Colton Herta started fourteenth and finished ninth. Romain Grosjean made up for a very mediocre performance in qualifying, by finishing eleventh after starting eighteenth. Kyle Kirkwood threw away a good starting position (sixth) by making contact with Graham Rahal and later Will Power. He got away with the Rahal infraction, but was penalized by being moved to the back of the field for his indiscretion against Power. Kirkwood finished fourteenth, and Power twelfth. Scott McLaughlin and Devlin DeFrancesco both had unmemorable runs for their respective teams. McLaughlin finished sixteenth and DeFrancesco seventeenth.

RLLR Rebound: After a horrible start to the season, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLLR) rebounded nicely this weekend, even if it doesn’t fully show up on paper. All three cars of Christian Lundgaard, Jack Harvey and Graham Rahal practiced and qualified well, with Lundgaard earning his first IndyCar career pole. Lundgaard raced well, but ultimately finished fourth, being passed late in the race by Alexander Rossi in a tight battle for third. Graham Rahal was shuffled to the rear of the field at the start, through no fault of his own – after starting eighth. He battled his way up from last place to finish a very respectable tenth. Jack Harvey was the only real disappointment for the team, After starting fourth, he fell back and was somewhere near tenth most of the day, until he spun around the midpoint of the race. Harvey finished twentieth, continuing his streak of mostly low points since joining the team in 2022.

The Points: The points battle underwent a major overhaul this weekend. What was a very tight battle between first and seventh place, is not as close anymore. Alex Palolu is now the new points leader, and I believe it is the first time he has led the points since he won the championship in 2021. His Ganassi teammate, Marcus Ericsson slides down to third, after being overtaken by not only Palou, but also Pato O’Ward who finished second on Saturday.

Strangely enough, an eleventh-place finish moved Romain Grosjean from fifth to fourth in the standings, but don’t be deceived by that. Heading into Saturday’s race, Grosjean’s fifth place had him only fifteen points out of first. Although he moved up to fourth after the race, Grosjean is now forty points out of first. McLaughlin and Newgarden are just barely behind Grosjean in fifth and sixth respectively, while Scott Dixon and Will Power are just a few points behind them in seventh and eight. Christian Lundgaard moved up to ninth, and Kyle Kirkwood fell to tenth in the points. Rossi has now moved up to eleventh and Herta’s winless streak is now more than a year, dropping him down to twelfth.

Drive of the Day: This sounds like a broken record, but I am giving the Drive of the Day to Graham Rahal. My thinking was that by finally getting a decent starting spot (eighth), Rahal wouldn’t have to work as hard to move up so many spots; as has often been the case in the past couple of years. That all went out the window when Kyle Kirkwood made contact with him just after Turn One at the start, and relegating Rahal to the end of the field. Once again, Rahal had to race his way to a decent finish. He was on a different pit strategy and led seven laps, but finally finished tenth. If you look at the box score, it doesn’t seem impressive that Rahal started eighth and finished tenth, but when you look at the body of his entire race, I think he deserves the Drive of the Day…again.

All in All: Whenever there are Indy cars on track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that is a good thing. That is what we had this weekend. I don’t think I am alone in my love for IMS, and I don’t need much of an excuse to make the 4.5 hour drive from Nashville to spend a weekend there. In all honesty, in just a few days the GMR Grand Prix will seem like a distant memory – even for race winner Alex Palou. But in the grand scheme of things, the shift in the points battle – it may end up making or breaking some driver’s seasons.

But now the GMR Grand Prix is in the rearview mirror. It was a nice reason to get to The Speedway, but starting Tuesday – the cars will be running in the “right” direction; counterclockwise and four left-hand turns. The real Month of May is about to shift into high-gear. And remember, I will continue to post here every day in May.

George Phillips

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

  1. Back in the day when activity started on May 1 how many cars/drivers would try to qualify compared to today? We drove from Louisville and had a great time as usual. My 11 year old son has taken up photography and can’t seem to take enough pictures of IndyCars. Walking the track afterwards adds to the fun and is so enjoyable. We wish we could have seen the earlier races but could not because of kids baseball games. It’s a full day for us for sure with driving but to be able to call IMS our closest track sure is fun. I wish we could go back to the days though when there were many more drivers and cars trying to get qualified for the Indianapolis 500. Next trip…..qualifying.

  2. billytheskink Says:

    Finally some traction for Rossi at McLaren, and now heading into the big race… where he has 5 top 10 finishes and his team was a contender last year.

    I thought Kirkwood’s penalty was a little dubious as that incident really began when Power elbowed him into the grass, but I also thought race control did well to make the penalty a give up position penalty (several positions in Kirkwood’s case) rather than a drive-through. The Herta blocking penalty was handled well in this way too.

    Jack Harvey is not a heavy punching bag these days… but still, this was a very bad day for him and quite clearly a self-inflicted one. Managing tires has been a big weakness for him his whole career, which seemed to come up in a big way yesterday.

    The Juncos cars were curiously invisible, the Meyer Shank cars were also invisible, but not curiously. Sting Ray Robb desperately needs to start turning laps in these races.

  3. Patrick Says:

    Cash is legal United States currency so I don’t see how they get away with not accepting it. I agree that change is bad.

  4. IndyCar made a bad call in penalizing Kirkwood. Yes, he hit Power, but only because he was forced onto the grass by Power. I’d like to know about the incident review process and how they arrived at Kyle being at fault. Power’s spin seemed to be a self-inflicted penalty.

  5. I personally don’t care that IMS is cashless but I don’t think it has anything to do with trying to get people to spend more. I think it’s a lot easier for IMS to take in money and it’s more secure. Many of you think it’s horrible but it won’t be long before everything is cashless.

    • OliverW Says:

      Everything will be cashless and once everything is digital with CBDC that means that the powers that be will have complete control over how we spend our money. Digital social credits will be next. What fun life is going to be.

      I enjoyed the race and Palou is the real deal. Ganassi will miss him and who is to drive his car next year is the big question. Best available seat in town. Malukas, Illott, Veekay, Rosenqvist or Lundgaard unless they go to F2 maybe FE but with Armstrong i reckon another rookie is less likely.

      Here’s hoping that RLL carry on at the sharp end.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: