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IndyCar Preview: Grand Prix of Indianapolis

Written by Dan Jones

Credit: Chris Owens

It's that time of the year again where the eyes of the world turn to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing,' as the oh-so-famous 'Month of May' rolls around for the most anticipated motorsport day of the year, ahead of the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500. However, before that, we have the other 'Month of May' festivities to crack on with, which includes this weekend's race on the Indianapolis Road Course for Round 4 of 17 of the 2024 NTT IndyCar Series.

But before we look forward to the rest of May, let's have a look at how we ended April, and that was with Scott McLaughlin dominating at Barber Motorsports Park to claim back-to-back victories in Alabama, and his first win of the 2024 season. It was a mighty statement from McLaughlin, just days after McLaughlin, and teammate, Josef Newgarden, were disqualified from St. Petersburg after a push-to-pass infraction.

McLaughlin bounced back from a difficult week to claim Alabama victory. Credit: Joe Skibinski

McLaughlin lead 58 of 90 laps as he converted his pole position into victory, ahead of teammate, Will Power, with rookie, Linus Lundqvist claiming his first IndyCar podium in third, after switching to the alternate strategy late on. Felix Rosenqvist finished an impressive fourth, ahead of Álex Palou - the only driver to finish in the top five in each event this year.

It would be difficult days for championship contenders Scott Dixon and Josef Newgarden who finished 15th and 16th respectively, with Pato O'Ward spinning out, before colliding with Pietro Fittipaldi and later, teammate, Théo Pourchaire, as he crumbled to 23rd.

Heading into the Month of May, Colton Herta leads the IndyCar standings for the first time in his career, one point ahead of Will Power (who has had 10 points deducted after the push-to-pass infraction in St. Petersburg), with Palou just two points off Power. The top ten in the standings are as follows: Herta: 101

Power: 100

Palou: 98

Dixon: 94

Rosenqvist: 87

O'Ward: 71

Kirkwood: 67

Lundqvist: 62

McLaughlin: 59

Ferrucci: 58

There's nowhere quite like Indianapolis. Credit: Walt Kuhn

Let's turn our eyes to the 'Racing Capital of the World,' the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And before we see 34 cars attempt to qualify for the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing,' the 27 full-time drivers must battle around Indianapolis' 2.439 mile (3.925km) Road Course. 'The Brickyard' will only host one race on the Road Course this season, as the NASCAR doubleheader in the Autumn has been dropped in favour of the double-header at the Milwaukee Mile.

The lap runs clockwise, and will head down the iconic main straight in the opposite direction they will do in just two weeks time. Drivers will cut away from the oval in a heavy braking zone into Turn 1, where the number of lanes dramatically narrows, which can regularly cause chaos in the opening lap as drivers try and navigate around one another. Last year's autumn race saw Devlin DeFrancesco go around the outside of four cars to take the lead!

Turn 1 presents the best overtaking opportunity on the circuit, before that right-hander quickly switches left before a subtle right-hander at Turn 3 which is taken flat-out. Drivers will take a wide entry and cut back in for the right-hander at Turn 4, where it is essential to get a good exit, as they navigate the flat-out left-right chicane at Turns 5 and 6, before the long run down to Turn 7, the other key overtaking opportunity at the circuit.

Herta pulled off a miraculous save here in 2022 on his way to victory. Credit: Chris Owens

That narrow left-hander opens up a section of esses, where drivers will then turn right, left and then right in quick succession, the scene of Colton Herta's miraculous save in 2022, on his way to winning the Grand Prix. The run down to Turn 11, as drivers meet up with the oval again provides another overtaking opportunity for a narrow right-hander, before an endless left-hand turn, with a flat-out right hand kink bringing them back to the main straight.

With the addition of the Autumn GP in previous years, we've seen nine races on the road course in just four years, but this circuit is Will Power's second home, the Australian taking five victories at the road course, as well as six pole positions, with his triumphs coming in 2015, 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021. With the way Power has started 2024, who's to say he can't return to victory lane for the first time since Detroit 2022?

This has been a Team Penske stronghold, in reality, the team winning over half the races here, Simon Pagenaud taking victories in 2016 and 2019, when he swept the Month of May (in addition to his victory with Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2014). Josef Newgarden won for the team here in 2020.

Roger Penske took a big stance by suspending team President, Tim Cindric for May. Credit: Joe Skibinski

However, his stand will look particularly different for this weekend, after the news that Roger Penske has suspended four Team Penske officials after the St. Petersburg debacle, including Newgarden and Power's race engineers, Tim Cindric and Ron Ruzewski. They will remain suspended for the whole month, including the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500, after an internal review.

Other winners at the Road Course include Rinus VeeKay, who took his only career victory to date in 2021, in a track he's gone well at historically, taking a further podium and pole in 2020, as well as two more top six finishes. Andretti Autosport swept the 2022 races, Colton Herta winning the May wet-dry thriller, with Alexander Rossi controversially taking the Autumn race.

Scott Dixon's impressive Barber results streak ended last time out, but he returns to one of his strongest tracks, winning in 2020, as well as the last time the series visited the road course, last autumn, where he performed a strategical miracle to hold off Graham Rahal.

Álex Palou kickstarted his championship run last year, where he won four out of five races, at this venue. It's been a quiet start for Palou so far in 2024, but he remains in a very strong championship position, with this being a prime chance for Palou to repeat the mighty month he had at Indianapolis last year.

Can Lundgaard repeat his pole position of last year? Credit: Chris Owens

Despite all this, keep your eyes firmly on Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing this weekend. Christian Lundgaard claimed his first career podium here in 2022, before taking pole at this event last year, and being on the front row for the autumn race before finishing fourth in both races. His teammate, Graham Rahal, took pole in the autumn race, his first in seven years, and should have won the race, if not for Dixon doing Dixon things!

In fact, no RLL cars qualified outside of the top eight in either event here last season, despite all of Jack Harvey's 2023 woes. It was a particularly turbulent month on the oval last year for RLL, which saw Graham Rahal bumped from the field, but watch for Lundgaard and co this weekend, they could easily be one of the favourites for the event, a great opportunity for Rahal, who wasn't won in seven years.

Pato O'Ward has suffered a frustrating two races in Long Beach and Alabama, both of which saw him collide with a teammate, but the Road Course is a track he could turn that around. The Mexican took second and third at the two races here last year, as well as a pole at the circuit in 2021. He's had mixed fortunes at Indianapolis in recent years, but he will be looking to firmly put himself back in the championship fight.

The 27 drivers who competed in Alabama are set to be the same 27 who will contest the Indianapolis weekend. Luca Ghiotto was confirmed to do this race in the particularly unpredictable #51 Dale Coyne Racing entry. This also comes after confirmation that Arrow McLaren have released David Malukas for the rest of the 2024 season. This will see Théo Pourchaire remain in the car for this weekend's action, with Callum Ilott having a clash with the 6 Hours of Spa in the World Endurance Championship.

Pagenaud started off his 2019 May Sweep by winning the Road Course. Credit: Walter Kuhn

It's a pivotal weekend as drivers look to build confidence ahead of the Indianapolis 500. Although results on the road course don't translate to form at the '500,' drivers want to kick off their 'Month of May' in the perfect fashion, with the winners of the 2018 and 2019 events going on to be crowned the Indianapolis 500 winners.

There's so much to look out for this weekend. Will RLL be able to boost their confidence, ahead of attempting to overturn their 2023 woes? Can Team Penske recover from the suspension of several of their key officials? But most importantly, who will be able to boost their confidence most heading into the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500, as the 27 drivers hit the Indianapolis Road Course for this Saturday's race.


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