IndyCar will take to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course this weekend for the GMR Grand Prix.
This year, we roll into Indianapolis with four different race winners in as many races with others hot-on-the heels, ready to take snatch victories if the opportunity presents itself.
Scott Dixon comes into this race as points leader with a 22 point margin over nearest rival Patricio O’Ward. He is also last year’s Indianapolis GP winner and will be coming into this weekend with plenty of confidence – confidence that has seen him finish inside the top five in every outing this season.
But for once – it isn’t the highly-rated New Zealander that has got everyone talking.
Changing of the Guard?
Patricio O’Ward won last time out at Texas, taking his long-overdue maiden IndyCar win by beating six-time world champion Scott Dixon. The win, which had been ‘on-the-cards’ for over a year was one of many other success stories across the paddock. Among those are a range of drivers under the age of 25 including Alex Palou who won at Barber while Colton Herta took victory at St. Petersburg. Also, who could forget Rinus VeeKay who is consistently putting in strong performances with the Ed Carpenter Racing outfit?
This isn’t to say that the proverbial ‘old-guard’ are not up to the job. The likes of Scott Dixon, Will Power, and Simon Pagenaud are still serious competition while Josef Newgarden may be mistaken as a younger driver, even he is into his 30’s.
But while the young guns have shown glimpses of brilliance over the past few seasons, now they are consistently challenging at the front of the field. Pato’s win was something of a ‘monkey on his shoulders’ and will certainly give him the confidence that he belongs at the sharp end. If Arrow McLaren SP can deliver a title-challenging car, you better believe Pato will be a factor in most races.
Alex Palou holds one of the coveted spots at Chip Ganassi Racing and is certainly viewed as the team’s future. This at least ensures the Spaniard has the backing and resources to be a major contender for years. But the fact that he is putting in results in his first season with the team was perhaps beyond most peoples’ expectations.
Rinus VeeKay has made it no secret that top-teams have already been in contact but felt another year with Ed Carpenter would be best for his development in the series. The most likely of destinations for the Dutchman would be either Andretti Autosport or Chip Ganassi to replace Jimmie Johnsons’ part-time no. 48 entry. Wherever his destiny lies his future looks bright and will be a title contender in the next few years.
Interestingly, a third of the available spots on all podiums this year have been filled by these drivers, a significant change on past seasons. Considering Herta and VeeKay’s past success at Indianapolis – I expect them to be a factor once again this weekend at the GMR Grand Prix.
Can Penske Strike Back?
We return to a track where not only Roger Penske himself owns, but where his team has dominated in recent years. Will Power and Simon Pagenaud have stolen the spoils every year between 2015 and 2019. In addition, all excluding 2019 have been won from pole position by the winning Penske driver.
IndyCar’s last visit to the Road Course was for October’s Harvest GP doubleheader which Penske won on both times of asking – Josef Newgarden followed by Will Power from pole the next day. With five of the last nine IMS road races won from the front row, Friday’s qualifying will prove that much more important.
Newgarden is the highest placed Penske in the drivers’ championship in fourth. By their standards, they will be hoping to change that by the end of this weekend. His unfortunate start to the season at Barber has been something of a blip, finishing consistently in the top-six on every occasion since.
His teammate Will Power by contrast had his turn of misfortunate at the Texas Motor Speedway, slipping down the order and out of contention in both races. Ninth place in the championship is not good enough for the former IndyCar champion and will be looking to capitalise on his winning experience around this circuit.
The GMR Grand Prix will take place on Saturday afternoon in a condensed two-day weekend.
Friday 14th May will play host to qualifying at 21:30 (BST) while the race will get underway on Saturday 15th May at approximately 19:00 (BST).