Now that the GMR Grand Prix in the books, it’s time for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Well, almost.
From an on-track perspective, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES is taking today and Monday off before returning to action Tuesday for the start of official “500” practice.
Oval-track veterans will be first on the track Tuesday at 10 a.m. with drivers eligible for refresher sessions and the Rookie Orientation Program starting at noon. Both sessions are scheduled for two hours. All cars can be on the track from 2-6 p.m.
Practice runs daily through Friday – noon to 6 p.m. – with NTT P1 Award qualifying Saturday and Sunday.
The storylines are rich and plentiful.
Can Ed Carpenter Racing go 2-for-2?
Team Penske is the only INDYCAR organization to sweep the two Month of May races at IMS, doing so with Will Power (2018) and Simon Pagenaud (2019). Could Ed Carpenter Racing be the next team to do it?
Rinus VeeKay, who won Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix in convincing fashion in the No. 21 Sonax/Autogeek Chevrolet, qualified fourth in last year’s “500” before finishing a lap down in 20th place. ECR usually has fast cars on the Speedway oval, with owner/driver Ed Carpenter a three-time pole winner (2013, 2014 and 2018) and finishing second to Power in 2018. Carpenter also started on the front row in 2017.
VeeKay was the only Chevrolet driver to qualify for last year’s Fast Nine Shootout, and he will enter the “500” loaded with confidence. Carpenter always has an extra pep in his step at the track his family once owned. Like last year, the Indianapolis-based team will also have a car for Conor Daly.
It could be a winning combination.
The Hungry Drivers on Top?
Of the top six drivers in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES standings, only points leader Scott Dixon has won the “500” -- and that was way back in 2008.
The other drivers in this group – Alex Palou, Josef Newgarden, Pato O’Ward, Graham Rahal and VeeKay – each will have an excellent chance to capture the 105th edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” In last year’s race, Rahal finished second, Newgarden was fifth and O’Ward was sixth. And as mentioned, VeeKay qualified fourth and will be riding high.
Pagenaud is seventh in the standings, and he not only will be in hot pursuit of his second “500” victory, he will seek only his third race victory since winning Indy in May 2019.
Scott Dixon? He led a race-high 111 laps in last year’s race and again is the points leader heading to Indy.
Takuma Sato? He had the field covered in the final quarter of last year’s race and was just three-tenths of a second from winning in 2019. He also won in 2017, which means he has had a car capable of winning in three of the past four years. He could have won the 2012 race, too, had he been able to execute that last-lap pass of Dario Franchitti in Turn 1.
Graham Rahal? He has quietly put together his strongest season since 2017, and he finished third in last year’s “500.”
Josef Newgarden? He is a two-time series champion who finished third in the 2016 “500.”
There are nine former winners in the field, one short of the record set in 1992. In addition to Dixon and Sato, entered are Juan Pablo Montoya (2000, 2015), Helio Castroneves (2001, 2002, 2019), Tony Kanaan (2013), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2014), Alexander Rossi (2016), Power (2018), and Pagenaud (2019). Any of these can win.
How Is This Rookie Class?
It’s relatively small, with only three drivers.
Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin is the most experienced of the bunch, having twice tested on the IMS oval and passing his rookie test last fall. The New Zealander finished second in the Genesys 300 on May 1 at Texas Motor Speedway and has finished eighth in the past two NTT INDYCAR SERIES races. He is eighth in the standings, with his teammates -- Pagenaud (seventh) and Power (ninth) -- on either side of him.
Pietro Fittipaldi, the grandson of two-time “500” winner Emerson Fittipaldi, was scheduled to compete in the 2018 race before breaking both legs in a World Endurance Championship qualifying session at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. He drove the No. 51 NURTEC ODT Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR in the two Texas races, being involved in the first-lap crash in the second race. He finished 15th in the other.
RC Enerson will drive for the first-year Top Gun Racing. Enerson has competed in four INDYCAR SERIES races, all on road courses and none since the middle of the 2019 season. His best finish was ninth at Watkins Glen International in 2016 for Dale Coyne Racing. However, he has twice competed on the IMS oval in Indy Lights, finishing fourth in 2015 and 11th in 2016.
Who’s In, Who’s Out?
Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix saw series rookie Romain Grosjean finish second, but he will watch the “500” from his home in Switzerland. Fittipaldi will drive that car.
Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson also is not competing on INDYCAR’s oval tracks this season, and his place in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 48 The American Legion Honda will be taken by Kanaan, who also drove the car at Texas.
The other 23 drivers in Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix will compete in the “500.”
To fill out the 35-driver entry list, add the following:
- JR Hildebrand in the No. 1 ABC Supply Chevrolet of AJ Foyt Racing
- Helio Castroneves in the No. 06 AutoNation/Sirius XM Honda of Meyer Shank Racing
- Simona De Silvestro in the No. 16 Rocket Pro TPO of Paretta Autosport
- Ed Carpenter in the No. 20 SONAX Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing
- Sage Karam in the No. 24 AES INDIANA Chevrolet of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
- Stefan Wilson in the No. 25 Lohla Sport Honda of Andretti Autosport
- Santino Ferrucci in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
- Tony Kanaan in the No. 48 American Legion Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing
- Pietro Fittipaldi in the No. 51 Military Salutes NURTEC ODT Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR
- Max Chilton in the No. 59 Carlin Chevrolet
- Rookie RC Enerson in the No. 75 Top Gun Racing Chevrolet
- 2020 pole winner Marco Andretti in the No. 98 Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana Honda of Andretti Herta-Haupert with Marco & Curb-Agajanian
The 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge will air on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network on Sunday, May 30 with network coverag