5 things I’m now watching for Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network)


Last year’s GMR Grand Prix was a thrilling done. That’s mostly due to the weather that ensued. It rained on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway shortly before action began. However, the racing line dried up. That caused teams to have a strategy play on when to hop off the wet tires and onto the slicks. Then, it rained again prompting teams to strategize when to go back to the wets.

That thrilling race produced 471 on track passes in 75 laps. 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.

Now, there’s a chance of wet weather again on Saturday.

Christian Lundgaard Friday at IMS. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Can RLL Close The Deal?

Graham Rahal hasn’t won a race since 2017 (94 races). Jack Harvey (0-for-69) and Christian Lundgaard (0-for-22) have never won. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing has won 29 times, but none since Takuma Sato’s win in the 2020 Indy 500 (44 races). Can a couple of these droughts come to a halt on Saturday?

Lundgaard scored his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole on Friday. He was second in both practice sessions. Harvey will start fourth. He was fifth in both practices. Rahal rolls off eighth.

In 12 of the 13 previous races on the 2.439-mile road course, each of those 12 were won via a top 8 starter. In fact, three of the last four GMR Grand Prix’s were won from a driver coming from Row 4 (Rahal).

3 of the 4 races this season were won from the fourth-place starter (Harvey). The other race this season was won from the pole (Lundgaard).

Maybe they can close the deal.

Felix Rosenqvist Friday at IMS. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Harvey/Felix Rosenqvist

I’m watching to see if either driver can pick up their first career win on Saturday. It’s no secret, both are racing for their jobs. Harvey has undelivered in his brief tenure with RLL but Indy is a place that can change his trajectory. He has to have seen RLL bring in a host of drivers to test for them. They’re not doing so to replace the bosses son or the driver sitting in a multi-year contract and delivering their most consistent success.

For Rosenqvist, he has to know that Alex Palou is coming. Pato O’Ward and Alexander Rossi each just inked long-term contracts last year for McLaren and Kyle Larson is coming in 2024 to run the Indy 500 one off. Palou is likely coming in Rosenqvist’s expense.

However, a win at Indy, even though not on the oval, but a win in general here could change the course of how these two are not only viewed with their current respective teams, but within the paddock too.

Rosenqvist starts second and Harvey fourth.

Colton Herta celebrates his win in last year’s GMR Grand Prix. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

Andretti Autosport

They have been puzzling this weekend. They swept both races last year. They’ve won 3 of the 4 poles so far this season entering Indy and have Romain Grosjean who has two runner-up’s this year and coming to a track that he finished runner-up at in both races in 2021. Kyle Kirkwood won at Long Beach and driving the car Alexander Rossi took to victory lane here last July.

However, this weekend has been abysmal for them.

Kirkwood took his No. 27 Dallara-Honda all the way to the Fast Six on Friday. That was the only bright spot that the Andretti Autosport camp had on a wild day in Indianapolis. The other three cars were bounced in the first round with Colton Herta starting 14th, Devlin DeFrancesco in 15th and Romain Grosjean in 18th.

Defending race winner, Colton Herta, starts 14th while Devlin DeFrancesco starts 15th.

At one point here, Andretti Autosport wasn’t very good on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. From 2014 through 2019 (6 races), they had just two total podium finishes. However, once the Aeroscreen came on these cars beginning in 2020, they’ve had triple the amount of podium finishes in just one more start.

Andretti has 6 podiums in the last 7 races including sweeping both races last year. In fact, those 6 podiums since 2020 is tied with Team Penske (also with 6) for most in the series since that span started.

No one else has more than two. Andretti combined to lead 61 of the 85 laps last July and 50 of 75 laps May. Can they win another race on Saturday?

So far, it looks like, no.

They were also only 12th (Kyle Kirkwood), 16th (Romain Grosjean), 22nd (Devlin DeFrancesco) and 27th (Colton Herta) in the opening practice. In the second one, they went just 13th (Kirkwood), 15th (Herta), 19th (Grosjean) and 22nd (DeFrancesco) respectively.

Scott Dixon and Alex Palou on Friday at IMS. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site


The INDYCAR race on the IMS road course is honestly a strategy play. Last year’s race in May was purely a display of strategy among wet tires and slicks. That was an anomaly in a sense that was the first pure rain race here. The others are down to tire choice and when to use them on stints.

If you can make it past the opening lap, the cautions usually are few and far between (11 of last 12 races here have seen 2 or fewer) and the tire strategy in turn becomes the main focus.

In most years, the Firestone alternates are the preferred tire due to the speed of them and the fall off being minimal. Most race weekend’s, the disparity between the two is large meaning the blacks are slower initially but remain consistent over the course of a full fuel run while the reds have a great burst of initial speed but fall off more of the same period.

In Indy however, the reds just don’t fall off very much. So, the strategy comes on which stints do you run the reds vs. the blacks.

We have to go to 2021 as the latest example. 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.

The pole sitter that year, 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.

Eventual race winner, 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 that day, 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 and I expect a similar debate again this time around.

Pato O’Ward on Friday at IMS. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site


A race win in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is worth 50 points. You get on additional point for the pole, one for a lap led and two points for most laps led. Basically, the winner gets at the very minimum 51 points. The second place finisher gets 40 points. If they don’t win the pole or lead a lap, there’s an 11 point gap from first to second place.

That’s the exact margin from first to fourth in the standings entering this weekend. Marcus Ericsson has 130 points accumulated (4 top 10 finishes) while Scott McLaughlin has 119 (3 straight top 10’s). Both have bookended wins entering this month with Ericsson winning the season opener on the streets of St. Pete and McLaughlin the last time out in Barber.

Sandwiched between them is Pato O’Ward (-3) and Alex Palou (-9). O’Ward has three top four finishes in four tries including a pair of runner-up finishes to start the season off with. Palou has a top eight finish in all four races.

Neither of them have done particularly well on this road course. They’ve been solid, but not great.

In 8 starts, Ericsson has 5 top 10 finishes. However, just 1 of those 5 he’s finished in the top 5 (4th last May). He’ll start seventh.

O’Ward has two 5th placed finishes in his last 5 starts here. What’s baffling is, O’Ward has four top 5 starting spots in his last five starts here, but three of his last four finishes have been 12th or worse. He rolls off fifth on Saturday.

Palou had a fast car last May before going off course in the rain, was 3rd in May 2021 and had a podium going before his engine blew in the August prior. If luck is on his side, watch out. However, that’s asking a lot for a driver with finishes of 27th, 18th and 10th respectively. He’ll start in third.

3 of McLaughlin’s 4 career wins have come on natural road courses. He also has two top 10 finishes in 4 tries here too. However, he’s also finished 23rd and 20th as well and rolls off a disappointing 16th.

“Look, I think we’ve had really good pace all year,” McLaughlin said. “It’s just a matter of putting things together my end and the team’s end. I felt like Barber, we were very simple all weekend. We had a really fast car, didn’t change too much apart from the front wing. Really strong. Hopefully we roll off the truck just as good.

“Yeah, who knows. You don’t know with INDYCAR. You got to ride the wave, keep working hard. The work you put in behind the scenes, you can’t really rest on your laurels in this paddock, so you just got to keep working hard and see how you go.”

Does that open the door to close this gap even more?

Romain Grosjean (-15) is fifth in points and enters having scored a runner-up finish in each of the last two races. He also has a pair of runner-up finishes here in 2021 and driving for a team, Andretti Autosport, that swept both road course races here last year. However, this weekend has been dismal for him. After being just 16th and 19th in practice, he starts 18th.

A trio of series champions are sixth (Josef Newgarden), seventh (Will Power) and eighth (Scott Dixon) respectively. All have won on this road course layout all are not starting in ideal spots. Dixon is in ninth, Power in 12th and Newgarden in 13th.

Power has 2 wins and two 3rd place finishes in his last 5 tries here though. In fact, Power is a 5-time winner on this track too including 7 total podiums, 348 laps led and six poles. He enters with a fresh engine and a podium in Barber.

Newgarden has just 1 podium in 12 Indy road course tries too. Out of his last five Indy road course races, he’s led just two laps.

Dixon has 11 top 10 finishes in 13 starts. The bad? none of the last six finishes here have been better than 8th either. Prior to that, he did have four consecutive top two finishes here. It’s qualifying that’s holding him back with his last six qualifying efforts being 12th, 15th, 16th, 26th, 21st and 20th respectively.

“Yeah, I mean, you always try to fight for wins,” Palou told me on Dixon, Power and Newgarden each being outside the Top-5 in points entering this weekend. “If it’s not a win, you want to get as many points as possible. I think the three names you named, they are obviously a big threat for the championship.

“But I think there’s more, especially this year. As you saw, it’s really, really tight. Going back to the points, yeah, you just want to leave as fast and as big of a gap as possible. I think we saw in INDYCAR it’s really tough to do so.

“Yeah, I would say being the season is so long as we have in INDYCAR, at least in my opinion I didn’t start thinking about the 2021 championship until the last three to four races because one win can change a lot. So yeah.”

Behind these three are Kyle Kirkwood (-38) and Colton Herta (-45). These cars won both races last year with Alexander Rossi being victorious in the 27 last July. Kirkwood won two races ago in Long Beach and is solid on this road course in the Road to Indy. Rossi had 5 top 7 finishes in his last 6 tries in this ride including 4 of which in the top 4. In the Road to Indy, Kirkwood had 5 top 4 finishes including a pair of runner-up finishes and a win in six tries. He starts sixth.

Herta is the defending race winner of this event and has a pair of top sevens in his last three starts on the season. He actually should have pulled off the road course sweep last year. After leading 50 laps and winning last May’s race, he led 17 more laps and well on his way to victory in July before a gearbox failed him while leading towards the end. Herta has 5 top 4 finishes in his last 7 Indy road course starts. 7 of his 8 qualifying efforts here have seen him start in the top 10 too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s