Finally, it’s May in Indianapolis!
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES has staged four races in 2021, the first held on a permanent road course (Barber Motorsports Park), the second on a temporary street circuit (St. Petersburg, Florida) and two same-weekend races on a high-speed oval track (Texas Motor Speedway).
The diversity of the series again will be on full display at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix will be held on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. Following that, IMS crews will quickly convert the facility to its original oval configuration for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 30. Practice for the “500” begins at 10 a.m. (ET) Tuesday.
In between those two races will be the “500’s” NTT P1 Award qualifying sessions May 22-23, which includes the Fast Nine Shootout to determine the first nine starting positions and the Last Chance Qualifications to see which car-and-driver combinations will start on the 11th and final row – and which competitors will not earn a spot -- in the 33-car “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
But first things first – the GMR Grand Prix.
Twenty-six entries are set for Friday’s two 45-minute practice sessions (9:30 a.m. ET and 1 p.m. ET) along with NTT P1 Award qualifying at 4:30 p.m. ET. Each of these sessions can be viewed live on Peacock Premium, NBC’s streaming service available at www.peacocktv.com for $4.99 per month. NBCSN will replay the three qualifying rounds at 6 p.m. ET.
On Saturday, INDYCAR’s 30-minute warmup is set for 10:45 a.m., with NBC’s broadcast of the 85-lap race beginning at 2 p.m. The INDYCAR Radio Network also will have the call.
The presence of all three Road to Indy divisions will make for a busy IMS weekend. Two races for Indy Lights and three races apiece for Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000 will be spread over Friday and Saturday.
Complete weekend information is available at www.ims.com/PlanAhead.
For now, here are five things to watch for in the GMR Grand Prix:
Additions to the Entry List
There are two additions to the regular entry list, with Juan Pablo Montoya and Charlie Kimball added for the first of their two races this month.
Montoya will drive the No. 86 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet in his first race with the team. Kimball returns with AJ Foyt Racing in the No. 11 Tresiba Chevrolet.
Both drivers have considerable experience, both in the sport and on the IMS road course. Montoya made four starts in the GMR Grand Prix for Team Penske, finishing third in 2015. He also made six starts for the Williams and McLaren teams when Formula One raced on the circuit’s previous design. His best finish was fourth in 2002.
Last year was Kimball’s first season with A.J. Foyt’s team, and he competed in all three races here, finishing 13th in Race 1 of the INDYCAR Harvest GP on Oct. 2. Among his eight starts on this circuit are three consecutive fifth-place finishes for Chip Ganassi Racing (2014-16).
Start with any of the four drivers representing Team Penske’s organization. The team has won seven of the past eight races on the IMS road course, including both races last October.
Team Penske’s Will Power (No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet) has won four of the races and five of the poles, including both in the most recent event, the INDYCAR Harvest GP held Oct. 3. He led all 75 laps. Teammate Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Snap-On Team Penske Chevrolet) won the Oct. 2 race.
Team Penske’s other IMS road race winner is Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet), who won from the pole in 2016 and then from the eighth spot in 2019. The Frenchman also won the inaugural event driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) is the only other driver to have won an INDYCAR race on the IMS road course, last July in the GMR Grand Prix. Dixon has finished second in this event on three consecutive occasions (2017-19).
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal (No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda) has had two second-place finishes on the IMS road course. Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) and Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Sonax/Autogeek Chevrolet) are the other former IMS road course pole winners in this field. Rosenqvist took the top spot for the GMR Grand Prix in 2019, while VeeKay won the pole for the INDYCAR Harvest GP Race 1 last October.
The Defiant, Young Stars
Undeniably, INDYCAR’s Under-25 Club is gaining in stature this season.
There have been four different race winners this season, and three of them are among INDYCAR’s youngest drivers. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou (No. 10 The American Legion Honda) had only recently turned 24 when he won the season-opening Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park on April 18. Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian’s Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) was a fresh 21 years old when he captured the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 25.
Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) continued the youth movement by winning the second race of the Texas doubleheader, known as the XPEL 375, on May 2. Four days later, O’Ward turned 22.
Dixon is the other race winner this season, having taken the trophy following the Genesys 300 on May 1 at Texas, but his recent birthday put him at a new age level. He is now 40.
VeeKay is another young driver hoping to add his name to the winner’s list this season. The Dutchman turns 21 in September.
These Drivers Deserve a Look, Too
This event marks the first INDYCAR race at IMS for seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson of Chip Ganassi Racing (No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda). He has tested an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car on the road course and has experienced his share of success in Indianapolis, but all four of his NASCAR Cup Series race wins occurred on the oval, the most recent in 2012.
Romain Grosjean, who drives the No. 51 NURTEC ODT Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR, spent 10 seasons in Formula One, but the United States Grand Prix at IMS was off F1’s schedule before Grosjean joined the series. Therefore, this will be his debut at the Racing Capital of the World. Like Johnson, he is only competing on the non-ovals this season, which means he won’t compete in the “500.”
The newcomer to Team Penske’s stable is three-time Australian Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet), whose IMS experience is comprised of two tests on the oval. He is the only INDYCAR rookie competing on both Speedway circuits this month. His season has been highlighted by a runner-up finish in Race 1 at Texas.
Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) is off to a strong start this season, making his presence particularly felt during the Texas doubleheader. He finished seventh in Race 1 and was running fourth in Race 2 when a mechanical issue knocked him out of the race. Harvey’s best INDYCAR finish – third place – happened in the 2019 GMR Grand Prix.
Other Title Hopefuls Need Indy Resurgence
With the season at its first-quarter pole, several veterans with championship aspirations, including a pair of former series champions, need a lot to go right in the next couple of weeks at IMS.
AJ Foyt Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais (No. 14 ROKiT AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) needs to forget the recent doubleheader at Texas. Entering the weekend seventh in the standings, his car was knocked into the Turn 2 wall by Newgarden in Race 1 and got collected in the opening-lap accident in Race 2. Finishes of 23rd and 19th dropped him to 14th in the standings, 85 points out of the top spot.
Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) had almost as bad of a Texas trip. After finishing eighth in Race 1, he, too, was collected in the first-lap crash. He enters this weekend 15th in the standings, 88 points behind Dixon’s leading total.
Two other Andretti Autosport drivers are in a similar points hole. Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda) and James Hinchcliffe (No. 29 #ShiftToGreen Honda of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) are 17th and 19th in the standings, respectively. Like Bourdais, Hunter-Reay is a former series champion.
If these drivers can perform well in Saturday’s race, the “500” awards double points for its finishers.