5 things I’m watching heading to Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)

INDIANAPOLIS — 4 of the top 5 in the NTT INDYCAR Series points all start in the top 5 for Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix (3 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network). The question is, will they remain there?

Arrow McLaren SP starts 5th and 6th as the back end of the Firestone Fast 6 but while they’ve qualified well here and also on the season at that, they haven’t finished well at either.

Behind them are the young and inexperienced. 11 combined IMS starts to be exact. Row 4 features a driver making his 1st Indianapolis Motor Speedway start and the other making his 2nd.

So, who wins?

Will It Rain?

We’ve not had a rain race in this Aeroscreen era. In fact, the last time that the NTT INDYCAR Series has raced in the rain was the 2019 race in Belle Isle. That race though didn’t rain during it but rather before. So the track was wet but dried quickly.

The last time it rained during a race was the 2019 GMR Grand Prix right here. It changed everything. As of now, there’s a 60% chance of rain at the start of Saturday’s race and it goes up to 70% after.

The series will race in the rain so long as there’s not lightning or puddling.

Will Power has won from the pole 4 times here and he now starts 1st again. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Penske Back To The Head In Class

I wrote entering the week that Team Penske would be the ones to watch this weekend. At one point, this race was dubbed “The Penske Grand Prix.” Heading into the 2020 season, Penske drivers had won this race in 5 of the 6 years that it was around including having every winner of it under their umbrella (Simon Pagenaud won the inaugural race for SPM in 2014). This season, they are 3-for-4 and with how well they’ve looked, I thought watch out.

Then, after 2 practice sessions, they looked sort of pedestrian. Power was 3rd and 10th respectively in practice.  Scott McLaughlin was 17th and 11th while Josef Newgarden was 16th quick in each session.

Then, they go out and put all 3 cars in the second round of quals with 2 of the 3 in the Fast 6.

5 of the final 7 races to 2021 saw the winner come from the top 3 starting spots. 8 of the 11 races run here have also seen the winner come from the top 2 Rows. Penske has 2 of the top 3 starters….

Colton Herta failed to make the Fast 6 for just the 2nd time of his young career here at Indy – Photo Credit; INDYCAR Media Site

Where’s Andretti and Ganassi

Outside of Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing has sort of been an afterthought this weekend.

Ganassi went 1st (Palou), 6th (Marcus Ericsson), 13th (Scott Dixon) and 24th (Jimmie Johnson) in session 1. They were only 2nd (Palou), 13th (Ericsson), 20th (Dixon) and 27th (Johnson). They qualified 2nd (Palou), 18th (Ericsson), 21st (Dixon) and 27th (Johnson).

Ericsson has 3 top 10’s in 4 starts here but no top 5’s. For Dixon, he has 1 win in his last 26 series starts and his finishes since his win here in July 2020? 9th, 8th, 9th and 17th respectively. He’s qualified 12th, 15th, 16th and 26th in his last 4 tries too. On the season, 16th, 13th and 21st respectively the last 3 races.

Andretti Autosport wasn’t really found on Friday either. Romain Grosjean was their best starter in 10th but he was only 12th and 6th respectively in practice. Colton Herta failed to get out of the first round and will start 14th. He qualified 4th, 3rd, 3rd, 2nd, 8th and 5th in his 6 previous IMS road course starts.

Alexander Rossi will start 1 row behind in 16th. He was 15th and 17th respectively in practice and now has his worst starting spot here since 2019. Devlin DeFrancesco will roll off 17th.

It likely means none of this grouping will win.

All 11 road course races here have been won by a top 8 starter. Also, 12 of the 17 races last year saw the winner come from the top 4 Rows. Furthermore, 13 of the 14 races in 2020 saw the winner come from a top 9 starting position including 12 of the 13 from the top 8.

All 4 races this season have been won via a top 8 starter too. 98% (39-for-40) of the natural road course races since 2016 have been won via a top 10 starter too.

So, that means

  • Starting positions for natural road courses lately (since 2016) – 40 races (counting Barber this year)
    • 2016: 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st
    • 2017: 7th, 1st, 5th, 2nd 1st, 3rd
    • 2018: 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st, 20th, 1st
    • 2019: 4th, 1st, 8th, 2nd, 8th, 2nd, 1st
    • 2020: 7th, 9th, 7th, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 1st
    • 2021: 3rd, 7th, 5th, 1st, 2nd, 1st, 1st
    • 2022: 2nd

What about a podium?

Out of the last 15 podium spots, 14 of them came from the top 8. 11 of the 15 from the top 5. Go back to the road course races’ inception for INDYCAR and you get 33 podium spots for the taking. 29 of the 33 drivers started in the top 10 that day including 23 of the 33 from the top 5.

Honda vs. Chevy

Honda looked outclassed so far this season. They’re 0-for-4 in victories while allowing Chevrolet to lead 79% of the laps thus far too. Here on the IMS road course, the bowties have 6 of the top 7 starters and are on a track to where they’ve won 9 of the last 10 at including 4 straight.

Chevy, dominated the series when they came back in 2012. However, with the UAK coming out in 2018, Honda turned the tide to close the gap. In 2018, Honda won 11 times compared to Chevy’s 6. 2019 went back to Chevy (9-8) but the two tied in 2020 (7-7). Last year, it was 9-7 in favor of Honda with Chevy now leading 4-0 in 2022.

In the three year span of the Aerokits from 2015 through 2017, it was Chevy 34, Honda 15. With the same car this time around, it’s Honda 35, Chevrolet 32.

Conor Daly all smiles on a strong day out of him on Friday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Daly/Ilott/Lundgaard/Harvey Sleepers To Watch

Conor Daly has had pace here. This was his 3rd straight top 8 qualifying effort on the IMS road course. His problem has been Lap 1. He keeps getting ran over. This time though, he’s starting higher up than he’s ever before here. Does that help? He hopes so.

Daly makes no qualms about that this car with the Aeroscreen hasn’t been to his liking. He can’t get a full handle of it. However, here at Indy, for some reason he can.

The other thing is Ed Carpenter Racing has always put together some good qualifying cars here as well. Both he and VeeKay qualified in the top 10 in both races a year ago. VeeKay in fact won this very race from 7th. In 2020, VeeKay won the pole in the Harvest Grand Prix Race 1 and finished 5th in the GMR Grand Prix. In 2019, the 20 car qualified 5th from Ed Jones. In 2018, Jordan King qualified it 5th.

Daly, knows what’s at stake and knows he has a prime opportunity ahead.

So does a pair of series rookies. Callum Ilott was in the top 10 in all 3 practice sessions at the Barber Motorsports Park. He was P2 in session 1 here. He now starts 7th in his No. 77 Dallara-Chevrolet. What a sleeper to watch.

Don’t sleep on Christian Lundgaard either. He made his debut here last August and is the only track that he’s seen on the schedule. He qualified 4th in that race and after being 5th in session 2 on Friday afternoon, he qualified his No. 30 Dallara-Honda in 8th.


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