It’s getting close to now or never for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers trying to catch and overhaul Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou for the season championship.
Four races remain, including Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course (2 p.m. ET, USA Network, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network), and Palou’s advantage over second-place Josef Newgarden of Team Penske is a stout 84 points.
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Newgarden, who drives the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, and a few others still have ample opportunities to make a move on Palou, but they must get busy. Palou (No. 10 The American Legion Honda) has race wins at three of the remaining four tracks on the schedule – the IMS road course, Portland International Raceway and WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca – and is riding the confidence of 14 consecutive top-eight finishes over the past two years. He has completed all but one lap since last year’s Gallagher Grand Prix.
Palou has finished in the top half of each of the past 22 races.
A second series championship in three years would put Palou in elite company. Scott Dixon, Newgarden and Will Power are the only active drivers with at least two series titles, and in the 101 seasons of the sport’s history there have been only 26 double champions.
The march toward a place on the IMS Victory Podium begins with Friday’s 9 a.m. ET practice, a 90-minute session. NTT P1 Award qualifying will be at 12:30 p.m. and the final practice at 4 p.m. All these sessions will be available on Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
The Brickyard Weekend includes Friday’s INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix (4:50 p.m. ET, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network). Series points leader Christian Rasmussen of HMD Motorsports with DCR has won the past two series races and three overall this season.
Power on the IMS Road Course Prowl
Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) is still chasing his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory of the season, which would push his streak of consecutive seasons with at least one race win to 17. Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) holds the record at 18, and he, too, is winless in 2023.
Power has won races at three of the remaining tracks on this year’s schedule and has stood on the podium of the fourth. But the IMS road course might be his best chance to score that elusive win.
There have been 14 series races held on this circuit, including the GMR Grand Prix on May 13. Power has won five of them with six earned poles, making him the track’s most accomplished INDYCAR SERIES driver. He also has a pair of third-place finishes and 348 laps led. No other driver has led 100.
The GMR Grand Prix wasn’t his best outing as he finished 12th after starting in the same position. A bounce-back is in order if he is to keep his winning streak alive. For the record, Power also has won races at World Wide Technology Raceway (site of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline on Sunday, Aug. 27) and Portland International Raceway (site of the BITNILE.com Grand Prix of Portland on Sunday, Sept. 3).
Dixon Needs a Good Start
It’s surprising how challenging qualifying on this circuit has been for Dixon in recent years. His fifth-row start in the GMR Grand Prix was his best since the two races in the fall of 2020.
Dixon’s average starting position in those seven IMS road course races is 17.0.
Almost as surprising is the fact Dixon’s best finish in the aforementioned stretch is sixth (earlier this year), and he has led only six laps combined.
Dixon does have a race win on this circuit – on July 4, 2020, part of his three consecutive victories to open that championship-winning season – and he finished second in races held in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Dixon and Power also are the only two drivers to have completed all 1,156 laps in series races on this track.
Lundgaard Back Home Again at IMS
Has it really been two years? Actually, Christian Lundgaard’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES anniversary isn’t until next week, which speaks to how little time it’s taken him to become a factor in these parts.
The driver of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda made his series debut Aug. 14, 2021, on the IMS road course, and what a stirring moment that was. He posted the seventh-fastest lap in the opening practice of the weekend, then earned the fourth starting position for the race.
Since then, Lundgaard has won a pair of NTT P1 Awards, drove to his first race victory and this season ranks eighth, ahead of six drivers working for the largest teams in the sport. Yes, he has arrived.
Lundgaard has been particularly impressive on this road course, earning finishes of 12th, ninth, second and fourth while leading 15 laps. He captured the pole for the GMR Grand Prix in May and figures to again be a challenger for the top spot of the podium in Saturday’s race.
RLL had a particularly strong weekend on the course in May. All three cars qualified in the top eight, with Jack Harvey (No. 30 Kustom Entertainment Honda) fourth and Graham Rahal (No. 15 United Rentals Honda) eighth. Rahal battled back from first-lap contact with Palou to finish 10th. Lundgaard led 13 laps, and Harvey ran as high as third.
Arrow McLaren’s Time to Shine?
Palou and Newgarden have four race wins each this season. Their teams – Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske, respectively – have five each. Kyle Kirkwood (No. 27 AutoNation Honda) has twice taken Andretti Autosport to victory lane, and Lundgaard gave Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing another win.
The obvious omission to this list is Arrow McLaren, which expanded to three full-time cars this year.
The combination of Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet), Felix Rosenqvist (No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) and Alexander Rossi (No. 7 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) has 13 career series race wins, including three last year, but none this year. But this weekend could mark a breakthrough.
O’Ward and Rossi finished second in third in this year’s GMR Grand Prix, with Rosenqvist finishing fifth. Rossi won this event in 2022, although he was driving for Andretti Autosport.
It’s almost astonishing how good these three drivers have been at this circuit. They have combined for three of the past 10 poles with 11 top-five and 18 top-10 finishes.
A Quick Driver to Watch
Quick quiz: Which NTT INDYCAR SERIES driver turned the fastest lap of last weekend’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix on the streets of Nashville?
No, it wasn’t Kirkwood or the driver he held off for his second victory of the season, Team Penske’s Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 Gallagher Insurance Team Penske Chevrolet). It was the driver making his series debut.
Yes, Linus Lundqvist posted the fastest lap in Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda, and here’s the kicker: The lap was more than a half-second quicker than the fastest lap turned by a driver leading the 85-lap race.
Lundqvist’s best lap, on Lap 57, was 1 minute, 16.7115 seconds. On Lap 26, Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean (No. 28 DHL Honda) was credited with a lap of 1:17.2751.
Lundqvist will be back in the MSR machine this week as Simon Pagenaud, who has won three races on this circuit, including the inaugural event in 2014, continues his recovery from last month’s accident at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.