Herta outduels the field in the wet to win a wild and chaotic GMR Grand Prix in Indianapolis

INDIANAPOLIS — Where do we even begin? That’s the word around the massive grounds of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as well as inside of the paddock. No one knows how to describe what we just witnessed on a wet and wild day here in Indy.

A race that saw it start wet, to drivers pitting for slick tires just a couple of laps into it, to them going to wets, back to slicks, only to go back to wets a lap later, to the leader spinning under caution, to everything in between, Saturday’s 9th edition of the GMR Grand Prix was pure mayhem.

On a track that’s seen all 11 of its winners come from the top 8 and Chevrolet going 4-for-4 this season and winning 9 of the last 10 here including 4 in-a-row, we saw Honda go 1-2 with the starting spots of them being 14th and 20th respectively.

Maybe, just maybe, this is the turn of the season long Andretti jinx on a track well known for fueling the Andretti bad luck. Colton Herta went from an afterthought to a win in Saturday’s wild race and did so with brilliant strategy.

“Pure talent,” Herta joked on how he ended up in victory lane on Saturday. “It was really just the call for wets to slicks. Again, the call for slicks to wets that made the difference.

“I think we gained 15 spots on that transition. We pitted on lap three. Everybody pitted on lap four or five. We gained 15 spots in that transition to go from 15th to first.

“Yeah, it was really cool. Really cool to be a part of today. The team did a tremendous job. They gave me such an incredible car.

“The most interesting thing is you never have a car that works in the wet and the dry. It’s just not possible, but it happened today. It was very interesting. Felt comfortable in all conditions. Yeah, it was fun to do it.”

As rain began to fall as heavy at the end of the race as it did all day, Herta stomped the gap pedal and shifted through the gears on the final restart. The guys behind? Couldn’t see him. Not only was the rooster tails affecting their visibility on the Aeroscreen, Herta was just that good.

He drove away by over 3 seconds and Juan Pablo Montoya crashed in the closing minutes of the 2-hour timed race to end with Herta crossing the Yard of Bricks with fists flying over the top of his Aeroscreen celebrating Andretti Autosport’s 1st road course triumph at Indy.

“I couldn’t see,” Pagenaud said of the end. “I didn’t even know where he was, quite frankly. I picked a few points on the fence to know where I had to brake, but it was very difficult to see without the wiper.”

Power agreed. He said it was more about survival there in the end.

“At the end there, man, you could not see a thing. There was a spray in front of me. I don’t know how it was behind the one car, but just the two car, I couldn’t imagine being back in tenth, man.

“You don’t know if someone is braking early or you are kind of looking to the fence to get a reference, you kind of lift early. You don’t want to lift too early because no one can see from behind.

“Yeah, pretty crazy day. One to stay on your toes and know when to pick the right tire and definitely not overdo it. Yeah, real happy with third with a day like that. Just survival.”

On a day that saw the initial start moved up 40 minutes due to impending weather to getting moved back to the original start time after lightning in the Central Indiana area, Herta had the right play from his pit box to outsmart the field and score his 7th career NTT INDYCAR Series victory and second straight from the 14th starting spot.

See, among Herta’s 1st 5 wins, 4 of which were from the pole. He was gaining a reputation of becoming a driver that if he’s on the pole, it’s almost a race for 2nd. Then, he wins from 14th on the streets of Long Beach. He won from 14th on Saturday.

By comparison, Will Power had 5 poles here on the 2.439-mile Indy road course and 4 of the 5 saw him win. He was on the pole for the 6th time on Saturday too and it was Herta coming from midpack to score his 3rd win in the last 7 races if you date back to the final 2 races of the 2021 season.

Herta, bested Simon Pagenaud under yellow with pole sitter Power rounding out the podium for his 64th career pole. That comes a day after scoring his 64th career pole and by virtue of Alex Palou (20th), Scott McLaughlin (18th) and Josef Newgarden (25th) all having rough days, it allowed Power to points race and take over the series lead in the standings heading to the most important race of the year.

For Herta, his day was drastically altered by being the first driver on pit road on Lap 2. They pit to go off of the wets and to go to the slicks. He entered the pits in 15th. He’d exit the sequence in 2nd. Then, Pato O’Ward pit and he and Herta had a hell of a battle commencing for the top spot after.

Herta, made a dramatic save to take over the lead and would now run the course and be the top one on strategy. By being the first one to go back to the wets in the end helped him prevail.

Pagenaud, while being 2nd, called this one of the most gratifying finishes of his career. He’s won the Indianapolis 500 before. He’s won the Long Beach Grand Prix. He’s a series champion. Heck, he’s won this very race 3 times. Despite that, a runner-up with a new team for him left a smile on the Frenchman’s face.

This was the 1st time the Aeroscreen had in the rain – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Aeroscreen Lacked Visibility

An underrated topic of the day on Saturday was the Aeroscreen’s debut in the rain. The safety device that first debuted in 2020 has went undeterred in wet races. Coming into Saturday, we’ve had 34 races with the Aeroscreen and none were affected by wet weather.

We thought that would have ended the last time out at the Barber Motorsports Park but the rain subsided and the 2.3-mile track became dry under bright blue Alabama skies. However, it was the Indianapolis Motor Speedway of all places that earned the honors of debuting the screen in the wet.

The birthplace of speed and innovation was on the forefront again. How would the screen hold up in wet conditions with 27 cars running around the same pieces of real estate around the 2.439-mile track?

“I’ve never seen anything like that before,” said 5th place finisher Conor Daly. “It was like the water just stayed in the center of the screen, and I don’t know why, but even as you went faster, which you would hope it would clear, it didn’t. Again, I can’t say anything.

“Obviously, this is very much a scientific test run. Obviously, we have a lot of data to go through with the series, and I’m sure Jay Frye will look at it as well. And he hates when I talk about the Aeroscreen, but I’m just describing what I saw. That’s all. It was challenging.

“Thankfully, we had a great spotter in Packy Wheeler, who was literally guiding me into turn one. I couldn’t see the brake zone or the cars in front of me or the end of the pit wall, but I could look out the side of the Aeroscreen, so I was looking right and left to go straight, which was neat.

“I used to race in the rain all the time, so we had a visor that you can work with, but this is a new era, so obviously there are things that we can figure out. We go from here.

“I do think it was tough. It was definitely hard to race like that because you don’t want to, obviously, end up on the wrong side. Even under yellow. I couldn’t see the cars in front of me under yellow. I had to be guided into pit lane, and that’s concerning. Hopefully we can figure that out, but hopefully we also have very shiny weather for the rest of the year.”

2nd place finisher Simon Pagenaud echoed Daly’s sentiment on the visuals. He too couldn’t tell where he was at times and made a suggestion of how to quickly fix it.

“I couldn’t see,” Pagenaud said of Colton Herta on the restart. “I didn’t even know where he was, quite frankly. I picked a few points on the fence to know where I had to brake, but it was very difficult to see without the wiper.

“I mean, if we had a wiper, it would probably help, but that was the first real race with the Aeroscreen, so you got to give credit to INDYCAR. The safety is amazing, but in these conditions you would need a wiper like they do in the sports cars.

“It’s very similar to a wind screen you have on a sports car. There’s a (inaudible) wiper. It’s possible, and it would probably help in these conditions.

“I had visibility issues for sure. Wiper would have helped. Obviously I’m not an engineer. I don’t know what we should do.

“It’s certainly, like you said, the first real test for the Aeroscreen. It’s only been positive. I’m not being negative at all. I’m being quite positive about it and what we could do forward to make it even better.

“As we saw in Texas, it saved I think it was Callum. Was it Callum that had the issue with the wishbone? The wind screen saved him. That’s good, and we want to go forward from here. So we’ll find solutions and improve it and make sure that when we have rain races, hopefully we have more, then we don’t have these issues.”

3rd place finisher also said the visuals for him weren’t good at the end either.

“At the end there, man, you could not see a thing. There was a spray in front of me. I don’t know how it was behind the one car, but just the two car, I couldn’t imagine being back in tenth, man.

“You don’t know if someone is braking early or you are kind of looking to the fence to get a reference, you kind of lift early. You don’t want to lift too early because no one can see from behind.”

Power said though that he didn’t have a lot of problems in the rain. It was when it was damp on his end.

“Actually, I didn’t have much problem with the rain,” Power continued. “The worst part for me was when it was half wet. We’re on drys, and you have kind of that gritty just dirt on top of water. That was when I struggled to see a little bit, but in the full wet, I mean, the biggest problem for me was the spray from the cars.

“There’s really nothing can you do about that with open-wheel cars. It’s just going to be a lot of spray. Honestly, it was on the edge of whether we should have been running right at the end there. It was starting to get a bit of aquaplane.”

Will Power now has the points lead heading to the Indy 500 – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Penske Now 1-3-4 In Points Heading To Indy 500

Team Penske may be 0-for-2 after starting off the season 3-0 but as we head to the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500, they sit 1-3-4 in points. That wasn’t expected with how much of the day went with Will Power dropping early from the pole, Josef Newgarden crashing (25th) and Scott McLaughlin spinning on a late race restart to drop him to 18th still has the trio in a great place heading to a race that they so desperately want to win.

See ever since Roger Penske received the keys to these hallowed grounds, they’re 0-2 in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. That’s something that doesn’t sit well with “The Captain.” For a man that’s devoted his life to this place, his parking space is number “18” here in the shadows of the pagoda.

Everyone else’s parking spot is their initials. Not Penske’s. His is the number that he’s won here in the Indianapolis 500. When he took over as the owner of the property, he had won here for 2 straight years. Literally. Swept the road course and ‘500 in each of the last 2 May’s. He’s not won since.

They devoted a lot of time between the 2020 and 2021 seasons on Indy improvement. It didn’t work. They didn’t look any better than they did last May than they did in Aug. 2020 here. So, even more effort went into preparation from 2021 to 2022.

We’re ready now for the big event. They’ve got 3 of the top 4 in points. With double points available, can they stay there? If so, it likely means 1 of them is celebrating here in 15 days…

Herta scores his 7th career win on a soggy day in Indianapolis – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

After O’Ward Got Into Championship Fight, Herta Joins The Fray Next

Pato O’Ward had found the fountain of youth again. While the 22 year old driver isn’t old by any stretch of an imagination, an on going contract dispute saga left him feeling down and the results even worse. It affected the start of his season and cost him results. Now that his future seems to be secured again with Arrow McLaren SP, one that both he and the team feel strongly about, the results have come back around by virtue of that.

O’Ward, finished 5th on the streets of Long Beach. He turned that into a front row starting spot and a win in the last race at the Barber Motorsports Park. He now entered the Indianapolis Motor Speedway back in the hunt for the championship. A place reserved for someone as talented as him.

A happy O’Ward is a dangerous O’Ward to the field. 2 straight top 5 finishes, gaining 25 points in 1 weekend and going from 13th in points to 5th in 2 races.

He was most fearful of losing that momentum her this weekend instead. Indy’s road course is a place that hasn’t always been kind to him. Even with a pole last year in the August race, he still didn’t take any podium hardware home with him.

He was determined not to allow that to happen again, so while he started 5th, he crossed the Yard of Bricks on Lap 1 in the lead. O’Ward drove like a mad man and one that was well on his way to an Indy triumph.

Instead it was his former teammate who’s now found that new championship life. O’Ward pit for slicks a lap too late which allowed Colton Herta to take over the top spot and now the race for the win. O’Ward was there but being on the wrong strategy in the end with staying on slicks and all but 2 other drivers not cost him the race.

He spun. He had to pit. He limped home 17th. It was a nice effort but costly decision. O’Ward went from 30 points back entering the day to 44 out leaving it.

The thing is, it wasn’t just O’Ward with troubles. Josef Newgarden crashed out and finished 25th. Points leader entering the day in Alex Palou had early race troubles and finished 18th. Scott McLaughlin was 20th. Scott Dixon started a disappointing 21st and finished 10th.

That left the door open for Herta and he wasn’t about to give this up. The youngster went from 65 points down in 11th place in points to 38 points arrears in 5th. He’s now back in the fight for a title that he very well can still win.

No one denies Herta’s talents. It’s why he’s a man on the F1 radar. It’s just can he turn good finishes into great ones and when he’s destined for a great finish, actually do just that, finish.

Being 38 points out and him having won 3 of the last 7 races if you date back to last season makes him a prime candidate to do some damage when this thing is all said and done. He and O’Ward are the lone drivers fighting amongst a bunch of Penske and Ganassi drivers gunning for a title now. Literally. 6 of the top 8 in points belong to Penske and Ganassi. Each organization has combined to win 13 of the last 14 series titles including 9 straight. Herta, is hoping to help Andretti end that reign.

The last non Penske-Ganassi team to win the title? Andretti Autosport. Between the trio now, they’ve won every INDYCAR title since 2003

Simon Pagenaud scored his 1st podium with Meyer Shank Racing in Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix – Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Pageanud’s Runner-Up No Fluke

Simon Pagenaud started 20th in Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix. For a race that has seen each of the 11 races won by a top 8 starter and 39 of the last 40 natural road course races having been won by a top 10 starter, the cards were stacked against the former series champion. Despite that, he wasn’t going to give up. That’s not in Pagenaud’s nature. That’s why he didn’t walk away after Team Penske downsized from 4 cars to 3 and Pageanud’s No. 22 Dallara-Chevrolet being dropped.

He wasn’t a free agent long. With Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing expanding from 2 full time cars to 3, Jack Harvey joined them. That left the No. 60 Dallara-Honda open. They wanted Pagenaud. The Frenchman watched his former teammate Helio Castroneves who was similarly dropped from Penske a few years prior win his record tying 4th Indianapolis 500 crown last May. I mean literally. Pagenaud finished 3rd that day.

Now, he’s back at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway going from the juggernaut like Penske to the smaller scale team at Meyer Shank Racing. He started behind all 3 Penske drivers on Saturday and literally beside his teammate of Castroneves and outdrove all of them to finish 2nd.

It was a day that Pagenaud says was as good as a result as he’s ever had. That’s saying something. For a guy that’s won 15 times in the series including in the prestigious Indy 500, the prestigious Long Beach Grand Prix and even this race 3 times, this runner-up felt like a win.

“Just really proud of my team,” a jubilant Pagenaud said after the race. “Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to show results, but the potential has been there the whole time, so I’m really proud that today we were able to show all the hard work that has been done in the background by Mike Shank and everybody at Meyer Shank Racing.

“I’m just very proud of my guys, my whole team. The pit stops were great. We keep pushing. We’re going to keep pushing. Yeah, just super awesome.

“It’s funny. Sometimes second feels like a win. I would have loved to have won today, but I’m taking this home. Everybody was so excited. It’s nice to feel such support from your race team and feel like, yeah, tonight we’re probably going to celebrate like it was a win.”

Pagenaud showed that he can still drive. Don’t count him out just yet. He never lost the speed or the talent or the prowess to compete. He just needed a change of scenery. Pagenaud, finished 8th in Texas, 11th in Barber and while he was 19th in Long Beach, this runner-up has him with 3 top 11’s in his last 4 starts on the season and moving from 12th in points to 8th (-48) going to a race that he’s had 3 top 6 results in his last 4 tries.

“It’s all about process, and I believe in that,” Pagenaud continued. “I’m not someone that jumps in and manage to get you to the front in the first race. It’s not who I am, and I think Mike Shank and Jim Meyer knew that. It’s a process we have through.

“I had frustration up until now because we had so much performance, and it never really showed. Finally we are getting some results, which is very nice. A nice reward with all the hard work we’ve been putting in. It’s been a lot of work to today.

“Obviously, we have the big one coming up soon, and as you know, Helio and myself are really excited about that one. Obviously, it’s a big goal for Helio. A big goal for myself as well. We just have to keep pushing. Certainly a nice reward to take.”

He calls this drive today no fluke. He went from 20th to 13th right away. Then the pit sequence moved him up to 11th. Then after that 9th. Then 7th. Then it started raining. Then 5th. Then McLaughlin and Palou had problems, so third. So on and so forth.

“We made a lot of passes on track for sure and had some very good exchange in the pit stops. That made a difference.”

It sure did. Now, he’s ready to show off more in 2 weeks.


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