Photo: Walter G. Arce, Sr./ASP, Inc.

Up to Speed: 2021 GMR Grand Prix Preview

By Luis Torres, Staff Writer

The Month of May has finally arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. While some aspects of what makes Indy special will look different, but the NTT IndyCar Series are ready to put on a show at “The Racing Capital of the World.”

For the first time this season, we’ll see more than 24 entries on the grid. There’ll be extra entries from Arrow McLaren SP and AJ Foyt Racing, driven by Juan Pablo Montoya and Charlie Kimball respectively. In total, 26 cars are taking the green flag in the GMR Grand Prix Saturday.

Montoya, a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, will make his return to IndyCar in nearly four years. During the off-season he tested at Laguna Seca to adapt into the plethora of changes the current car has had. It doesn’t stop there as he’ll be driving for a familiar brand, but a much different organization. Through it all, the 2019 IMSA champion is ready for the challenge.

“We got a decent test in Laguna, and learned and understood a lot of what I needed out of the car, and got it in the swing of things. The two days at Indy in the oval were really nice to get everyone together,” said Montoya. “We need to understand the priority of running the road course, apart from having a really good result, is working well with the engineers and everyone on the team. 

“If everyone is a new group of people, and they’re really good people, and to get them bonding together is really important. And understand what I need out of the car,” Montoya continued. “It’s such a compact schedule, and I think it’ll be good. It could be frustrating; there could be anger moments, and there could be good moments. But I am looking forward to it. I am really working hard to prepare myself for it. And we’ll see what it brings.

“We had a session in the simulator last week, and the baseline was pretty good and the pace seemed pretty good. So I’m looking forward to it. One of the curveballs is the red tires. Learning to get the most out of it will be really hard, but at least we’ll get a set out of it in practice. Back in the day, we didn’t use to get them.”

Following a chaotic doubleheader at Texas Motor Speedway, a lot of angles have been developing. Whether it’s Graham Rahal and Jack Harvey not seeing eye-to-eye or Pato O’Ward entering a race as an IndyCar winner, the 85-lap contest has a lot at steak.

While in the eyes of some folks see this race as a throwaway, it can’t be denied some drivers must break through Saturday. Otherwise, a season and the month as a whole can really set the tone. Perhaps the winner of the grand prix could have a Simon Pagenaud ’19 run and sweep May. As always, time will tell.

By the Numbers

What: GMR Grand Prix, NTT IndyCar Series Race No. 5 of 17

Where: Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course – Speedway, Indiana (opened: 1909, road course: 2000, first INDYCAR event was 2014)

When: Saturday May 15, 2021

TV/Radio: NBC, 2:00 pm ET / INDYCAR Radio Network (SiriusXM Channel 211), 2:00 pm ET

Track Size: 2.439-mile road course

Race Length: 85 laps, 207.3 miles

Recent Race Winner: Scott Dixon – No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda (Started seventh, 26 laps led)

Track Qualifying Record: Will Power – No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet (67.7044 seconds, 129.687 mph – May 12, 2017)

From the Driver’s Seat

Pato O’Ward – No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet

“I think in my opinion it is about the amount of laps (85) opened up it for either a two-stop fuel save or a three-stopper. Whenever you take away some laps, and force everyone to do a two-stop, is when things get boring I guess. So I feel like, this year is the same amount of laps (85) that road race you mentioned was good. I think it’ll be a good mix this weekend.”

Graham Rahal – No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda

“We felt that we done everything right to win the Indy GP, but came short due to the yellow. Our cars have been competitive. I feel like we’ve been competitive at the Indy GP. This time around, we certainly hope we can win.

“I think our cars have been competitive (this year). We feel like we can take our base setup from (Barber and St. Pete) and make it work here at the Indy GP. Couple of different tweaks from last year, but I feel like we’re going to be very competitive. If we can qualify up front, we can certainly be one of the guys to beat.”

Last Time at the GMR Grand Prix

Pit strategy was the name of the game when the grand prix was held last July. It certainly favored Scott Dixon and it bit Graham Rahal in the dust. Simply put, Dixon had the car dialed in as nobody could catch the race winner.

The key moment that helped Dixon was at the expense of Oliver Askew, who had a hard crash in Turn 14 on Lap 33. This accident would cause a ripple effect on his rookie season as he would have a hard crash in the 500-mile race two months later. Askew wouldn’t partake in the two Harvest GP races due to concussion protocols and was replaced by Helio Castroneves. The 2019 Indy Lights champion isn’t among the 26 drivers in this year’s grand prix.

Back to Dixon, this victory put him 2-0 to start his sixth title quest. After the race, Dixon said it was a lucky victory and the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing team were aggressive on their strategy.

“I think we got a little lucky but it also played into the aggressive strategy we had with electing to take the primary Firestone tires at the start with everyone else on reds,” said Dixon. “The yellow came out right in our window and it hung out the leaders but we definitely had the pace. We made some simple changes to keep up with a cooling track but after that, the PNC Bank car was on rails and we just took off.”

Rahal commented that Askew’s crash nullified a two-stop strategy that should’ve panned out. Instead of taking the top step of the podium, second was the best he could get.

“The yellow came out and kind of nullified our strategy because then everybody just got to pit under yellow and then there was just one more to go. But obviously, Dixie (Scott Dixon) had tremendous pace during the late part of the race,” said Rahal. “I was on black tires struggling a little bit. The Fifth Third Bank car was great today. I thought our guys did a tremendous job. It’s a shame for Spencer; he was right up in the battle, as well. But for our team after Dallas, this feels extremely good for us.”

Weekend Schedule (All Times Eastern)

Friday, May 14

  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 1 (9:30 am to 10:15 am – Peacock)
  • NTT IndyCar Series Practice No. 2 (1:00 pm to 1:45 pm – Peacock)
  • Indy Lights Race No. 1 (2:00 pm to 3:15 pm – Peacock)
  • NTT IndyCar Series Qualifying (4:30 pm to 6:00 pm – Peacock (Live)/NBCSN (6:00 pm))

Saturday, May 15

  • Indy Lights Race No. 2 (12:35 to 1:35 pm – Peacock)
  • NTT IndyCar Series GMR Grand Prix (2:00 pm – 85 laps, 207.3 miles – NBC)

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From the Pacific Northwest, Luis is a University of Idaho graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media and a four-time National Motorsports Press Association award winner in photography. Ever since watching the 2003 Daytona 500, being involved in auto racing is all he's ever dreamed of doing. Over the years, Luis has focused on writing, video and photography with ambitions of having his work recognized.