IndyCar Preview: GMR Grand Prix
Written by Dan Jones, Edited by Sasha Macmillen
The NTT IndyCar Series heads to its hometown at Indianapolis to begin the most famous month of May, as teams and drivers begin to prepare for the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500. And as it has been in recent years, two weeks prior to the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’ IndyCar heads to the road course for the GMR Grand Prix, to kick off the month’s festivities. Everyone will be seeking to get their May off to the perfect start, as Simon Pagenaud iconically did in 2019, winning the GP, Indianapolis 500 Qualifying and the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500, as well as looking on building on their starts to the season.
But before we look forward to Indianapolis, let's turn our heads back to the previous round at Barber, where Romain Grosjean took pole for the second time this season. Andretti Autosports qualified third, and would lead the field to green on Sunday ahead of Palou and O’Ward. The two members of the 'youth movement' immediately put Grosjean under pressure on Sunday, when O'Ward jumped Palou on the start, only to be forced wide by Grosjean at Charlotte's Web, losing out to Palou in the process. Palou would then try to get Grosjean at Charlotte's Web the following lap, only to suffer a similar fate to O'Ward.
Grosjean looked comfortable from there on in, until he came up against a familiar foe, the three-stopping Scott McLaughlin, with the two battling for victory on the second occasion this season, after the two dramatically took each other out in St. Petersburg. McLaughlin’s underdog strategy put him ahead of Grosjean on-track after his final stop. But Grosjean, knowing McLaughlin was vulnerable on cold tyres, would not relinquish that lead easily, making a sensational move in the final complex of corners, to retake the lead from McLaughlin.
However, this lead would not last long. Grosjean would run wide at Charlotte's Web late on, gifting McLaughlin the lead back, as he romped home to make it four different winners in four races, ahead of Grosjean, who had to settle for second for the 5th time in his IndyCar career. Will Power, on a similar strategy to McLaughlin, shrugged off his sluggish start to the season, to finish third, in front of O'Ward, Palou and Christian Lundgaard, who impressed in sixth.
A strong day for O’Ward, and a lacklustre tenth for Marcus Ericsson, means O'Ward lies 3 points behind the 2022 Indianapolis 500 winner, with the Mexican lying a further 6 in front of Palou, whose consistency has shone through in 2023. McLaughlin's victory boosts him to 4th, with Grosjean remarkably down in 5th, despite his stellar start to the season. Veterans Newgarden, Power and Dixon fill the next three places in the standings in front of Long Beach winner Kirkwood, with Colton Herta still struggling down in 10th.
However, Herta will have the perfect opportunity to reverse this, at the event he took a sensational victory last year in tumultuous conditions. In the only wet race of the aeroscreen era, a gamble on slicks saw the Californian make one of the greatest saves of all time, where he romped home to victory despite all the chaos and carnage behind him. Herta also looked set to win the Autumn race at Indianapolis last year, until an engine issue put him out of contention. But with his previous record, Herta looks a strong bet this weekend.
The Indianapolis Road Course is a strong circuit for many drivers in the field. Best of all, Will Power has won five times at the road course, and taken a sensational six pole positions at the circuit. Power has struggled so far in 2023, and there’s no better place for him to bounce back.
In the opposite sense to Power, Romain Grosjean has had an excellent start to the year, and has also impressed on the Indy Road Course, picking up pole position at the circuit in just his third IndyCar race where he finished second, before finishing second later on in the autumn race, in which he was beaten by Power. In May, he was beaten by Rinus VeeKay, another Indianapolis specialist, with the Dutchman taking his only IndyCar victory at the circuit.
But let’s delve into the circuit, a 3.925km (2.439 mile) one featuring fourteen corners, five to the left, and nine to the right. The lap starts down the iconic Indianapolis straight, where drivers will run in the reverse direction to the one that will be used for the Indianapolis 500 in two weeks time, before the circuit dramatically narrows for the right-left chicane, a corner which has seen many incidents in recent years. Turn 3 is a flat right-hander whilst Turn 4 opens up the circuit dramatically, with drivers able to take differing lines, before a flat out left-right, high-kerbed chicane at 5 and 6. Drivers then head down the back straight, which is a prime overtaking spot, and has featured some sensational moves such as Rinus VeeKay’s two-in-one in 2021.
Drivers then brake hard for the tight turn 7, before a wider corner at Turn 8, where Colton Herta made his sensational save last year, before another wide kerb is met at the left-hander at 9. Turn 10 is a fast right hander, where drivers will finish their qualifying laps, before the kink at Turn 11 tightens into the tight Turn 12, before another tight left hander at 13, and a flat right hander ends the lap at Turn 14.
All winners of the Indianapolis Grand Prix are still racing in the 2023 season. Will Power, as mentioned, has taken five victories, with Simon Pagenaud the next best at three, winning in 2014, 2016 and his iconic 2019 performance. Scott Dixon was the first driver to break the Power-Pagenaud dominance at the circuit, winning the seventh Indianapolis Grand Prix in 2020, before Newgarden won the first race of the double-header weekend later on in the year, with VeeKay picking up the victory in 2021, and Colton Herta claiming victory last season. Alexander Rossi is the other winner at the road course, picking up his final Andretti Autosport victory last year in the Autumn race, albeit in controversial circumstances.
Andretti’s dominance at the circuit last year bodes well for them, particularly after the start they have had to the 2023 season, but the forces of Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske can never be discounted at such an event. The top four in the standings have tended to struggle on the road course, with Ericsson’s best finish at the circuit being fourth in the madness of last year. Pato O’Ward has had extreme misfortune at the track, where he was placed on an incorrect strategy in May, which dropped him to last, and was spun out early on last year, which ended his championship hopes. In fact, O’Ward’s best finish at the track is fifth, which he achieved in both 2020 and 2021, but has previously taken pole at the road course.
Alex Palou hasn’t fared much better, with his only top 8 finish being a third he picked up in 2021, in his title winning campaign. McLaughlin’s best was fourth at the autumn race last year. All of these drivers will be hoping for a dramatic turnaround to take the lead of the championship standings.
There will certainly be a lot to look out for at Indianapolis, with drivers tending to fare really well or really poorly at the road course. With the championship standings disproportionate to performances, and teams starting to focus on the biggest event of all, the GMR Grand Prix is the perfect place to kickstart the Month of May, ahead of the build-up to the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500.