This weekend’s Harvest Grand Prix race preview

WHO WILL WIN Harvest Grand Prix

Favorites to bet

Simon Pagenaud

He’s won on the road course three times. He was third in July. He’s been a top 10 machine too. Too good to overlook here.

Will Power 

He’s won on the same road course in three of the last five years in dominating fashion. He led 65 laps in a win in 2015 and 61 and 56 respectively in his other two wins. Also, Power has six top six starting spots on the layout including four poles. He is coming off of a win in Mid-Ohio.

Scott Dixon 

He won in July. He had three runner ups before that. Enough said. He’s wanting a championship this weekend.

Felix Rosenqvist

He earned the pole for the road course race last year and finished eighth. He’s also made two starts on this track in Indy Lights, both coming in Indy Lights in 2016 to where he finished in the top six in both tries.

On natural road courses last year, Rosenqvist was at his best. He finished sixth, second, second and fifth to close out the year on them last year. He won at Road America in July too.

Colton Herta 

He had early race troubles last year but he does have past success in Indy Lights here. He swept all three races in 2018, two on the road course and one on the oval for three straight wins. Also, he won both of his races as a rookie last year on natural road courses and was fourth on July 4.

Longs shot to bet

Takuma Sato 

On the road course, Sato has four top 10 finishes. He’s won twice on natural road courses over the last couple of years too and won on the oval on Aug. 23.

Graham Rahal 

If he could qualify better on the road course, then watch out. Prior to last year, Rahal had never started better than 12th. Despite that, he had four top 10 finishes including a runner-up in 2015. His hard charging mentality has turned the heads of his competitors as they’ve all said that if he started closer to the front, then it’s game over. He was runner up in July again too.

Jack Harvey

He qualified on the front row in July. He finished third last year. Worth a risk.

Harvest Grand Prix Race Preview

Last year, in early October, we were testing the Aeroscreen for the very first time. This year, we’re racing twice on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

We just ran here on this layout in July, so how much was learned then that can be translated over to this weekend? Not much according to the drivers.

Does Scott Dixon win again? Does Team Penske continue their dominance on this 2.439-mile layout?

In the previous six years of the spring race, current Penske drivers have won all of them other than Dixon’s back on July 4. Yes, Simon Pagenaud won the inaugural race in 2014 for Schmidt, but he’s with Penske now and has won two of his three races with Penske power — including last year.

Will Power has won the other three races, all with Penske.

Do the notes help? I mean, if not for a fluke caution during the middle of a pit sequence, Power was going to win the July race. Instead, Dixon did in dominating fashion.

Also, will starting position matter? Four of the last five years have seen the pole winner win this race. Five of the six races run saw the winner come from the top 2 Rows. Pagenaud, started eighth last year in his win.

Want to win on Friday and Saturday? Better at least make the Fast Six.

The big reason to that is, we’ve seen chaos on the opening lap in almost every year. The only year we didn’t was in 2017 and again in July.

Another big reason to that is how tight Turn 1 is and how moves are being made into it to gain spots on track.

If you made it past Lap 1, pit strategy follows.

This race overall has seen three or fewer cautions in the last five years. When four of those five races had a first lap incident, you can see that this race has been run clean for a majority of the way.

That makes this a tire strategy race. The question then becomes, when to put on the alternates and do you use two sets or one?

With 85 Laps on Friday and 75 more on Saturday, some drivers can run the Firestone Blacks and use a two stop strategy. They’re in fuel save mode but know the tires can last until the end of their stints. Can they keep the speed though?

On the other side, you can start on Firestone Blacks and go with the Firestone Reds and use a three stop strategy too and use the alternate tire on the final two stints.

See, Indy doesn’t produce a lot of tire wear. You can use the Firestone Reds for faster lap times with minimal fall off here than like other places. Yes, the Firestone Blacks will last even longer and keep consistent lap times throughout a run, but the Firestone Reds will be faster at the start of a stint and not fall off as severe as the run goes on.

Saving sticker sets of Reds are going to be key this weekend so you can have them in the race itself. But, does that risk messing up qualifying?

This race weekend also has major championship implications. Dixon has four straight top two finishes on this track. Josef Newgarden has no top fives and just one top 10. Pato O’Ward had a top 10 on July 4 and looking like a true threat to win. Takuma Sato was 10th in July but his teammate Graham Rahal was second and Simon Pagenaud third.

STAT TO WATCH

All seven road course races have been won from a top 4 Rows starting spot including four of the last six being from the pole.

Welcome back, fans: Fans will be welcomed to a race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time in 2020 during the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR event weekend. Up to 10,000 spectators can be in the grandstands each day of racing action Oct. 1-4, per approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

The massive facility, which holds more than 300,000 people, will provide two spectator zones with up to 5,000 fans in each. The zones will be located in Turns 1 and 4 of the oval, offering strong sightlines of the road course. Strict health and safety rules will be in place, including mandatory face coverings, temperature screenings before gate entry, social distancing in grandstands and other areas, and more.Facility improvements: Fans who attend the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR event weekend will see a host of improvements made to the 111-year-old IMS facility this year since Roger Penske purchased the track.

Among the countless improvements that fans will enjoy during this weekend will be refreshed restrooms and concession stands, 5G connectivity and widened ingress and egress areas on Georgetown Road running parallel to the front straightaway of the oval.Fall races: History will be made during the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR event weekend, as a major auto racing event will take place in October for the first time in the 111-year history of IMS.

The Harvest Classic, United States Grand Prix Formula One and Big Machine 400 at the Brickyard races all have taken place in past years during September on the IMS oval or road course. The Red Bull Indianapolis GP MotoGP event also raced in September at IMS.

But among major events, only the Red Bull Air Race World Championship for acrobatic airplanes has competed at the Racing Capital of the World during the cool, crisp, colorful days of October.INDYCAR title up for grabs: The championship race for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES will continue to charge down the homestretch at the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR, as Scott Dixon will try to hold off his closest pursuers and either clinch or close in on his sixth series title.

Dixon leads reigning champion Josef Newgarden by 72 points, with Pato O’Ward 128 points behind Dixon in third. There’s plenty of opportunity for Dixon to gain or lose ground with two races scheduled on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course.

There are 54 points maximum available to a driver at each NTT INDYCAR SERIES race outside of the double-points Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. So, with just the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Oct. 25remaining on the schedule after the INDYCAR Harvest GP, Dixon will clinch the championship with a lead of 55 points or more after this weekend.

The mission is tough but not hopeless for two-time series champion Newgarden. He trimmed 24 points from Dixon’s lead during the Honda Indy 200 doubleheader weekend Sept. 12-13 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.King of the road: Scott Dixon won the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES race of 2020 at IMS, the GMR Grand Prix on July 4. It was one of the three straight victories with which he opened the season, as Dixon has never trailed in the championship standings.

Dixon could earn the rare distinction of being the first NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver to win three races in one year at the Racing Capital of the World with a sweep of the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR doubleheader.

Multiple INDYCAR races only have taken place in the same season at IMS since 2014, when the GMR Grand Prix joined the annual schedule along with the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge at the world’s most famous racetrack. Team Penske teammates Will Power and Simon Pagenaud swept the Grand Prix and “500” in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

The schedule shuffle created by the COVID-19 pandemic placed three INDYCAR events at IMS this season, giving Dixon the chance to make history with three wins in the same year at the Brickyard. Takuma Sato won the Indy 500 on Aug. 23, and he also could be the first three-time winner in one season at IMS among NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers with a sweep of the INDYCAR Harvest GP.

NTT INDYCAR SERIES star Colton Herta won all three Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires races in May 2018 at IMS, with two races on the road course and the Freedom 100 on the oval. Indianapolis native Johnny Aitken swept the Harvest Classic on Sept. 9, 1916, a single event comprised of three races. That event inspired the name of the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR.

Welcome back, Seb: One of the most popular veterans of INDYCAR racing will return to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES at the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR, as Sebastien Bourdais will drive the fabled No. 14 Chevrolet for AJ Foyt Racing.

Bourdais won four consecutive Champ Car titles from 2004-07 and was a mainstay and race winner in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES after nearly two seasons in Formula One. He will make his first INDYCAR start of 2020 with Foyt’s team in the doubleheader on the IMS road course and will drive for the team in the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on Oct. 25 in advance of a full season behind the wheel of Foyt’s car in 2021.

Frenchman Bourdais has produced three fourth-place finishes (2014, 2015, 2018) in six career INDYCAR starts on the IMS road course. He also won the inaugural Rolex Sports Car Series race at IMS in 2012, sharing a Riley-Ford Daytona Prototype with Alex Popow.

Tune in: With spectator attendance reduced for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fans are encouraged to tune in to watch or listen to both races if they can’t make it to the track. TV coverage plans for the weekend include a network TV showcase for the second day of INDYCAR action.

Race 1 will be televised on the USA Network at 3:30 p.m. (ET) Friday, Oct. 2, with Race 2 on NBC at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3. The Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network also will have live coverage of both races.

Briscoe’s back: One name on the Indianapolis 8 Hour entry list will be very familiar to Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Indianapolis 500 fans – Ryan Briscoe.

2012 Indy 500 pole winner Briscoe, formerly a Team Penske driver in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, will share the No. 6 Vital Speed Ferrari 488 GT3 in the eight-hour endurance race.

This will be Round 2 of the 2020 Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli. The season opened Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour in Australia. Two rounds remain after the IMS race, the Total 24 Hours of Spa on Oct. 22-25 in Belgium and the Kyalami 9 Hour on Dec. 10-12 in South Africa.

Long haul: The Indianapolis 8 Hour will feature the longest major race in the 111-year history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as GT sports car teams will compete in an event governed by eight hours on the clock and not a lap count.

Ray Harroun won the inaugural Indianapolis 500 in 1911 in a race that took six hours, 42 minutes and eight seconds. That remains the longest elapsed time of a race in IMS history.

Some of the world’s best GT sports car drivers will compete in the historic eight-hour race Sunday, Oct. 4, as the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli and GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS will be combined for the first time in an epic endurance classic on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course.

The Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli is the world’s only global GT3 championship. It features spectacular GT3- and GT4-spec machinery from evocative marques such as Acura, Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Bentley, Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche.

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