By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Two days of wild pit strategies and for the most part clean racing set quite a positive tone in the Harvest GP at Indianapolis.
I’m more than willing to say it was some of the best racing the NTT IndyCar Series has seen at the Indy road course without rain creating that possibility.
When you look at the winners, you’d think it’s super predictable because the circuit it’s still Team Penske’s playground with Josef Newgarden and Will Power victorious. Rest assure, they had to earn it and had to put up with Andretti Autosport to get vital victories, creating two fun races.
As good as those winning battles were, there was plenty of stories that stood out and I’ll be sharing those with one of course being the championship trail that’ll be settled at St. Petersburg later this month.
RACE No. 1 TAKEAWAYS
Rocket Rinus’ True Breakthrough
In my eye, Rinus VeeKay’s breakthrough IndyCar race was his first run in the Indy road course back in July. However, VeeKay made the absolute most out of Friday’s performance as not only he led the field to the green flag, but got his first podium.
Everyone outside of those who’ve seen VeeKay’s runs in Indy Lights had written him out following the thankfully now afterthought debut at Texas. With time, the fast Dutchman has improved his craft and what we saw on Friday will no doubt be the first of many great drives to come.
All he’ll have to do is polish some things before considering him in the same level of consistency Colton Herta has set over the past year. By the way, both put on a beast of a show in the closing laps for the final spot of the podium where VeeKay got the job done.
“It’s definitely a dream (to score his first podium); I’ve waited about 20 years for this. I am very happy. It was a tough race,” VeeKay on his Race No. 1 performance. “I fought hard and I drove as hard as I could. I think I did pretty well with passing and I think I’m always next to Colton fighting for position. But it’s fun – the two youngest guys in the series battling it out. Everyone is on top of their game and it’s a real reward to pass those guys.”
Even if he doesn’t win this season, safe to say VeeKay is an early favorite to get a win in 2021. Maybe Friday was a sneak peak of a potential future title fight between the last two runner-up Indy Lights finishers.
New Opportunities, Underwhelming Results
The biggest surprise from Friday’s race, but I should’ve saw it coming, was the lackluster outings of Sebastien Bourdais, Helio Castroneves and James Hinchcliffe. In fact, their runs reminded me of Luca Badoer and Giancarlo Fisichella’s rather pathetic Ferrari tenures in 2009.
Badoer and Fisichella took turns of filling in for Felipe Massa, who missed the rest of that F1 campaign due to a freak accident in Budapest. From there, neither could keep up with Kimi Raikkonen, much less Massa’s pace beforehand. It’s just one of those things where a car is meant to suit one driver which can be a rough change.
That’s the vibe I had because all three had something to prove in their opportunities of driving a new car and just got taken out to lunch by the more crafted full-time racers, age group be damned.
I understand it takes a ton getting used to running a different car that’s meant to be for someone else with Bourdais running his first IndyCar race all season and both Castroneves and Hinchcliffe taking over the guys who ran all year.
Among the trio, only Hinchcliffe cracked the top-15 while the other two finished in the bottom six of the 25-car grid. Not a good look, but at least one has a full-time gig next season which is Bourdais. Can’t say the same about the other two because they are fighting for possible full-time rides and with runs like that, it’s not the most ideal sign.
RACE No. 2 TAKEAWAYS
No Title No. 6 for Dixon at Indy
I was one of those thinking that Scott Dixon would easily lock up the championship after such a ass whopping performance in the GMR Grand Prix, but boy did I miss the mark.
Dixon had another mediocre doubleheader weekend, the second time he’s had that and while he still has the championship lead, those last four races have been the polar opposite of the first half where it looked like he may win every race.
To me, I’ve felt that ever since he got snookered by Takuma Sato in last month’s Indy 500, Dixon’s morale got completely shook and the performances have suffered. We’ve seen many mistakes, including Saturday when he had to deal with Ryan Hunter-Reay with concerns of having damage on his No. 9 PNC Bank Honda.
Dixon still got eighth, but Newgarden finished fourth which obviously meant he’s lost more points. In fact, the gap is now 32 points going into the finale at St. Pete. No doubt it’s Dixon’s title to lose as he’ll look to not have a Juan Pablo Montoya 2015 moment where he loses the points lead for the first time all season in the finale.
Ironically, it was Dixon who won the 2015 title over Montoya via a tiebreaker which was the fourth time (previous three were 1996 IRL, 1999 CART and 2006 IRL) it came down to a countback.
Herta’s Consistency Will Be Scary Someday
If there has been any doubts about Colton Herta’s wicked consistency over the past year, this weekend should end all of it because a fourth and a runner-up finish speaks amazing volumes on how he’s carried the Andretti Autosport camp all year.
In the closing laps, Herta got by Alexander Rossi with ease thanks to mastering the draft and locking the brakes at the right time going into the treacherous first corner. From there, he was a mad man on a mission to catch Power for the win.
Herta was close of capturing his fourth career win, but I felt his shortcoming was both running out of laps and lap traffic hurting him.
Herta said during the post-race telecast it surprised him how much pace he had to have a shot of catching Power, but there was two different roles that led to him finishing second.
“I knew I could get Will if he went on the blacks. I thought the reds were the better tire, so I thought I had a chance there at the end,” Herta on the battle with Power. “I didn’t expect to have that much pace to run down Will and then have a few shots at him. In the end, we didn’t have a good enough car to really win the race today. We’re happy to get P2 though.”
Overall, Herta keeps his third-place spot in the championship trail and with another strongly consistent race weekend, I’m willing to say he’ll be a favorite for next season’s championship trail.
I came to the weekend having low expectations on the quality of competition because it was the GP circuit, but I leave with tremendous positives than negatives. Maybe there’s some magic of running the road course after all these years.
Time will tell next year because they’ll be running there twice in May and in August. In the meantime, the focus will heavily focus on the battle between Dixon and Newgarden on October 25th which should be a hellacious duel.