INDIANAPOLIS — The story on Friday was Romain Grosjean. The former F1 driver earned his first pole in over a decade in upset fashion in just his third NTT IndyCar Series start.
The story on Saturday belonged to Rinus VeeKay though. The Ed Carpenter Racing driver passed Grosjean on track during the second to last stint and that proved to be the winning move.
VeeKay, 20, scored his first career Indy Car victory in Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix which kept this youth movement going in four of the five races being won by drivers 24 or age or younger.
It was Ed Carpenter Racing’s first Indy Car win since Josef Newgarden’s triumph at Iowa in 2016. VeeKay, is showing no signs of a sophomore slump in the sport. Following a Rookie of the Year campaign last year, he’s now sitting sixth in points heading into the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
VeeKay, has four top 10’s in five races this year and now is a victor in the series.
For some reason, this 2.439-mile road course has just been so good to the Netherlands native. He had four podiums in six starts in the Road to Indy. Last year, he earned his first top five in this very race last July. Last October, this was the site of his first career pole as well as his first career podium. Now, it’s the place for his first career win.
VeeKay, bested Grosjean by 4.951-seconds in his No. 21 Chevrolet.
Grosjean, would lead a race-high 44 of 85 laps en route to his first career podium in his No. 51 Honda. Alex Palou was third in his No. 10 Honda for his third podium in 19 career series starts, two of which coming this season.
Palou, has four top seven results, three of which being in the top four, in five 2021 starts. He’s 13 points behind his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate of Scott Dixon in the points.
Josef Newgarden would cross the yard of bricks in fourth in his No. 2 Chevrolet while Graham Rahal rounds out the top five in his No. 15 Honda.
Here are my main takeaways from Saturday’s race.
Wild Weekend In Indy
We thought the Fast Six in qualifying on Friday was bizarre. Six of the top nine drivers in the starting lineup had never won an Indy Car race before. Well, Saturday’s 85 Lap race showed that Friday was no fluke.
The podium ended up being Rinus VeeKay-Romain Grosjean-Alex Palou. Combined, they had three total podiums entering the day. They leave with six.
Furthermore, they now have two combined wins and one of which is a rookie while the other two are second year drivers.
It was an unlikely weekend here in Indy.
Youth Movement Here To Stay? Another 1st Time Winner
We’re five races into the 2021 season and three of the five races have been won by 21 year old drivers or younger. Colton Herta just turned 21 before his St. Pete win last month. 20 year old Pato O’Ward would turn 21 a few days following his Texas triumph. Now, 20 year old Rinus VeeKay crossed the yard of bricks first on Saturday to keep this youth movement going.
Factor in 24 year old Alex Palou winning the season opener in Barber and you get some young winners this season. Scott Dixon (40) is double the age of the next oldest winner in the series.
We’re 5-for-5 in different winners this year.
We’re 3-for-5 also in 1st time winners.
Does this continue?
We’ve had 5 different races with five different winners this season. If you date back to last year, we’ve had seven straight different winners in the series. Furthermore, we had five different teams finish in the top five on Saturday in ECR-DCR-Ganassi-Penske-RLL finishing 1-2-3-4-5 respectively.
Also, we’ve had five different pole winners in 2021 too.
The INDYCAR race on the IMS road course is honestly a strategy play. If you can make it past the opening lap, the cautions usually are few and far between and the tire strategy in turn becomes the main focus. That happened again on Saturday.
Conor Daly brought out the opening lap caution, but the rest of the way went green. From Lap 4 to Lap 85, it was all green flag racing. In turn, that meant this was a three stop strategy race like we all thought it would be. The difference would come down to tire selections.
Romain Grosjean started off on the Firestone Alternate tires. They were the quickest and lasted as long as the Firestone primaries, so the guys that started on the Blacks pit early to get on the Reds. Well, Grosjean went with two straight stints on the Reds. The second one on scuffed reds.
Rinus VeeKay, started off on the primary tires and pit for the Reds on Lap 12. Grosjean, didn’t pit for his first stop until Lap 25. VeeKay, would pit again on Lap 36 for scuffed reds. Grosjean pit on Lap 43 but had to go to Blacks.
That was the difference.
VeeKay got him and made his move for the lead among their sequence. He’d be able to go with Reds the final time but already hold the lead while Grosjean was too far back before he could do anything about it.
Third place finisher Alex Palou went on the Reds until Lap 25 then put on Blacks on Lap 40. He’d go Blacks again on Lap 62 as he was one of three guys to finish the race on the primary tires.
That’s just a prime example on how this race played out on strategy.
Penske 0-for-5 To Start 2021, But Newgarden Is Coming
Josef Newgarden is on a terror. Saturday was his fourth straight top six finish on the season and that comes after wrecking on the first lap in the opening race of the season at Barber. He moves from 23rd in points to third (-28) heading into the Indy 500. That’s positive news.
But, Team Penske is still shutout of victory lane this season. They’re 0-for-5. Last year, they won the final three races. This year, they’re just not there yet. They have scored four runner-up results, but none of their drivers have celebrated in victory lane thus far. Does that change in two weeks?
Newgarden, started on the front row but he just lacked the speed on Saturday and faded to finish fourth in his No. 2 Chevrolet. It was his third straight top four result on this track after not having a top five in his previous seven starts here.
Simon Pagenaud went from 10th to finish sixth for his seventh top 10 here. He’s seventh in points now with four straight top 10’s on the season and 121 in his career.
Scott McLaughlin started fifth but finished eighth in his No. 3 Chevrolet while Will Power had an uneventful day in starting 12th and finishing 11th. Power, has four wins here, but those are his only top fives in 10 career starts.
Can Penske get a little bit more for the ‘500?
Andretti Guys Reeling Heading to The Indy 500
Last year, the 104th Running of the Indianapolis 500 was Andretti’s race to lose. They dominated the speed charts all month and had five bullets in their chamber up front. Unfortunately, they didn’t place a single driver in the top five when it was all said and done.
They turned those frustrations immediately around but to start 2021, those frustrations are back. Colton Herta won in St. Pete, but that’s the only high point for this team all year.
Herta, finished 13th on Saturday and sits 10th in points. The best finisher among the group was Alexander Rossi in seventh for his sixth top 10 in eight starts here, but he’s only 14th in points, 85 markers back. Rossi, was frustrated after qualifying on Friday as he started 14th in the race. The seventh place run on Saturday was his best result of the year as he’s not had a top five since last September at Mid-Ohio.
Ryan Hunter-Reay had a solid day in 12th but he’s still 17th in points coming into the ‘500 now. James Hinchcliffe came home 18th as he sits 20th overall in the standings.
They’ll add Marco Andretti and Stefan Wilson for the ‘500. Can they replicate things from here last August on the oval but turn them into good results in the race itself. The Indy 500 pays double points, so if they can have a solid outing this month here, then they can certainly get back into the thick of things.
If they don’t, well they could be down and out by time we get to the halfway point of the year in Belle Isle.
Rahal Has Nice Rebound For A Top 5
Graham Rahal was wondering why they pit a couple of times there under the first lap caution. He gave up track position in the top 10 but they had to make repairs. They strategy ended up playing out nicely. He started 11th and finished fifth.
Rahal, pit on Lap 2 to go from the primary tires to Reds. He did so again on Lap 30 for scuffed reds. On Lap 58, he was able to use his fresh reds which proved to be the difference in holding off Simon Pagenaud for his 60th career top five result in 230 series starts. He also went from 46 points out in points to 39 heading into the Indy 500.
Rahal, has three consecutive top five finishes on the season and a top seven in all but one start.
Dixon Salvages A Good Points Day
Scott Dixon had a bad Friday here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Dixon, had a clutch issues at the end of the second practice and never got to use the Firestone Reds. He then qualified just 16th. That could have been a dangerous weekend for him in the points. Instead, he really didn’t lose all that much.
Dixon, pit early on Lap 3 to go from the blacks to the reds and that maneuver paid dividends. He was off strategy all day but by doing so, it netted him a top 10 in the end. Dixon, brought his No. 9 Honda home ninth for his 248th career top 10. It was the first time of the season that he didn’t finish in the top five as his teammate Alex Palou goes from 26 points behind to 13 in cutting the deficit in half.
Still, to hold a double digit lead after starting 16th is like a win for Dixon.
Pato O’Ward was P2 in the standings entering the weekend, 22 points out, but he falls to fourth, -30, heading to the Indy 500 following a 15th place result by him. Josef Newgarden went from -37 to -28 but he finished fourth after starting second.
Graham Rahal is 39 points out in fifth with Dixon really only losing between 8-10 points on his main contenders for the title.
1st Lap Caution Again
We’ve seen a 1st lap crash in 7 of the 10 races now. The only exceptions are 2017 and again in all 3 events in 2020. Conor Daly brought out an opening lap caution in his No. 20 Chevrolet. It was the second straight race that he was collected in an opening lap crash.
A big reason as to why this happens so much ere at Indy is that is just 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. We didn’t have a single caution in any of the 2 races in October. This race overall has seen three or fewer cautions in each of the last six years. When four of those seven races had a first lap incident, you can see that this race has been run clean for a majority of the way.
We’ve seen an opening lap crash in three of the five races run in 2021 including five of the last 10 dating back to last season. Furthermore, we’ve had 13 in the last 40 races overall.
The 4.9510-seconds was the largest margin of victory all season. Three of the other four races were won by a margin of 1.2-seconds or less.
Also, all five pole winners have finished in the top four this season. Three of them finished fourth, one of them won, Romain Grosjean finished second on Saturday.
This was also the second shorted race of the season at 1-hour and 47-minutes. The quickest was 1-hour and 45-minutes in Texas 1.