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Winners and Losers: IndyCar Grand Prix of Indianapolis

Written by Archie O’Reilly & Dan Jones


Credit: Ryan Fleming

The Month of May commenced with the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) road course last weekend. Alex Palou won from Will Power - picking up his third second-place finish in four races - and Christian Lundgaard rounded out the podium.


But who has that special May momentum and who has more to find? Ahead of track action getting underway for the Indianapolis 500 on Tuesday, here are some of DIVEBOMB’s winners and losers from the Indy GP weekend…


Winner: Alex Palou


Álex Palou just makes driving an IndyCar so incredibly simple. His second consecutive victory in the May Road Course race was exactly what we saw Palou do so effortlessly last year - manage the race impeccably. He may have lost the lead at Turn 1, he may have looked precarious on the restart, but there was little doubt that Palou would find a way to win - particularly in a race just so suited to his style.


Yeah, kind of surprised that we are here” were the words of the defending champion after taking pole position on Friday ahead of his win on Saturday, and as usual, played down his own brilliance: “I would say that today the hard part was done by my crew, the No. 10 crew, my engineers and my mechanics on giving that first position back. And I just had to control from the lead.”


It’s been an impressive start to the year for Palou, proved statistically by the fact that all his 2024 results have matched or bettered his 2023 ones. However, it’s been an oddly quiet start for the Spaniard, his St. Petersburg recovery to sixth (which later became fourth), was quietly impressive for his worst track on the schedule, ahead of a Long Beach race where his podium was overshadowed by the Colton Herta/Josef Newgarden collision.


But Palou showed exactly who’s the top dog yet again in 2024. This race started the run that saw him effectively seal the championship mid-season in 2023, and the way that he has started this season, particularly with the Indianapolis 500 ahead, Palou once again one of the favourites, he has already made 2024 seem like catch-up for the others.


Dan


Winner: Marcus Armstrong


“I’m sure that he will have a couple of wins this year.”


Those were Alex Palou’s words following the Indy GP when asked about the performance of 23-year-old teammate Marcus Armstrong. The Chip Ganassi Racing rookie, who plied his trade on the Formula 1 ladder before moving Stateside for a road-and-street campaign last year, finished a career-best fifth-place at the weekend.


The Kiwi finished as Rookie of the Year in 2023, despite missing the five oval rounds. From his 12 races, he finished inside the top 11 seven times and managed five top-nine finishes. A best race finish of seventh came in Toronto, with three further eighth-place finishes. 


There was a baseline of pace but a headline result never quite came.


He looked poised for a possible podium in his sixth race, at Road America, before strategy failed to go his way. The second visit to the IMS road course then saw him qualify as the best Ganassi car in a career-best seventh. But as Palou pointed out: “Unfortunately I took him out on the first lap.”


Execution is now starting to improve for Armstrong. He made his first Fast Six appearance in qualifying at Barber Motorsports Park and was the only Ganassi car to make it to the final stage - evidence of how competitive he has been at times up against his more experienced teammates, two-time series champion Palou and six-time champion Scott Dixon .


Eighth-place in qualifying on his third visit to the IMS road course - his fourth top-10 qualifying finish in four races - set him up well last weekend. He found a nice rhythm during the race and ran inside the top five almost race-long. By the chequered flag, he was right on the back of Dixon too. 


Next up: his first-ever oval race, coming in the Indy 500.


Archie


Winner: Colton Herta


Colton Herta will want to see the back of this weekend as soon as he possibly can. But in many ways, he shouldn’t. It was amongst the best in his IndyCar career. Once again, despite in the pools of adversity, Herta salvaged something from it, in a drive which was patient, composed and not over-aggressive or optimistic, something that maybe has been Herta’s downfall in the early years of his young career.


A fuel miscalculation saw Herta slump to 24th in qualifying, the Californian visibly frustrated at the situation, coming into the weekend as the championship leader. Herta’s mood wouldn’t improve on Saturday after colliding with teammate, Marcus Ericsson, the Swede losing the rear of his No.28 Andretti Honda heading into Turn 3, forcing his unfortunate teammate into the gravel.


Herta had choice words for Ericsson, calling him “dumb” and “an ass”. Herta’s frustrations are understandable - considering the context of the weekend and the significance of Andretti finally finding themselves in a good championship position. Ericsson stated he didn’t know it was his teammate, but in a weekend where human error mightily cost Herta, they need to iron these things out.


But Herta’s recovery to seventh was a level of maturity that’s particularly noticeable in Herta’s arsenal this year. It’s a newfound composure to combine good strategy and his own talent to bring home a result that his important in a long run. 


Palou didn’t win his championship last year through winning four races, he won his championship by finishing no lower than eighth. And in the long run, that’s what Herta needs to become a top level driver. But with how his performances in Alabama and the Road Course suggest that, it could be a promising year ahead.


Dan


Winner: Rahal Letterman Lanigan


Christian Lundgaard said he was “happy to be disappointed” with a third-place finish last weekend. And that embodies the paradox of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (RLL)’s weekend.


Lundgaard said the team set a podium as the minimum requirement heading to arguably their best track on the calendar. In 2023, they notched pole position in each of the two races on the IMS road course through Lundgaard in May and Graham Rahal in August.


But while they did not achieve the win that was outlined as their ideal target after falling short on both occasions last year, a front row start and third career podium for Lundgaard in 2024 marks an improvement on a more difficult start to the year for the team. Rahal also managed a season-best finish in ninth and Pietro Fittipaldi made the Fast 12 for the first time.


There has been some pace early in the season from RLL - all three cars made the final race in the $1 Million Challenge exhibition, while both Lundgaard and Rahal have made the Fast Six in the last three points events. But Rahal has not felt he has been maximising qualifying, including finishing ninth in the Indy GP, and converting a result had been an issue.


Rahal saw 12th become 17th in Long Beach and seventh become 11th at Barber. Lundgaard has made the Fast 12 in every event but was put out of contention in St. Pete due to an early puncture, saw strategy go against him as he fell from seventh to 23rd in Long Beach and fell from third to sixth at Barber.


All in all, putting together a race that involved leading the first two stints and maximising what was on the table against Alex Palou and Will Power should see RLL as content as they have been this year. This is crucial heading into their most difficult event of 2023… the Indy 500.


Archie


Loser: Rahal Letterman Lanigan


It’s a rare occurrence where Archie and myself have taken a different perspective on the same matter. On paper, yes, it has been a fantastic weekend for RLL, a first podium of the season will certainly help with confidence as they look to recover from their dismal Indianapolis 500 showing last year, but with the optimism they had for this weekend, it only feels like there was performance left on the table.


There’s no hiding away from the facts here. RLL took both poles on both the races at the road course last year. Rahal would have easily won the Autumn race had Scott Dixon not been spun on Lap 1, and decided to perform his own magic. Lundgaard would finish fourth in both races. Jack Harvey, who had the most torrid of seasons, qualified in the Fast 6 in the May race, none of the three cars qualified lower than eighth in either event.


And Lundgaard’s ‘happy to be disappointed’ maybe tells the story here. Lundgaard openly stated his disappointment after qualifying, beaten by the underdog in Palou, as bizarre as that is to say. Lundgaard’s words post-qualifying: “Well, in our minds there's only one objective, and that's to win the race tomorrow.”


Lundgaard led the opening stint on Saturday, but a third place finish was not satisfactory for him: “I wanted it to be a win.” Rahal would finish ninth at the flag, Fittipaldi, 14th. It was still a better result than both of the cars achieved last season at this race, but after the strength they showed here in 2023, particularly in qualifying, this was seen as a huge opportunity for the team in the course of the season. They still leave with a podium, but the whole camp feels it could have been more.


Dan


Loser: Opening-race protagonists


After the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, it was Josef Newgarden and Pato O’Ward best-placed after finishing first and second. Even after Long Beach, where he was in contention for the win until late contact instigated by Colton Herta dropped him to fourth, Newgarden looked like the early championship favourite.


But so much has changed. 


Since news emerged post-Long Beach that Newgarden was disqualified from St. Pete due to the well-documented push-to-pass violation, he has finished 16th and 17th. Factor in the points loss from St. Pete and he sits 17th in the standings after four races. 


There remain seven oval events to come, which could offer an inroad back into contention for Newgarden after winning four of last year’s five oval races. But a 91-point deficit to leader Alex Palou already feels on the border of being somewhat insurmountable.


Things have not been much better for O’Ward. He inherited victory at St. Pete but there is a slightly hollow feeling given this first win since 2022 was achieved without leading a lap. The Thermal Club exhibition was poor for Arrow McLaren as O’Ward failed to make the main race and the Mexican has gone on to finish 16th, 23rd and 13th since.


O’Ward has race form to find if he is to mount a title bid of his own. He qualified fourth at Barber and dropped to 23rd in a race marred by errors, including penalties for contact with Pietro Fittipaldi and teammate Theo Pourchaire - one race on from being penalised for hitting teammate Alexander Rossi in Long Beach.


The Indy GP then saw O’Ward start fifth but, after an engine change following the morning warm-up session, he appeared to fall out of rhythm, lacked pace and was frustrated over the radio. He is still joint-sixth in the championship but level with Scott McLaughlin, who had his third-place finish in St. Pete wiped and retired from Long Beach too.


O’Ward has to re-find his consistency of late-season 2023. And quickly.


Archie


Loser: Marcus Ericsson


Josef Newgarden, as has been touched on, is in a precarious position points-wise - owing to his disqualification. You could probably also count Rinus VeeKay as feeling aggrieved about being three points beneath Newgarden.


But arguably the most disappointed driver will be Marcus Ericsson. The 2022 Indy 500 winner has finished sixth in the championship in each of the last three seasons with Chip Ganassi Racing. Despite being one of the series’ most consistent drivers in recent years, it has been an inconsistent start to the season for Ericsson since joining Andretti Global.


As a result, he sits only two points ahead of Newgarden and 16th in the standings while his teammates lie fourth and eighth.


Ericsson has not necessarily been uncompetitive against prodigious young teammates Colton Herta and Kyle Kirkwood. In fact he out-qualified Kirkwood, who took Andretti’s only two wins in 2023 on street courses, and was only one place behind Herta with fifth and sixth-place starts in St. Pete and Long Beach. 


But aside from fifth place in Long Beach, his best race finish was 16th in last weekend’s Indy GP after starting 21st. A mechanical issue saw him round out St. Pete in 23rd and a poor Barber weekend saw him finish down in 18th - exactly where he qualified. 


Before joining Andretti, Ericsson had only finished outside the top 12 on six occasions in the last three years.


Andretti has endured struggles in terms of road course pace, starting with the Thermal Club exhibition event, where Ericsson crashed in qualifying before circulating at the back in his heat race. But at Barber and in the Indy GP, Herta finished eighth and seventh and Kirkwood 10th and 11th - maximising the car’s pace while Ericsson finished 18th and 16th. 


The Indy GP weekend was made worse by Ericsson making early contact with teammate Herta, seeing the driver of the No.26 Honda punted off track and left less than impressed. He said Ericsson’s move was “so dumb” but was able to collect himself and recover while Ericsson never found his way out of the lowly positions.


Archie


Loser: The IMS road course


Let’s not beat around the bush. This race wasn’t a thriller, and it hasn’t been for several years, if we ignore the 2022 wet-dry thriller, which was simply entertaining because of the field’s inability to keep it on the track. Texas being dropped from the schedule was a huge travesty, but the autumn road course race was quietly dropped to - and let’s be honest - did anyone really care?


Don’t get me wrong, I think this race is a huge addition to the calendar, and it must remain in years to come - but the nature of IMS simply means that this race will never be a thriller unless it’s incredibly unusual circumstances. This wasn’t helped by hosting nine races across the span of four seasons.


But you know what you get with this. A tyre-save race very dependant on one of the compounds. It was a track designed for Formula One, giving it plenty of run-off - many sections of it paved - and a lot of room for error. This means you aren’t going to get cautions if someone makes a mistake, unless they stall - in the case of Luca Ghiotto.


With all the testing here and all the races, the data available is in large abundance to the ten teams. Races here haven’t been unpredictable, and they haven’t been exciting which is a huge disappointment. This is Indianapolis, in May. It should be the appetiser for the ‘Greatest Spectacle in Racing’. And yet year-on-year, it objectively does not meet the standards that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway deserves. 


It’s a huge shame. Whenever the cars hit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we should be treated to racing action of the highest calibre.


Dan

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