Well it now feels like the IndyCar season is truly under way!
In this crazy, pandemic dominated world we are dealing with, the original 2020 schedule was ripped to pieces and half-puzzled back together, so the opening race was held in Texas but it was a MONTH ago. So, it almost seemed like another season opener when the Indy road course went green last Friday for practice for the GMR Grand Prix.
As in Texas, the race was held without fans being allowed into the Speedway so it still seems a bit surreal, but it was a pretty good race.
Qualifying offered a combination of expected results and surprises as well as the Firestone Fast 6 ended with Will Power (on pole) and Josef Newgarden (sixth) bookending the session, but then Jack Harvey (second), Colton Herta (third), Graham Rahal (fourth), and rookie Oliver Askew (fifth) making it a refreshing first 3 rows.
Other notables in quali were Alexander Rossi eleventh fastest, last year’s winner Simon Pagenaud having a rough day with the twentieth quick time, and poor Marco Andretti having yet another “Murphy’s Law” weekend leaving him in the twenth-fifth starting spot.
A combination of brutally hot ambient temperatures and the new Aeroscreen pushing cockpit temps into the 120’s made for a very physically demanding race day for the drivers.
The race started clean as everyone made it through the first lap without mowing any grass, although Graham Rahal threatened to make a mess going into the first turn by clipping Jack Harvey’s rear wheel. Luckily no damage was done.
The race became a strategy session very early on. The distance lends itself to either a two or three stop plan, with two stops requiring a slower pace to save fuel an d tires and the three stopper a flat out quali lap pace.
Within just a few laps many teams that had started with a two stop race in mind found out that the tires were giving up so quickly that they were just losing too much ground to the three stop cars with fresh rubber. Many made decisions to stop early, and it changed their fate. The exception was Graham Rahal. The RLLR team decided to go with track position and stuck to the slower two stop plan, resulting in a well planned second place day.
Will Power set sail early from the pole in his Penske machine and looked to possibly have a dominant day until unluck timing of a yellow flag and a stall/restart debacle in pit lane killed his day. He ended up finishing twentieth, a big disappointment for the team.
As the first third of the race rolled on, a quiet Scott Dixon parlayed a great strategy call and smooth driving skills into the lead and it was his show from then on. It’s funny how the “IceMan” simply goes about his business at each race without flair or drama and yet ends up in the front. His driving talents and the CGR teams’ strategy calls (Mr. Mike Hull) are vastly underrated in my opinion!
So, Dixon cruised relatively unchallenged to another win making it 2-0 for the season. Scott usually doesn’t even get rolling until the second half of a season so if this keeps up he might as well start buying more polishing cloths for yet another trophy. There’s a long way to go, but he is looking stout so far.
Simon Pagenaud used some great driving and leaned on team strategy to turn a terrible twentieth starting spot into a nice podium finish in third.
Rookie Oliver Askew had a tough day, stuffing his Arrow McLaren SP car into the wall and ending his day. He did however win “Hair of The Day” in his TV interview, wrestling that title away from Santino Ferrucci for a day.
Colton Herta had a quietly productive day finishing fourth, while rookie Rinus Veekay came home a satisfying fifth after running fast and clean all day, erasing thoughts of his disastrous first IndyCar race in Texas one month earlier.
And poor Jack Harvey, who started 2nd in the AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda, got caught out by the yellow flag like Power did, and was never a factor after that, coming home seventeenth. The Meyer Shank Racing team deserved better, but they keep showing consistent speed and show promise to break through for better results soon.
Alexander Rossi’s day ended with a mechanical failure effectively putting him out of his misery. In fact, all of the Andretti Autosport team, except Herta, had a weekend they would like to forget. But the next race is at Road America, where Rossi totally dominated last year, and they can turn things around quickly.
The weekend also showed us that we all owe a big “Thank You” to Mr. Roger Penske, for all that he has done for the sport we love, and the historic place that we all revere. Although this race had to be run without fans, the reviews of the improvements made to the Speedway by you and your group were all positive. Fans should be very happy when they are finally allowed to attend the next race. Well done sir!
So, as the travelling circus of IndyCar heads into a stretch of 5 races over the next 4 weekends I expect things will really heat up. And then, pandemic orders depending, the 2020 Indianapolis 500 will run on August 23. Will Dixon continue on a charge? Will the Penske team “rise up” and take it to the Ganassi camp? Will Andretti get it together and run up front where they belong? Which rookie will break out as the front running ROY candidate?
I for one cannot wait to find out!
As always, I love to hear from fans like me so please comment or catch up with me on Twitter or Facebook. I LOVE to talk racing. See you at the track!