Finally, it’s May in Indianapolis!
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES has staged four races in 2021, the first held on a permanent road course (Barber Motorsports Park), the second on a temporary street circuit (St. Petersburg, Florida) and two same-weekend races on a high-speed oval track (Texas Motor Speedway).
The diversity of the series again will be on full display at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix will be held on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. Following that, IMS crews will quickly convert the facility to its original oval configuration for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Sunday, May 30. Practice for the “500” begins at 10 a.m. (ET) Tuesday.
In between those two races will be the “500’s” NTT P1 Award qualifying sessions May 22-23, which includes the Fast Nine Shootout to determine the first nine starting positions and the Last Chance Qualifications to see which car-and-driver combinations will start on the 11th and final row – and which competitors will not earn a spot — in the 33-car “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
But first things first – the GMR Grand Prix.
Twenty-six entries are set for Friday’s two 45-minute practice sessions (9:30 a.m. ET and 1 p.m. ET) along with NTT P1 Award qualifying at 4:30 p.m. ET. Each of these sessions can be viewed live on Peacock Premium, NBC’s streaming service available at www.peacocktv.com for $4.99 per month. NBCSN will replay the three qualifying rounds at 6 p.m. ET.
On Saturday, INDYCAR’s 30-minute warmup is set for 10:45 a.m., with NBC’s broadcast of the 85-lap race beginning at 2 p.m. The INDYCAR Radio Network also will have the call.
The presence of all three Road to Indy divisions will make for a busy IMS weekend. Two races for Indy Lights and three races apiece for Indy Pro 2000 and USF2000 will be spread over Friday and Saturday.
Five Things to Watch For
1. Additions to the Entry List
There are two additions to the regular entry list, with Juan Pablo Montoya and Charlie Kimball added for the first of their two races this month.
Montoya will drive the No. 86 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet in his first race with the team. Kimball returns with AJ Foyt Racing in the No. 11 Tresiba Chevrolet.
Both drivers have considerable experience, both in the sport and on the IMS road course. Montoya made four starts in the GMR Grand Prix for Team Penske, finishing third in 2015. He also made six starts for the Williams and McLaren teams when Formula One raced on the circuit’s previous design. His best finish was fourth in 2002.
Last year was Kimball’s first season with A.J. Foyt’s team, and he competed in all three races here, finishing 13th in Race 1 of the INDYCAR Harvest GP on Oct. 2. Among his eight starts on this circuit are three consecutive fifth-place finishes for Chip Ganassi Racing (2014-16).
2. The Favorites
Start with any of the four drivers representing Team Penske’s organization. The team has won seven of the past eight races on the IMS road course, including both races last October.
Team Penske’s Will Power (No. 12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet) has won four of the races and five of the poles, including both in the most recent event, the INDYCAR Harvest GP held Oct. 3. He led all 75 laps. Teammate Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Snap-On Team Penske Chevrolet) won the Oct. 2 race.
Team Penske’s other IMS road race winner is Simon Pagenaud (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet), who won from the pole in 2016 and then from the eighth spot in 2019. The Frenchman also won the inaugural event driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
NTT INDYCAR SERIES points leader Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing (No. 9 PNC Bank Gow Up Great Honda) is the only other driver to have won an INDYCAR race on the IMS road course, last July in the GMR Grand Prix. Dixon has finished second in this event on three consecutive occasions (2017-19).
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal (No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda) has had two second-place finishes on the IMS road course. Felix Rosenqvist (No. 7 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) and Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Sonax/Autogeek Chevrolet) are the other former IMS road course pole winners in this field. Rosenqvist took the top spot for the GMR Grand
3. The Defiant Young Stars
Undeniably, INDYCAR’s Under-25 Club is gaining in stature this season.
There have been four different race winners this season, and three of them are among INDYCAR’s youngest drivers. Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou (No. 10 The American Legion Honda) had only recently turned 24 when he won the season-opening Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama presented by AmFirst at Barber Motorsports Park on April 18. Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian’s Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) was a fresh 21 years old when he captured the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on April 25.
Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) continued the youth movement by winning the second race of the Texas doubleheader, known as the XPEL 375, on May 2. Four days later, O’Ward turned 22.
Dixon is the other race winner this season, having taken the trophy following the first Texas race, the Genesys 300, on May 1, but his recent birthday put him at a new age level. He is now 40.
VeeKay is another young driver hoping to add his name to the winner’s list this season. The Dutchman turns 21 in September
4. These Drivers Deserve a Look too
This event marks the first INDYCAR race at IMS for seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson of Chip Ganassi Racing (No. 48 Carvana Chip Ganassi Racing Honda). He has tested an NTT INDYCAR SERIES car on the road course and has experienced his share of success in Indianapolis, but all four of his NASCAR Cup Series race wins occurred on the oval, the most recent in 2012.
Romain Grosjean, who drives the No. 51 NURTEC ODT Honda of Dale Coyne Racing with RWR, spent 10 seasons in Formula One, but the United States Grand Prix at IMS was off F1’s schedule before Grosjean joined the series. Therefore, this will be his debut at the Racing Capital of the World. Like Johnson, he is only competing on the non-ovals this season, which means he won’t compete in the “500.”
The newcomer to Team Penske’s stable is three-time Australian Supercars champion Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 PPG Team Penske Chevrolet), whose IMS experience is comprised of two tests on the oval. He is the only INDYCAR rookie competing on both Speedway circuits this month. His season has been highlighted by a runner-up finish in Race 1 at Texas.
Meyer Shank Racing’s Jack Harvey (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) is off to a strong start this season, making his presence particularly felt during the Texas doubleheader. He finished seventh in Race 1 and was running fourth in Race 2 when a mechanical issue knocked him out of the race. Harvey’s best INDYCAR finish – third place – happened in the 2019 GMR Grand Prix.
5. Other title hopefuls need Indy Resurgence
With the season at its first-quarter pole, several veterans with championship aspirations, including a pair of former series champions, need a lot to go right in the next couple of weeks at IMS.
AJ Foyt Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais (No. 14 ROKiT AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) needs to forget the recent doubleheader at Texas. Entering the weekend seventh in the standings, his car was knocked into the Turn 2 wall by Newgarden in Race 1 and got collected in the opening-lap accident in Race 2. Finishes of 23rd and 19th dropped him to 14th in the standings, 85 points out of the top spot.
Andretti Autosport’s Alexander Rossi (No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) had almost as bad of a Texas trip. After finishing eighth in Race 1, he, too, was collected in the first-lap crash. He enters this weekend 15th in the standings, 88 points behind Dixon’s leading total.
Two other Andretti Autosport drivers are in a similar points hole. Ryan Hunter-Reay (No. 28 DHL Honda) and James Hinchcliffe (No. 29 #ShiftToGreen Honda of Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport) are 17th and 19th in the standings, respectively. Like Bourdais, Hunter-Reay is a former series champion.
If these drivers can perform well in Saturday’s race, the “500” awards double points for its finishers.
Race weekend: Friday, May 14 – Saturday, May 15
Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course (clockwise)
Race distance: 85 laps / 207.3 miles
Push-to-pass parameters: 200 seconds of total time, with a maximum time of 20 seconds per activation.
Firestone tire allotment: Six sets primary, four sets alternate (Note: An seventh set of primary tires is available to any car fielding a rookie driver.)
Twitter: @IMS @IndyCar, #ThisIsMay, #IndyCar
Event website: www.ims.com
INDYCAR website: www.IndyCar.com
2020 race winner: Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda)
2020 NTT P1 Award winner: Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet), 1:10.1779, 125.116 mph.
Qualifying lap record: Will Power, 1:07.7044, 129.687 mph, May 12, 2017 (Set in Round 3 of knockout qualifying)
NBC Sports race telecasts: Qualifying, 6 p.m. ET Friday, NBCSN (Same-day delay); GMR Grand Prix, 2 p.m. ET Saturday, NBC (live). Leigh Diffey is the play-by-play announcer for NBC’s coverage of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, alongside analysts Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy.
Peacock Premium Live Streaming: All NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice sessions and qualifying will stream live on Peacock Premium, NBC’s direct-to-consumer livestreaming product.
INDYCAR Radio Network broadcasts: Mark Jaynes is the chief announcer alongside analyst Davey Hamilton. Nick Yeoman and Jake Query are the turn announcers. The GMR Grand Prix will air live on network affiliates, SiriusXM 205, indycar.com, indycarradio.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app powered by NTT DATA. All NTT INDYCAR SERIES practices and qualifying are available on SiriusXM 205, indycar.com and the INDYCAR Mobile app.
At-track schedule (all times local):
Friday, May 14 (All times are local)
9:30-10:15 a.m. NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice, Peacock Premium
1-1:45 p.m. NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice, Peacock Premium
4:30 p.m. Qualifying for the NTT P1 Award (three rounds of NTT INDYCAR SERIES knockout qualifications), Peacock Premium (Live)
Saturday, May 15
10:45-11:15 a.m. NTT INDYCAR SERIES warmup, Peacock Premium
2 p.m. NBC on air
2:39 p.m. “Drivers, start your engines”
2:45 p.m. GMR Grand Prix (85 laps/207.3 miles), NBC (Live)
- The GMR Grand Prix will be the 10th INDYCAR SERIES event conducted on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course. Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power are the only drivers to win on the IMS road course. Pagenaud won the GMR Grand Prix in 2014, 2016 and 2019, Power won the GMR Grand Prix in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and the second race of the Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader in 2020. Dixon won the 2020 GMR Grand Prix, while Newgarden won the first race of the 2020 Harvest GP doubleheader.
- Pagenaud, Power, Felix Rosenqvist and Sebastian Saavedra are the only drivers to have won the pole position in the GMR Grand Prix. Saavedra claimed the pole in 2014, Power in 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2020, Pagenaud in 2016 and Rosenqvist in 2019. Power and Rinus VeeKay won the NTT P1 Award in the Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader last October.
- Four NTT P1 Award winners have won the GMR Grand Prix from the pole: Power in 2015, 2017 and 2018 and Pagenaud in 2016. Power also won the second Harvest GP race from pole in 2020.
- Nine drivers have competed in every INDYCAR SERIES race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course – Marco Andretti, Dixon, James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Newgarden, Pagenaud, Power, Graham Rahal and Takuma Sato. All but Andretti are entered this year.
- Dixon has finished first or second in the last four GMR Grand Prix at Indianapolis, including last year’s win – his first on the IMS road course. Dixon, who won at Texas on May 1 for his 51st career win, leads the point standings entering the event for the second straight year.
- Rookies Romain Grosjean, Jimmie Johnson and Scott McLaughlin will race NTT INDYCAR SERIES cars on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course for the first time this weekend. Johnson is no stranger to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, though. He won the Brickyard 400 – the NASCAR Cup race previously held on the oval — four times.
- Twenty-three of the drivers entered in the event have competed in INDYCAR races on the IMS road course. Eleven entered drivers have led laps in the GMR Grand Prix: Power 210, Pagenaud 68, Dixon 66, Graham Rahal 36, Newgarden 25, Ryan Hunter-Reay 18, Rosenqvist 15, James Hinchcliffe 4, Alexander Rossi 2, Marcus Ericsson 1 and Jack Harvey.
Firestone Tire Notes
Select Team Quotes
Pato O’Ward – No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet
“I think we’re rolling into the Month of May with the best momentum we could ask for. We are coming off a very strong race at Texas Motor Speedway and we’re looking forward to carrying that into the GMR Grand Prix. I think we had a solid race here in 2020 so we want to build on that and then roll into Indianapolis 500 practice, qualifying and the race with the best momentum we can.”
Felix Rosenqvist – No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet
“Coming back from Texas Motor Speedway, it was huge for the team to get the win with Pato. There have been a lot of smiling face since then. The No. 7 Vuse Arrow McLaren SP car hasn’t had any good results yet, but there was so much potential in Texas and I think that’s keeping us in a positive mindset going into the GMR Grand Prix and the Month of May. We’re ready to get back on a road course and go for the win.”
Juan Pablo Montoya – No. 86 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet
“Running the road course is key to succeeding in the Indianapolis 500 because it’s very different working under pressure than working on a test day. I think it’s going to be good preparation for everyone.
Not only for the engineers, but we’ve got some younger guys working on the car, as well as some as some of the pit crew. They are shop guys, so there’s work to be done, but I think running the GP and being under pressure is going to show what we all need to work on.
If we do a good job with that, then I think we will pretty good. The whole thing here is being as good as we can be for the 500.”
Taylor Kiel – President, Arrow McLaren SP
“The entire team is excited to start the Month of May in Indianapolis with the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS road course. Arrow McLaren SP is coming in with a lot of momentum following Pato’s first career win in Texas but the key will be to build on that and push forward. I think Felix showed a lot of potential in Texas and this is a course he can be very quick at, so we are looking forward to getting him back on track. We are also joined this weekend by Juan Pablo Montoya, who will be starting his first INDYCAR race since 2017. The goal of Juan Pablo joining us for this race was always to prepare him and the No. 86 crew for the Indianapolis 500. I think this is a great first step toward having three cars that can compete all month long.”
Charlie Kimball, AJ Foyt Chevy
How excited are you to get back in the race car?
CK: “I could not be more excited to trade in my headset for my helmet. It has been really hard to watch Indy cars race for four races and not be a part of it. This weekend, that’s changed!”
How have you prepped for these upcoming races?
CK: “I have tried to stay in close contact with the team and watch how the races so far this year have developed, in the sense of the set up as well as the competition side.”
Aside from winning, what are you most looking forward to and why?
CK: “A more ’normal’ month of May with the best fans in the world at the race track. Being at home for Memorial Day weekend last year was not right and then racing the Indy 500 without fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway made the facility feel soulless. Having fans back for the Harvest GP was the first step in the right direction and now May is back!”
You went to the first four INDYCAR races for a new job as a race analyst for Indy Lights (and at one session of INDYCAR?). How did the TV gig come about?
CK: “I got a call from Kevin Lee and IMSP to gauge my interest and it was a great opportunity to see the sport from another angle. It also gets me to the INDYCAR / Indy Lights races in an official capacity that also allows me to help AJ Foyt Racing when I can!”
Charlie Kimball traded in his helmet for a headset at Barber Motorsports Park where he made his debut as a color analyst in the booth.
Was it your first time or have you done something similar in the past?
CK: “I have done some pit lane reporting previously, but lending analysis from a broadcasting booth is a very different animal.”
You seem like a natural. Have you received a lot of feedback?
CK: “I have had some great feedback – a lot of it from my family! Seriously, the response has been great even as I learn the ropes and hope to get better each and every time. I love racing and love to share that passion with fans watching Indy Lights looking for the next star in INDYCAR.”
Is this something you’d like to pursue once you retire as a driver?
CK: “I am happy to be laying the groundwork for some time in the FAR distant future!”
What is the hardest thing about doing the TV commentating?
CK: “The hardest thing is telling a story that gives an insight into what’s happening in the car or in the driver’s head in a very short discrete timeframe. Plus, all the voices in the headset from the producer, pit lane reporter and the play-by-play caller! Honestly, the team on the Indy Lights broadcasts have made it so easy on me: Kevin Lee, Katie Kiel, Kevin Buchholz (IMSP Producer), Courtney “CT” Terrell (IMSP Director), all the sound and camera crew are pros and make my piece look great.”
How much preparation do you have to do for it? Do you go to all of the teams and interview key personnel? When on air, what are the things you need to be mindful of?
CK: “I spent a lot of time at both Barber and St. Pete talking to teams and drivers because I didn’t have as much knowledge of who was who as I needed to. Also, keeping those conversations going helps me give some real firsthand knowledge on the broadcasts.
What surprised you the most after your first broadcast?
CK: “How fast the race went by!!! After most races when I’m driving, I can remember a lot of details from the event; however, in the booth, I wasn’t sure what I said or how I did until I reviewed the tape and got feedback from the professionals!”
SÉBASTIEN BOURDAIS has made eight starts on the IMS road course and has finished fourth three times (2014, 2015, 2018). His best starting position was third in 2015.
SB: “Very much looking forward to the Indy GP. Historically, it’s been a very good race for me. We were not so awesome last year in my return, but definitely a place that I very much enjoy, a track that I’ve been fast on before. We’ve done quite a bit of prep work so looking forward to seeing everybody back on track!”
DALTON KELLETT made his INDYCAR debut last year in the Grand Prix. In his three starts, his best finish is 21st and his best start is 25th. He made eight starts in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Series. His best start and finish were seventh.
DK: “We’re heading into the GMR Grand Prix this weekend and I’m really excited to be back at Indy with AJ Foyt Racing, the No. 4 K-Line Insulators USA Chevy. It’s going to be a great weekend for us, really excited. Obviously, we’re coming off a tough weekend at Texas but the team bounced back – we’re actually racing the same car we raced in Race 2 in Texas, so hats off to the No. 4 and 14 crew mechanics who got those cars patched up and ready to go. We’re going to be hitting the track in road course trim and we’ll be coming your way for some exciting racing this Saturday then we’re right into Indy 500 practice next week so see you there.”