It is amazing how a 111 year old facility continues to make history, but the Indianapolis Motor Speedway seems to always find a way. This weekend, the Harvest Grand Prix, an Indycar double header, made plenty of it. The two races were the first Indycar races at the3 track outside of May since 1916. This was the first weekend that fans were allowed to attend since Roger Penske purchased the track 11 months ago. In addition to the Indycar program, GT World Challenge staged the first sports car endurance race at IMS, the Indianapolis 8 Hour.
The speedway had a limit of 10,000 fans per day for each of the four days. It looked as if most tickets were taken. Race 1, a rare Friday afternoon event, was arguably the best race of the season. Race 2 had some flashes of excitement, and probably would have looked better had it been the only race of the weekend. It looked worse than it was with race 1 still on everyone’s mind.
Here are my thoughts on each race:
Race 1- Friday, October 2
Wow! What a good race. This was arguably the best Indycar race I have seen on the IMS road course. There were battles for the lead, fights for position throughout the field, and the drama of the points leader losing ground. The winning pass also came on track. Race 2 has a tough act to follow.
The early battle for the lead between Colton Herta and Rinus VeeKay was a glimpse into Indycar’s future. The two drivers have an average of less than two years’ experience combined. Herta’s move to grab the lead at the start was topped by VeeKay’s move to regain the top spot the next lap.
I feel for Marco Andretti. He qualified well and was having a great race until the lap 79 fire which ended his day. He was in contention for a top 10.
Josef Newgarden is now within 40 points of Scott Dixon for the series championship. Dixon, who said his car struggled on black tires, needs to finish ahead of Newgarden tomorrow. he still could clinch the title after Race 2, but it looks more likely the title will be decided in St.Pete. All other drivers are eliminated from title contention.
Newgarden has 3 wins for the year, and Dixon has four. Dixon hasn’t won since Road America Race 1 on July 11.
Will Power had another issue in the pits but he recovered to finish sixth.
It was unusual to see Simon Pagenaud struggle and pick up only six spots from his 22nd starting position.
Will Power would do well on a dirt track. His slide and save coming off the last turn was exciting and showed great car control.
I’m not sure how close to the 10,00 fan limit the Speedway was today, but it appeared to be near the limit. Tomorrow might be the biggest crowd of the weekend and should reach the allowed capacity.
Race 2- Saturday, October 3
Will Power takes the pole and dominates the race. Team Penske sweeps the weekend. with two wins and two front row starts. Power and Josef Newgarden combined to lead 109 of the 160 laps. This weekend brought a sense of normalcy back. This how the IMS road course works.
A victory at St. Pete would make Power a 40 race winner. It has been more than 20 years since two 40 race winners were active in the series.
Not every race can be as great as Friday’s, and I wasn’t expecting today’s race to be that good. It is quite a feat to lead every lap in a race, especially one with such a long pit stop delta.
It was nice to see Simon Pagenaud move up to the top 10 after an awful friday. He still hasn’t figured out qualifying. Pagenaud’s struggles in qualifying have been one of the most puzzling things about this season.
Colton Herta made an impressive late charge to close in on Power. It made the last few laps interesting.
Alexander Rossi had his best weekend of the year with two podium finishes.
Jack Harvey has three top 10s and one podium in four races on the IMS road course.
Scott Dixon’s struggles continue. His lead over Newgarden is just 32 points heading to St. Pete. The Florida street course is not one of Dixon’s better tracks. He just needs to keep Newgarden in sight during the race.
I don’t know how Indycar determines race distances, but I think 5 more laps might have made the race more intriguing.
If the fans had a vote, the Harvest Grand Prix would be an annual event.
Finally, huge thanks to Roger Penske, Doug Boles, and the entire staff at IMS for their efforts to create a safe environment for fans to be to attend the races this weekend. The fans who live in Indianapolis needed this, and they will remember and appreciate this weekend for a long time.