On track action from the GMR Grand Prix

The stars of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES will return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course Oct. 1-3 for the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR doubleheader, marking the only time that the series will race at a track where it already has competed this season.

But the track will be anything but the same.

Next week, the series takes to the 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS road course in the cool, crisp autumn weather for the penultimate race weekend of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule. The INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR features an 85-lap Race 1 on Friday, Oct. 2 (2:30 p.m. ET, USA Network) and a 75-lap Race 2 on Saturday, Oct. 3 (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC).

The last time these athletes took to the IMS road course was in the second race of the season – the GMR Grand Prix on July 4, and championship points leader Scott Dixon drove to his second win of the season in the sweltering Indiana summer heat.

This time around, Dixon is still in control with a 72-point lead over defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden. But drivers are expecting the IMS road course to act very differently in October than it did in July.

The forecasted lower ambient temperature of Indiana in the fall will lead to a lower track temperature, which will result in more downforce for the cars, more grip through the corners and faster speeds all around the racetrack– a perfect recipe for a weekend of exciting INDYCAR racing.

“I do actually expect it to be quite a different track (than in July),” said Will Power, a three-time winner on the IMS road course. “Obviously, you do get more downforce when it’s cool with cooler track temps and cooler air temps, and the tire certainly behaves in a different way. Sometimes it behaves worse because you cannot get enough temps.

“Hopefully it’s around that 70-degree mark – that’s a pretty nice ambient/track temperature. That could be just about right for the tire and make it a nice track.”

Most importantly for the drivers, the cool weather will lessen the strain of racing in the cruel heat, which is still fresh on these drivers’ minds from July’s GMR Grand Prix, which was rescheduled from its original date of May 9 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

At noon ET, just before pole sitter Power took the green flag, the ambient temperature was 89 degrees and the track temperature was 122, with the hottest part of the day still to come.

This set up a challenging battle for the drivers in a mid-afternoon race, and only the best open-wheel drivers in the series were able to capitalize as the summer heat and high track temperature created a slick racing surface, making it harder for drivers to control their cars. That meant the drivers had to work their machines – which don’t have power steering – even harder than usual to keep the car from sliding out from under them.

“That was the hottest race I’ve ever driven in my life,” Newgarden said after he finished seventh in the race. “I think everyone was probably grinding it out in the race car today. … That was a hard, hard race. Very, very physical.”

Graham Rahal, who finished second to Dixon in July and led 18 laps, is excited to return to the track where he thought he should have won. But he also is expecting a much different racetrack and expects it to be much less physically demanding than last time.

In addition to the track having more grip and speed, Rahal anticipates tire degradation to be less severe than it was in July, meaning the tires will last longer and race fans will see speeds maintained longer over a run.

“I would anticipate it be a little bit grippier, a little bit faster,” Rahal said. “I would anticipate tire deg being a little bit less. When we raced the Fourth of July, it was smoking hot. It was the first time that a lot of drivers had been back in the seat in six-plus months, other than Texas. Texas is very different than Indy GP. Everybody was pretty physically abused after that race.

“I think everybody is in good race shape now. Things will be a little bit different when we do go back.”