INDIANAPOLIS – The air was crisp; the nights cool with a Harvest Moon shining from the night’s sky. It was a perfect time of the year that traditionally celebrates “homecoming” at college campuses and high schools throughout America.
The NTT INDYCAR SERIES had its own version of homecoming this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was the first-ever INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR.
The last time an INDYCAR race was held at the Speedway this late in the year was the original Harvest Auto Racing Classic held on Sept. 9, 1916 with three individual races won by Johnny Aitken on the original 2.5-mile oval.
This year’s INDYCAR Harvest GP was added to the 2020 NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule after it was revised amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The doubleheader contests on Friday and Saturday and the Indianapolis 8 Hour sports car race Sunday at 10 a.m.
It was a true homecoming for Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske, who also owns INDYCAR. It was the first time since he purchased the track from the Hulman-George family on Nov. 4, 2019 that fans were allowed to attend races at his refurbished and renovated facility, considered a shrine to auto racing.
“Having fans here is terrific,” Penske said. “This is a preamble to 2021 when we’ll have a great schedule and filling it up with fans. The good news is the reaction and the commitment by the fans who have already renewed for this year is a couple Super Bowl’s worth of fans that say, ‘I want my tickets.’
“To me, that’s very important.”
IMS has been permitted to allow up to 10,000 spectators for each of the four days of on-track action, including the INDYCAR races Friday and Saturday.
It was also a homecoming for Team Penske, the most successful team in IMS history in both the Indianapolis 500 and on the IMS road course.
Team Penske swept both races of the INDYCAR Harvest GP presented by GMR with defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Josef Newgarden starting second and winning on Friday.
Team Penske’s Will Power became the winningest driver in history on the IMS road course as the three-time GMR Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner won Saturday’s Harvest GP for his fourth career win on the road course. Combine that with his victory in the 103rd Indianapolis 500 in 2018 and Power becomes the winningest INDYCAR driver in IMS history with five victories on two different race courses.
“It doesn't compare to the 500,” Power said. “I would take a 500 win any day, maybe a 500 win for a couple of those road course wins. It's an amazing place, so much history, so many amazing drivers have come through here. Any time you win anything here, it's pretty special.
“Now that Roger owns it, I've had a good relationship with Roger for 12 years that I've been in the team, was very happy with how the 500 went for us this year, that our team cars win two races this weekend.”
Power has become a master of the IMS road course, but for Newgarden, Friday’s victory was the first time he ever won a race at IMS on any type of circuit. It also allowed him to trim 40 points off Scott Dixon’s 72-point lead in the standings entering the weekend.
After his win on Friday, Newgarden trailed Dixon by 40 points. He cut another eight points off Dixon’s lead Saturday after he finished fourth and Dixon finished eighth.
“There were two wins for Team Chevy and Team Penske here this weekend,” Newgarden said. “They did a phenomenal job, and obviously having Hitachi support is always big for us.
“Look, we’re in it with a shot. We’re going to go to St. Pete and try and win this championship. I just wish we were in a little closer position."
In season’s past, Newgarden watched teammates Power and Simon Pagenaud celebrate an IMS road course victor. This weekend, he got a chance to celebrate it for himself.
“It was gratifying to finally put a race together around this place that I think was representative of what we were capable of,” Newgarden said. “It was honestly a little bit emotional getting on the platform that Roger built. It's just such a cool feeling to be able to sit there, know that you're getting risen up to finish the race, get on the podium.
“I wish it was last month, I should say, month and a half ago for the 500. That would have been just amazing to be able to do that. This still felt pretty sweet. It was cool to put a Penske car in victory lane, especially with everything that Roger has put in this year, how difficult and trying it's been. Just great to see some fans back socially distanced and enjoying an INDYCAR race at beautiful IMS.”
That is what this weekend at IMS was all about, a chance to welcome home the fans to a place they love so much. And it gave the new owner of this legendary facility a chance to open the gates to the fans, welcome them back to his home and show off the improvements that makes him so proud.
“We want to thank all the fans that visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend for the Harvest GP,” Penske said. “This was really our first opportunity we have had to share some of the enhancements we have made at IMS and it was great to see people having a good time at the Brickyard.
“We have seen some great action on track all weekend, including two exciting NTT INDYCAR SERIES races. We were proud to welcome fans back to the Speedway and we are looking forward to a strong finish to the season at St. Petersburg.”