INDIANAPOLIS — A rookie in Rinus VeeKay is on the pole for today’s Harvest Grand Prix (3:30 p.m. ET, USA, INDYCAR Radio Network). It’s his first ever NTT IndyCar Series pole. Starting alongside of him is a guy going for the 2020 championship in Josef Newgarden. Starting behind them are two aggressive drivers in Colton Herta (3rd) and Will Power (4th).
How does the Dutch rookie balance being overly aggressive and cautiously aggressive at the start of Friday’s 85 Lap race?
“It’s just a pole,” VeeKay told me on Friday morning. “There’s a lot more credit to win the race. I’m going to give it everything I’ve got.”
But in terms of Newgarden likely needing to be a little more cautious, does VeeKay know that and in turn make himself more aggressive in the first couple of corners?
“I haven’t talked with them but I know Josef (Newgarden) is a nice guy,” VeeKay said. “He’s a smart guy and a championship kind of guy. I think he’s not going to go too crazy going into Turn 1. I have shown that I’m a little aggressive earlier this season with moves and defending. I think he certainly knows that and I’m not a big threat on his championship hunt.”
Does that make his confidence level go up a little bit then knowing that he can be aggressive and feel no pressure from the guys behind?
“It really does,” VeeKay continued. “I don’t know anything on starting on pole in an Indy Car. I think it’s even better not knowing what to expect and doing my own thing. We’ll see how it goes.”
Newgarden and Power have both said that they’re not going to be overly aggressive in that they can’t take too many risks because when you do, it never works.
Herta, told me on Friday too that he’s not going to be aggressive looking out the front of his Aeroscreen but rather more aggressive in his mirrors.
See, Herta is starting on the Firestone primary tires. Each driver has to race on one set of each (primary and alternate) during the course of a road/street course race. With cooler temperatures and a lot of grip here on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, the Firestone Reds are the way to go. They last longer since the fall off isn’t as strong, especially with cooler temps, and they’re also faster too.
Herta, knows that if he keeps the guys behind him that are starting on Reds, then when he gets on Reds later, he’s in good shape because they’ll have to do at least one stint on Blacks.
“I think a little bit of yes and no,” Herta said of Newgarden. “I think he might be aggressive just because he has to really win to realistically to keep himself in the points battle. For me, it’s going to be less aggressive because I’m starting on the black tires where everyone in front of me is on reds. I even think two guys behind me are on reds also. For me, it’s going to be trying to keep those guys behind me, then after the first 2 or 3 laps hopefully it balances out and I can drive normally at that point and not worry about them and just focus on my own race.”
The other factor is an opening lap crash. We’ve seen in in all but two road course races here. Scott Dixon starts in the danger zone of 12th and could be right in the middle of something.
“It’s kind of just going by the seat of your pants to make those decisions,” Dixon said on how to valance the aggressiveness at rye start. “Sometimes you can’t avoid it from behind but sometimes when you’re too cautious and you create that chain reaction from behind too.”
Dixon says the length of the race today and the cooler temperatures could lead to strategy plays to still get him to the front.
“Today’s conditions, the tire temps and the brakes can kind of play into not just the start but restarts and also outlaps,” Dixon continued.
“We just have to focus on our program. With a longer race today and some strategy options there’s a lot more opportunity. I think you look at Mid-Ohio, everybody was on a 2 stop strategy and kind of led to a boring race. Here I think you may see people pitting as early as Lap 10 but those guys that are on Red tires might have to run longer.”
That leads to what is surely going to be a strategy day once everyone gets through Turn 1. The big key though is keeping a watchful eye on guys coming out of the pits because the outlaps will be treacherous.