TRACK: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course (2.439-mile road course), DISTANCE: 85 Laps (207 Miles)
Saturday’s race is a decade since the GMR Grand Prix debuted. This will mark the 10th running of this race weekend but 14th race on the IMS road course if you factor in the 2020 Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader as well as the NASCAR-INDYCAR shared weekend’s in 2021 and 2022.
Oddly enough, we’ve seen a lot of parity here for this road course event. Simon Pagenaud started it in May 2019. Scott Dixon won in July 2020. Josef Newgarden won in October 2020 in Race 1 of the doubleheader weekend while Will Power won the 2nd leg of it. Rinus VeeKay won in May 2021 while Power won again in August of that year Then last May, it was Colton Herta’s turn and his teammate, Alexander Rossi, winning the return trip last July.
That’s 7 drivers in an 8-race span to win here on the 2.439-mile road course layout. Will we get a 8th on Saturday?
TRACK COMPARISONS/WHO’S BEEN GOOD ON THEM
While a road course is a road course, Indianapolis is most comparable though to Barber, Mid-Ohio, Road America, Portland and Laguna Seca. Toronto, Long Beach, Nashville, Detroit and St. Pete are each street circuits run on city streets. These other road courses are all-natural free flowing terrain with some elevation changes. If you’re good at one, you’re more than likely good at the others.
The top teams are the ones to beat on them.
Since 2020 (22 races) which was the debut of the Aeroscreen, Team Penske has 9 wins on these types of tracks. They have the most Indy road course wins (8) as well. However, they’re also 1-for-4 over the last two years here and haven’t won this particular event since 2019. At that time, this was their 5th straight win in the race. They’re 0-for-3 since.
Does that make the Andretti Autosport camp the favorites then? They started 0-for-11 here, before sweeping both events a year ago. They’ve also won the third most times (4) in this span (Aeroscreen era) with only Penske’s 9 and Chip Ganassi Racing (7) with more.
Only the McLaren win last year at Barber by Pato O’Ward and Ed Carpenter Racing on the Indy Road Course (2021) are the only other teams to have won on a natural road course during the Aeroscreen era.
They’re also dominating the podiums too. Between Penske (21), Ganassi (18) and Andretti (156, they’ve combined to have taken 55 of the 66 podiums chances (83%) in this span. Dale Coyne Racing is next best with four, followed by ECR (3), McLaren (2) and RLL (2).
For Indy in particular, Penske has the most podiums scored here with 14. They had 8 in the pre Aeroscreen era and 6 since (2020 and beyond). Andretti Autosport and Chip Ganassi Racing have actually swapped roles in dominance here though.
From 2014 through 2019, Ganassi had 3 podiums on the road course compared to Andretti’s two. Since the Aeroscreen came on the cars, Andretti has since netted 6 podiums (7 races), tied with Penske for most in this span, in comparison to Ganassi’s two in the same 7 races.
RLL has 3 podiums here as fourth best.
Podium Finishes on IMS Road Course (39 spots)
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing 3
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports 3
Meyer Shank Racing 2
Ed Carpenter Racing 2
Dale Coyne Racing 2
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.
Lundgaard has been stout in 3 starts here which includes a runner-up last July. He’s also qualified 4th, 8th, 6th and 1st respectively too. He was second in both practice sessions and also enters on the heels of a Fast Six appearance and a sixth place finish the last time out in Barber. This is also Jack Harvey’s best track with 4 top 8’s including a podium and Graham Rahal has 11 top 10’s in his last 12 tries too and has finished worse than 7th just once here since 2020 (7 races).
Harvey starts fourth after being fifth in both practice sessions and Rahal in eighth.
He 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. He was in the top three of every session on Friday.
He finishes well, but not always in the top 5 here. In 8 starts, he has 5 top 10 finishes. However, just 1 of those 5 he’s finished in the top 5 (4th last May). Can he pick up a second straight? Row 4 has produced 3 of the last 4 winners here…
The good? 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 entering this weekend being 12th, 15th, 16th, 26th, 21st and 20th respectively. He now starts ninth and within striking distance.
The rookie has been impressive this season. 3 starts, 3 top 11’s. He came from 26th to finish 11th at Barber. Now, he starts 11th on a track that suits European drivers…
He was with Foyt last year but now driving the car that Rossi won with last July. 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, he had 5 top 4 finishes including a pair of runner-up finishes and a win in six tries. He starts sixth.
I’d fade him… He has just 1 podium in 12 Indy road course tries and starts 13th. Out of his last five Indy road course races, he’s led just two laps.
He has 2 wins and two 3rd place finishes in his last 5 tries here. 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. However, it’s that 12th starting spot for me…
3 of his 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 too and now starts 16th.
Another grouping that qualifies well here, they just don’t finish. Felix Rosenqvist was 6th in May and 9th in July but had more speed in it. Pato 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. Rosenqvist has one top 5 in 8 tries and despite a pair of top 10’s a year ago, he also qualified 6th and 1st respectively. Alexander Rossi may be the one to watch among this group. He won the last time out here in July and has 5 top 7 finishes in his last 6 tries here including 4 of which in the top 4.
He 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. The only drawback is being 14th at the start in what could be a dry race this time around.
He was runner-up in this race last May and has 3 top 10’s in his last 5 including 3 total wins here and 5 podiums. However, he’s not happy with his car this weekend and starts 19th.
His last 5 finishes have been 21st, 20th, 21st, 21st, 14th and 19th respectively.
While he was only 17th and 16th last year, he was also runner-up in both races in 2021 and has two runner-up finishes in four starts this season alone. However, he’s been dismal this weekend in practice (16th, 19th) and in qualifying (18th).
A top 5 in the season opener, a front row starting spot in the 2022 season finale at Laguna Seca and starting 7th in this race last year has him on my watch list…until he qualified 24th.
Ed Carpenter Racing
They have a pair of podiums including a win here since 2020. Both of which via Rinus VeeKay who has 4 top six results here in 7 tries. Conor Daly was 5th last May. However, they’ve been struggling for pace this weekend and this season as a whole.
Was 12th and 13th last year as a rookie. He was 9th in USF2000 in 2017, 7th and 10th in Pro Mazda in 2018, 6th in both Light races in 2019 but 2nd and 1st in both Light Races in 2021 too.
Sting Ray Robb
I struggle to see a rookie winning here. In his rookie Indy Lights season on this track, he was 9th and 10th respectively. In his rookie Indy Pro 2000 season, he was 7th in both races. He did sweep the 2020 weekend with three wins in three races here in the Indy Pro 2000 Series and third in both Lights races last year, but it was his first year to which he faced the learning curve.
He was 21st in May and 18th last July here.
AJ Foyt Racing
Not their best track especially after going 15-26-27 in May and 21-23 in July. Santino Ferrucci was 10th, 9th, 15th and 12th respectively in his four finishes while Benjamin Pedersen is a rookie. In Indy Lights, he was only 10th, 9th, 11th and 4th respectively here too.