In 10th year of GMR Grand Prix, has race delivered? My thoughts

INDIANAPOLIS — When you think the Month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you most likely think the Indianapolis 500. I mean, why not? For the last 111 years in this city, in 106 of them now, we’ve had racing on Indy’s west side. Outside of a pair of World War’s and the 2020 pandemic, the Month of May in Indianapolis means the Indy 500.

However, the last decade now also means road course racing too. Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) is the 10th edition.

“I think it’s a great way to start the month,” said defending Indianapolis 500 winner, Marcus Ericsson. “To start the month of May out on a road course is in my opinion a perfect way to do it. Usually quite fun race here. It produces some good racing, always super close. Early May is usually tricky around here weather-wise. I think it’s a perfect way to start the month of May.”

When it was unveiled in 2013 that the series would come back in 2014 and stage a race on the road course, it was met with a ton of controversy from this fan base. Most thought it was sacrilegious to run an INDYCAR the opposite direction on these hallowed grounds, let alone use a road course. This was Indy and Indy was speed and pageantry and tradition.

More: 5 things I’m watching for Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix

This was messing with all three.

However, what many fans failed to realize is, this race wasn’t added for them or their necessarily benefit. This was added to introduce the fans already here that there’s more to the NTT INDYCAR Series than the Indianapolis 500. There’s also a lot more to IMS than the Indy 500 too.

While Indianapolis and the ‘500 have made names for drivers, the series has a whole other season they put on. It’s not just Indy only.

See, as attendance had dropped, then sort of flattened out over the years, IMS and INDYCAR needed to do something drastic. This was a failing sport at the time that was trying to rise. But, in order to do so, you first have to shake some things up.

Practice days, qualifying days, etc, well it’s mostly filled with empty aluminum bleachers. The once massive crowds that flocked to IMS on those days in the past were long gone. So, how do you get them back?

Adding a second race.

With how important that the Indy 500 is, IMS didn’t want to add a second oval race to the schedule. So, with a state-of-the-art road course already here, why not utilize that?

The question then was, why do so in May?

Well, why not?

Pato O’Ward last May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

“I think it’s great that we have a road course race before the Indy 500,” Alex Palou said on Thursday from the IMS Media Center. “Just makes everybody be ready. It’s a good warmup. I think it’s a fun race.”

The road course weekend draws in excess of thousands of more spectators on that Friday-Saturday than a normal practice or qualifying day would draw. While official attendance figures were never released, most considered no more than 5-10k showing up to qualifying days and far less for practice.

Estimated attendance of the road course race is typically anywhere between 40-50k. That’s a massive win and helps the bottom line when that many more paying customers are coming through the gates. It also is a natural build up to the Indy 500 action too which is a win-win.

Practice days and qualifying days for Indy are bigger since the road course race came around than before. Race day crowds for Memorial Day weekend are much bigger now than before too.

One could say that in 8 previous years to where the road course race was in May, it helped the Indy 500 later than month too across most metrics.

That’s a win.

Also, to grow the series and the month, why not show race fans that there’s more to INDYCAR can just the Indy 500. You see 300k people show up on race day for the ‘500 but nowhere close to that elsewhere. Well, by racing on a road course here in their home race, it shows those here in Indianapolis that an Indy Car can make left- and right-hand turns.

These are the same drivers, the same cars, everything the same. They just don’t show up here in May and sit on their hands for the other 11 months. They race elsewhere and what better way to introduce INDYCAR to the fans than doing so in front of their most rabid fan base on a road course.

Like what you see on Memorial Day weekend, why stop there? Well, there’s more to offer and it’s paid off which fans traveling to more races and seeing how fun a road racing event with these cars can be too.

Are the stands filled? No. Are the mounds filled? Heavens no. However, is IMS brought to life a lot more with this race weekend than the alternative?


We saw 471 on track passes in 75 laps turned in this race last year. The previous high? 269 which occurred in the August 2021 race here. Among those 471 passes, 362 were for position. The previous high was 198. Also, 142 of those passes resided in the top 10.

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