Pato O'Ward

Brickyard Weekend takes on a new meaning this weekend as the NTT INDYCAR SERIES returns to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course for a second race this season, in conjunction with the NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series.

For the first time ever, all three major racing series in America, the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series, will be on track today on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS road course.

The NTT INDYCAR SERES hits the racetrack for the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix at 12:30 p.m. ET, live on NBCSN and INDYCAR Radio Network. You can listen to the radio broadcast live on network affiliates, SiriusXM 138 and SiriusXM 205, and the INDYCAR Mobile App powered by NTT DATA.

Firestone Racing is supplying more than 1,400 race tires for the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix, which are the same tire compound used in the GMR Grand Prix back in May. Each team has received five sets of primary (black) tires, four sets of alternate (red) tires and five sets of rain (grey) tires.

The weather in Speedway, Indiana, is expected to be cool at green flag time compared to the heat experienced earlier in the week around the area. A high of 79 degrees is expected for green flag time, with humidity at 43% and wind gusts of 8 mph.

Here’s what you need to know to get ready for today’s action:

Ericsson Fast in Warmup, Ready To Climb

Marcus Ericsson continued his red-hot summer by leading the morning warmup with a lap of 1 minute, 11.3705 seconds in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda. Ericsson has scored more points than any other driver since the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in May.

Alexander Rossi was second in the warmup at 1:11.3895 in the No. 27 AutoNation/NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda, followed by two-time series champion Josef Newgarden at 1:11.4639 in the No. 2 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet. Newgarden will need that speed in the 85-lap race, as he is starting 20th after incurring a six-position grid penalty for an unapproved engine change after the race last weekend in Nashville.

NTT P1 Award winner Pato O’Ward was 23rd in the warmup, with a best lap of 1:12.4092 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

The last INDYCAR road race at IMS, the GMR Grand Prix on May 15, featured just one caution period for three laps. Ericsson said he expects a few more yellows in today’s race because of the 28-car field, the largest outside of the Indianapolis 500 since 2011. He is starting 11th.

“I have a feeling it will be a bit more cautions than normal because there are so many cars out there and it’s a short lap, so there is definitely going to be quite a bit of things going on out there. Hopefully not nine cautions like last week.

“But I think it’s going to mix it up. But at the end of the day, you need that speed in the car to be able to more forward. We qualified 11th, so we have some overtaking to do. But we’re pretty good at that, so let’s see how far we can get up.”

Pivotal Point in the Championship

Only twice has the winner of an NTT INDYCAR SERIES race on the 14-turn, 2.439-mile IMS road course gone on to win the NTT INDYCAR SERIES championship in the same season. Simon Pagenaud did it in 2016, and six-time champion Scott Dixon did it last year.

However, very few times has the late-season battle for the Astor Challenge Cup run through Indianapolis. In fact, the only time this circuit has played a late-season role in the championship battle was last year during the Harvest Grand Prix doubleheader in October, with races won by Josef Newgarden and Will Power.

In the grand scheme of the season, the points leader with five races to go has won the championship seven times in the last 13 seasons: Dixon (2008, 2018, 2020), Dario Franchitti (2011), Ryan Hunter-Reay (2012), Pagenaud (2016) and Newgarden (2019).

Alex Palou enters today’s race, which is the fifth from last, as the championship leader in the No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. He has a 42-point lead over teammate Dixon in the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda and 48 points over third place Pato O’Ward in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet.

NTT P1 Award winner O’Ward will be on offense today as he leads the field to green. Palou will be just five spots behind in the sixth starting position. However, Dixon will be at a massive disadvantage by starting 26th in the 28-car field. Dixon lost his best lap in qualifying after spinning in the first segment and causing a local yellow that affected other competitors.

International Style, American Grit

The IMS road course is a smooth circuit with flat curbing, resembling a European-style racetrack. This makes it one of the more unique tracks on the NTT INDYCAR SERIES schedule.

The IMS road course is an FIA Grade 1-certified racetrack that was originally designed for Formula One. F1 competed on a different layout of the IMS road course from 2000-07. While that 13-turn, 2.605-mile track is much different than what race fans will see in today’s Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix, the international influence and appeal are still there.

That’s a large reason why NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Romain Grosjean was so good at this track back in May, scoring the NTT P1 Award for pole and finishing second in just his third start. He is continuing that success with a third-place start today.

Will Power has attributed the likeness of the racetrack to what he grew up racing on around the world to his immense success here, which includes four wins and five poles on the IMS road course.

It’s also likely one of the reasons why Christian Lundgaard has done so well in his NTT INDYCAR SERIES debut this weekend. He competes in the FIA Formula 2 Championship, which also features Dallara-built race cars in which he feels comfortable.

But the 20-year-old Dane cut his teeth on these kinds of racetracks growing up, so he likely feels more at home on the IMS road course than many realize. Case in point: he was seventh-fastest in Friday’s practice session and qualified fourth in the No. 45 Mi-Jack Honda.